Events

Today marks the 28th Worlds AIDS Day and I truly believe we are on the cusp of making historic advancements that will decrease new infections and offer better quality treatment for people living with HIV. But there’s a catch. As we all know, Donald Trump was elected president, and represents one of the many political leaders and parties threatening smart, effective public health policy. From the erosion of the NHS in the United Kingdom following Brexit to Trump’s HHS pick who is a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Art, there is a real possibility we can turn back every advancement we’ve had and choose not to head the guidance of countless global health organizations.

It’s important to remember that our Vice President-Elect, Mike Pence, thought it wise to cut funding to Planned Parenthood in Indiana. The result? A massive HIV outbreak that was 100% preventable. It’s also important to remember that while high rates of HIV infection exist in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and other known centers, HIV infection rates are higher in places like Atlanta, Miami, and New Orleans—cities that exist in states with fully conservative legislatures who have blocked healthcare expansion at every turn.

What this means is that HIV prevention and treatment in this country continues to be largely unequal. White, gay men continue to have better access to prevention methods (including PrEP), and are more likely to have an undetectable viral load if they are living with HIV. These disparities mean that Black and Latino men, have disproportionately high new infection rates, even as programs that target these communities are being developed. Further cuts to the Affordable Care Act could only exacerbate these inequalities.

The question I think a lot of us are asking is, “What can we do?” I’ve yet to see a definitive plan to address HIV/AIDS policy in the context of a Donald Trump administration. However, I don’t think that means things are hopeless. There are some tangible ways to engage with political systems, with service organizations and on an individual level.

  1. Find your testing site. This seems basic, but it really is the first regular way to know your status and seek out treatment if you are diagnosed as HIV positive.
  2. Call your Congressmen and local representatives. First, find out who these representatives are and tell them that supporting the Affordable Cart Act and funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment is important. Even if you want to email them, calling is more impactful.
  3. Donate to organizations that promote HIV/AIDS justice. I’d suggest any of the following, though be sure to talk a look at some of the other local organizations in your area.
    1. Visual AIDS: https://www.visualaids.org/support
    2. The Black AIDS Institute: https://www.blackaids.org/aboutus/donate
    3. Planned Parenthood: http://ow.ly/h7it306H2SVA
    4. The Latino Commission on AIDS: https://www.latinoaids.org/support/donate.php
    5. National Minority AIDS Council: https://nmac.z2systems.com/np/clients/nmac/donation.jsp
    6. APICHA (New York City): https://apicha.org/donate/
    7. Positive Impact Health Centers (Atlanta): https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/pihc25thyear?code=25thyear
    8. Project Lazarus (New Orleans): http://www.projectlazarus.net/donate.htm
    9. The Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis: http://ow.ly/Jv5k306H4dA
    10. San Francisco AIDS Foundation: http://bit.ly/2fNstoG
    11. AIDS Project Los Angeles: https://apla.netdonor.net/page/2606/donate/1
  4. Building educational programming around HIV/AIDS is a key component of ending an epidemic. Public policy alone will not stop HIV. In a post a few days ago, I outlined a course around HIV/AIDS justice. Given the fact that so little history about HIV/AIDS is taught in schools, more insurgent education is important.
  5. Researching and participating in resurgent HIV/AIDS activist movements. Now, more than ever, ACT UP and other similar branches need your support. There is much to do to grow the capacity and diversity of these organizations, but in the 1980s and 1990s they achieved tremendous progress in HIV/AIDS activism and are worth emulating in some capacity.

I want to end this by saying that I’m not a journalist. I don’t have an academic job. The work around HIV/AIDS I do is self-directed and self-funded but I’ve made it a personal mission, irrespective of my profession or means of living, to be an advocate for HIV/AIDS justice. I saw my great uncle die. I’ve seen too many friends get HIV. I’ve felt the personal shame over my sexual behavior. I believe a new and better sexual culture, and world, is possible. Today I ask you to join me and pledge to commit yourself to stop HIV and start creating new, sex-positive spaces everywhere.

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June 27th is National HIV Testing today and a reminder to get tested to know your HIV status. Many people, particularly in poor communities or in the South, have difficulty getting regular HIV tests, particularly if they identify as LGBTQ. But even in bigger cities, people may be unaware of the different testing options that are available. Others might not think they’re at risk of getting HIV, even though they are.

AIDS.gov, run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, has a tracker that allows you to service by your geographic area. Check it out here or speak with your current primary care provider.

It’s also important to remember that HIV testing offers a window period, meaning that for rapid HIV tests, it can take up to 3 months for an HIV infection to be tested. So, if you think you may have been infected, get retested after the window period has ended and be upfront with your partners about your sexual behaviors. Simply getting tested isn’t enough; having open conversations about risk and desire are key component in stopping the spread of HIV.

We can all work together to end stigma surrounding HIV and create an HIV-neutral world, where people can feel comfortable having sex, no matter their status.

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On Thursday, January 7th, I spoke at the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division in NYC. The topic of my discussion was Simon Nkoli, the first Black gay activist to come out in the country and one of the most central figures in ensuring LGBTQ people protected in the new constitution post-Apartheid.

His legacy was one of gentle anger. This idea might seem contradictory, but to me gentle anger is a way of defiantly confronting the exclusion of LGBTQ people in a society and, as importantly, emphasizing open communication, pleasure and affirmation as tools of movement building. Gentle anger critically refuses the idea that LGBTQ people aren’t essential to a democratic society.

Simon may have died in 1998 from AIDS-related complications, but his legacy endures to 2016. I hope that we can take the time to understand how previous movements of emotional protest can re-envision the activist and creative work we’re doing today.

Here’s the talk for those who are interested! Stay tuned for the slides, which will be uploaded shortly after the best format for them is found:

Please visit this link to see all of the related slides from the event.

On Saturday, March 7th, Our Viral Lives hosted its launch event, “We Are Here” at The Bureau of General Services- Queer Division. Four under 30 activists (Kia Labeija, Martez Smith, Mathew Rodriguez and Charlie Ferrusi) were invited to speak about their personal relationships to HIV/AIDS and their activist work to a full audience. I wanted to provide a summary of the evening and offer a few thoughts about moving forward.

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