How to Declare War on the New HIV Epidemic
July 15, 2013
Photograph by Joseph Gilmore
The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) marched through cheering crowds at the historic New York City Pride Parade on June 30th, 2013, to declare an HIV prevention emergency that threatens the health of the young queer community. More than half of young gay and bisexual men and transgender women may become HIV-positive by age 50, unless we act now, according to projections based on the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
With this statement, ACT UP is issuing a non-violent declaration of war against the new HIV epidemic -- AIDS 2.0 -- and all of the institutions and organizations that do not mobilize to fight this second epidemic hitting our communities. We will take to the streets; we will work with government agencies to improve HIV prevention programs; we will target federal, state and city cuts to HIV prevention funding; we will research and distribute the latest safe sex and medical information in schools; we will call out ineffective sex education programs; we will target major media, entertainment and LGBT organizations that have disengaged from the AIDS fight; we will not be silent.
"1 in 2, could be you," was the chant that blared from ACT UP's float, because we believe that everyone, especially queer youth, should be aware of the HIV risks that they face:
- New HIV infections among gay men in the United States are sharply on the rise -- up 12% from 2008 to 2010 -- even as rates fall for other groups.
- For young gay men, there has been a 22 percent spike in new HIV infections.
- Latino men are being infected at 3 times the rate of white men.
- African-American men are being infected at 6 times the rate of white men -- and projections from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh indicate that 50% of young gay black men may be HIV+ by the age of 35.
- Transgender women are being infected at 36 times the rate of men and 78 times the rate of other women.
- Young black and Latina women account for over 75 percent of HIV infections among women in their teens and early twenties, but represent only about 26 percent of U.S. women in this age group.
If you are a young person and did not know about these HIV risks or about the new HIV epidemic -- you should be ANGRY. Over the past fifteen years new HIV infection rates have been steadily rising among young gay men and transgender women, but the U.S. public education system, along with the media and entertainment industries, have not provided enough young people with education about HIV. In 2010, only 3.3% of the CDC's discretionary AIDS budget went to gay and bi men and transgender women, when these groups account for nearly two-thirds of new infections. If you feel angry, it's time to ACT UP!
Acting up means getting involved and educating yourself, your friends and your community on how to fuck smarter! Smarter sex starts with knowing your status and finding or creating safe places to talk about your status, whether you're HIV+ or negative. And remember, knowing your partner's HIV status only reduces risk if you ACTUALLY know it -- over 50% of young gay guys who are infected with HIV don't know it. If you're HIV+, get medical care and ask about HIV treatment. By adhering to treatment you can maintain your health and greatly reduce the risk that you'll transmit HIV to your partners. Don't contribute to HIV stigma; educate yourself about HIV.
At New York City Pride, ACT UP/NY distributed condoms and lube along with thousands of safe sex fact sheets. But condoms alone won't slow down the new HIV epidemic, which is why our "Fuck Smarter" fact sheet offers information about how to have safer, condomless sex. Learn how to protect yourself with PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) -- and with PEP (or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), an antiviral drug regimen that can greatly reduce HIV transmission if taken as prescribed after HIV exposure. Fucking smarter can minimize your HIV risk while allowing you to maintain a satisfying sex life. And always remember: If safe sex materials do not speak to you, don't hesitate to act up, demand and create materials that communicate to you and your community.
NYC Pride 2013 occurred during the week that the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, marking a major victory for marriage equality in the United States -- but the fight for LGBT rights is an illusion if it comes at the expense of our community's health. Providing comprehensive sex education and access to HIV testing, prevention tools and treatment to all young queers is part of the fight for LGBT rights, and this mobilization is essential for the health of the entire LGBT community. Every member of the community and LGBT person in power should be concerned. If LGBT youth are under threat, the entire community is under threat!
We cannot forget that over 636,000 people United States have died of AIDS -- a number greater than the U.S. deaths in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea and World War II added together. Approximately 15,000 AIDS-related deaths still occur every year. ACT UP's direct actions in the late 1980s and early '90s were critical in fast-tracking the treatments that dramatically reduced AIDS deaths in the United States. But at the dawn of AIDS 2.0, mobilizing more HIV treatment will not be enough to prevent this second epidemic. If we succeed in turning back the second epidemic, the savings in human suffering and eventual treatment costs could be enormous. If we fail, we will surrender half of a generation of gay men and transgender women to the same virus that killed so many from the last generation.
ACT UP is looking for allies who will protest, die-in, kiss-in, fundraise, march, educate, stop traffic, pamphlet schools, contribute research and make class presentations to fight the new HIV epidemic for the health and lives of our queer youth. At NYC Pride 2013, ACT UP received multiple noise complaints. We were not silent. Please help us turn up the volume and ACT UP!
Contact ACT UP/NY directly if you want to print our statement along with a portfolio of photographs from ACT UP's NYC Pride 2013 march and our free "Prevention Emergency" and "Fuck Smarter" fact sheets -- we can take out or add expletives according to your wishes. No community, school or prison newsletter or newspaper is too small to print this statement. If your main news provider has not printed ACT UP's statement, ask them why they haven't -- and ask what they're doing to raise awareness about AIDS 2.0. Go to actupny.org for more information.
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