While HIV can happen to anyone, it does hit some communities harder than others. HIV often proliferates in groups whose members' identities are already somehow stigmatized or marginalized. But there are also communities that are marginalized within the HIV realm -- because of smaller overall prevalence numbers, lack of access to services, poor data collection that keeps them from being fully counted in the epidemic, conditions that enhance HIV stigma, and more.
This spotlight series is a chance for members of some of these groups, the margins of the margins, to come into the center -- to tell their stories, and bring much-needed attention to their communities' concerns. Not all these pieces are specifically about HIV, but all serve to amplify voices from HIV-affected groups that you may not hear from very often.
Christopher Quarles tested HIV positive after he noticed the person with whom he was in a relationship dodging questions about HIV status. After being positive for almost five years, and undetectable for three, Christopher left home in South Carolina because of a broken family dynamic, but knows a lot about making his own family structure. He is a member of the House of Khan in New York City's vibrant ballroom scene, and walks runway under the guidance of his mentor, Luna. He came to Manhattan barely able to afford the subway, but now enjoys an independent life with friends around him and his dog always by his side.
The growing epidemic of HIV among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives (NA/AN) is reason for concern. Roughly 5.2 million people in the U.S. identified as NA/AN in the 2010 U.S. census. While the Native community in the U.S. accounts for less than 1% of reported HIV cases, they have the third highest rate of HIV infection, after African Americans and Latinos. They also have the shortest life expectancy after an AIDS diagnosis of any race or ethnicity.
Twitter users from the Middle East are generating an unprecedented wild sexual context in Arabic language ... But why Twitter and not another social media networking site like Facebook, for example? The answer might be because Twitter provides a well-developed Arabic interface language, and it offers better privacy guaranties for users to protect their real identity when it comes to a third party.
With a new phase of the HIV epidemic on the horizon -- one that, at present rates, will see half of our college-aged gay men positive by age 50 -- a panel was assembled at Gay Men's Health Crisis for two reasons: to discuss the epidemic among our gay youth and to ask how we move forward with prevention efforts in the midst of funding cuts.
People like Tyrone Lopez, of the Tohono O'odham Nation, work in their own communities in hopes of reversing daunting HIV infection rates. After a relationship with an IV drug user, Tyrone became HIV positive and started becoming a voice for all people living with HIV -- gay, straight, man, woman and otherwise -- in his nation. He announced his status and sexuality over the radio, he does education and prevention work among incarcerated Native Americans, and now that he also drives the van that shuttles his clients to doctor's appointments and other services, he doesn't sleep in late anymore, either.
Hepatitis C is sometimes called a "twin epidemic" to HIV -- at least a quarter of people living with HIV in the U.S. are coinfected with the virus. As with HIV, African Americans are disproportionately affected -- they are two to three times more likely than whites to have been exposed to hep C, and far less likely to be cured using current treatments. That's where hep C differs from HIV: It can be cured -- and when promising new treatments become available in the near future, it will be more curable, especially for African Americans.
When Cecilia Chung was diagnosed with HIV, she thought she was being punished for coming out as transgender. "'You transitioned. You're an abomination,'" she remembers thinking. "'This is God's way of telling you He doesn't approve.'" After a rocky few years, Cecilia reconciled with her family and now maintains a relationship with both parents. She has worked for years as an advocate for other transwomen, HIV-positive people and people of color. As a transgender Asian woman and a formerly incarcerated violence survivor who was also involved with sex work, her experience is connected to a number of groups that are vulnerable to HIV in ways that are often ignored by institutions. But Cecilia's real-life story is much more than a confirmation of statistics.
As marriage-equality wins ignite in U.S. states and nations throughout the world, the question of what makes a family has been drawn into mainstream debate. The vital importance of marriage rights for same-sex couples, whether or not they're "just like straight couples" (whatever that means!), cannot be overstated. However, one can't help but wonder whether the focus on gay marriage left-handedly stigmatize partnerships that don't look "just like a traditional marriage."
When HIV came along and began to ravage gay communities, many comic book creators struggled with how to present the epidemic. At a time when many gay people's stories were not being told, comic books attempted -- sometimes awkwardly so -- to get the word out about HIV. For some characters, the parallels between living a secret life as a "mutant" and having HIV in the real world became fertile ground for plot growth. Some storylines deal with HIV directly (and portrayals are not always well informed or empowering), while others weave abstract scenarios that are clearly informed by HIV. With many comics being targeted toward youth, it seems that many comics may have actually been engaging in a type of public service, without even knowing it.
If you were a teen in the '90s, you might have looked up to Rickie Vasquez. In the 2000s, you may have seen Willow Rosenberg's struggle to come out as a witch and a lesbian as parallel situations, or maybe Justin Suarez taught you how to connect more honestly with a gay youth in your family. Though we turn to television for escape, there's also a lot to be learned from the lives of some of television's gay youth, many of whom are portrayed as struggling for their voice, for acceptance and for love.
Stay tuned for more interviews and features in this spotlight series!