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Opinion

Now, More Than Ever: Reflection on Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

September 27, 2017

Julio Fonseca

Julio Fonseca (Courtesy of AIDS United)

As a queer man in his 40s who's lived with HIV for 8 years, I feel like we are living in an HIV age that is absolutely incredible.

In the 1980s, I remember the news stories about the new "gay cancer" and the visuals of once vibrant healthy young men dying a painful death. I remember the terror that I felt coming of age and having had drilled into my head that sex with another man, even with a condom (aside from being a terrible sin), had the risk that I could contract a then fatal disease.

In the early '90s, I remember sitting and waiting for two weeks -- yes two weeks -- to get the results back from my first HIV test. The counselor's name was Christian, he was adorable.

In the late '90s, I met a man who had recently started the new to market anti-retrovirals and his exuberance at being able to return to return to work.

I remember my own feelings when I was diagnosed with stage three HIV in 2009. Worry, concern, and ultimately, action. I was fortunate to be able to access quality care and treatment and have been undetectable for 8 years now. As a result, I'm able to contribute back to the HIV community including my work on the Positive Organizing Project at AIDS United.

Fast forward to the past few years. There has been tremendous innovation in such a short period of time. HIV treatment works. People are able to live long, healthy lives thanks to ARVs. PrEP, a daily pill to prevent HIV, is over 90% effective. And science has proven that people on HIV treatment who maintain a sustained undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV. Undetectable=Untransmittable has revolutionized the way that people living with HIV and without are making decisions about relationships and intimacy which can be life changing and empowering. So things are great right?

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It's revolutionary that what was once a fatal disease is now a chronic, manageable condition. How incredible that so many gay men are able to access HIV meds and achieve undetectable status and that many others are on PrEP. The reality remains however, that many of our gay, queer, and same gender loving brothers are not, due to lack of access, knowledge, or both And yet, while only 2% of the U.S. population, gay and bisexual men account for more than half of the 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States and two-thirds of all new diagnoses each year. If trends continue, 1 in 6 gay and bisexual men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime, including 1 in 2 black gay and bisexual men, 1 in 4 Latino gay and bisexual men, and 1 in 11 white gay and bisexual men. This cannot continue. We must be the generation that ends this epidemic in our community.

National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is an opportune time to acknowledge that stigma, institutional racism, and - in many states - HIV criminal laws keep people from learning their status and accessing quality, affordable health care.

We need to lead the charge. We need to come together across communities to make sure that everyone has the knowledge and access to tools, like PrEP and HIV treatment, that could ultimately end the epidemic in the United States. On National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, get tested for HIV. Talk to your friends about PrEP, HIV treatment, and stigma. If we don't start this conversation in our communities, who will?

Julio Fonseca is program manager at AIDS United.

[Note from TheBody.com: This article was originally published by AIDS United on Sept. 26, 2017. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]

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This article was provided by AIDS United. Visit AIDS United's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
 

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