These Are The Days When Everyone Needs Our Help
Gay Pride month provides us all with an opportunity to celebrate the spectrum of sexuality and sexual identity with our sisters and brothers. It is a time to reflect upon the fact that each of us is different, and that in that diversity lies the beauty and richness of life. For community-based organizations, it is also an opportunity to reassess the relevance of our services for these varied communities. As the nature of the epidemic has changed, and the community of people affected by HIV continues to diversify, service providers must be able to adapt to these changes.
More than 10 years ago, Body Positive was born to fill a need. Newly-diagnosed, HIV-positive individuals -- the majority of whom were gay men -- were not receiving the kinds of services they needed to help them live well. Some agencies served only those people who had CDC-defined AIDS. Others might assist HIV-positive individuals, but they would be low on the priority list. With so many people dying (and it happening so quickly) the majority of available services focused on those people whose disease had progressed further along. Body Positive stepped into this void to help HIV-positive gay men support each other with their daily challenges.
Through support groups and educational workshops, BP could let people know that "You are not Alone;" that the struggles people faced were shared by many others; and that help was available to develop their own support network. Through these resources, BP developed an effective model of service delivery. Using volunteers from the affected communities -- most of whom were gay men -- support groups and educational forums evolved that afforded these individuals the assistance and information they needed to address the presence of HIV in their lives.
Over time, the communities associated with the epidemic changed. In the early 1980's, the common perception was that HIV predominantly affected gay men. As we end the 1990's, the majority of new infections are among women and people using intravenous drugs. This shift has presented an array of challenges to service providers. We first needed to change our approach to service delivery to account for the social, racial, ethnic, and class differences of these emerging populations. Existing service models would not necessarily be effective for these communities. As a result, agencies needed to develop relevant programs while maintaining services for historically affected communities. Maintaining this balance was made easier by the availability of funding. As the dollars have become more scarce, agencies have had to become more creative in assisting diverse communities, many of whom have different product and service needs. One result has been the shifting of resources in response to the various levels of need in these respective communities. For Body Positive, this has meant two things. On the one hand, we have maintained our commitment to assisting gay men through support groups, socials, publications, and educational workshops. We continue to provide needed services using volunteers drawn from this community. On the other, we have also focused significant resources in those communities in which the incidence of HIV transmission has continued to rise: in some cases drastically.
As the community of people living with HIV has diversified, so has the base from which we draw our volunteers and peer educators. Our commitment is to those people who are living with HIV, their partners, lovers, caregivers, families, and friends; regardless of their race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation; whether they have a history of substance use; and regardless of where in the New York metropolitan area they live. The common thread is the presence of HIV in their lives, and it is this thread that binds diverse groups together in the struggle.
So, as we celebrate "Unity Through Diversity" this month, we must keep this ideal alive in the context of HIV services. Just as we seek to foster acceptance of diversity through Gay Pride celebrations, we must also accept the diversity of the communities affected by HIV. Part of this acceptance is an acknowledgment that all of these communities need our help, not to the exclusion or detriment of others, but to ensure that they have the same opportunities for living healthy lives.
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.