Last year the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center shook people up with a campaign declaring that, "HIV is a gay disease. Own it, end it."
The campaign, designed to run for just a few months, put posters in gay venues and ads in gay publications. A couple of billboards ran only the "Own It, End It" part of the message, directing people to a website for more information. And, says a center spokesman, materials included a statement that anyone can get HIV.
It's true that anyone can get HIV, but what exactly do the statistics say about the "gayness" of the virus?
U.S. statistics show, of course, that both gay men and straight men have HIV, and that both men and women are infected. But statistically speaking, how "gay" is the disease?
In 2005 (the latest year for national numbers), the largest proportion of estimated new HIV/AIDS diagnoses were for men who have sex with men (MSM), followed by adults and adolescents infected through heterosexual contact. (The CDC reports its numbers as "estimated," which we will drop in this article for the sake of simplicity.)
For that year, there were 28,037 new HIV diagnoses in men, and 9,893 in women.
Of the males, the largest risk factor -- for 18,785 of them -- was men who have sex with men (or MSM, a term that covers this group whether they consider themselves gay or not).
This means that half of all new HIV diagnoses, and two-thirds of all male diagnoses, were in MSM.
This data is based on only 33 states. For a copy of the "HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, 2005," visit www.cdc.gov.
Jim Key, Chief Public Affairs Officer for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, said people were shocked to learn through the campaign that 75% of the HIV infections in that city are in gay and bisexual men, though they make up less than 7% of the male population. "They told us they thought it was now largely a disease of people of color," said Key. "We said it is largely people of color, but it's gay and bisexual men of color [in L.A.]."
Key said the center is "very happy" with the response to the campaign, which is still generating questions and comments from around the country. He said a lot of the anger around it came from a misunderstanding that billboards were declaring that HIV is a gay disease, when the only message, on just a couple of billboards, was "Own It, End It," along with a website. "When people heard that, they weren't angry anymore," said Key.
According to the CDC report, "Male-to-male sexual contact was the primary risk factor for 48% of [newly diagnosed] black men with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2005 ...." An additional 7% were both MSM and IDU (injection drug users).
For Latino men and adolescents during 2001-2004 (latest figures), MSM was the primary risk factor for 59% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses.
Of 1,036 Asian and Pacific Islander male adults and adolescents with newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS in 2001-2004, 65% were MSM.
Of 1,481 American Indian and Alaska Native male adults and adolescents at the end of 2005 (of all HIV/AIDS numbers, not just those diagnosed in a particular year), 61% were MSM.
Of all the adults and adolescents diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. in 2005, 40% of the men were White, 41% were Black, and 18% were Latino.
There were two men for every woman infected among Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders in the years listed above, but for all infections in 2005, men made up 82% of the Whites and 42% of the Blacks.
Many were upset by the idea of people being "misled" with the statement "HIV is a gay disease," but obviously, HIV still has a hold on the gay community. Or, men who practice homosexuality, by any other name.