Thank you all for coming here today. I would like to say that we are convened for a happier reason, but there is a stark truth hanging in the air. The reason we are all here is because there is a good chance that I, many people in the room and many people who look like me could become HIV positive. From 2008 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), new HIV infections remained steady nationally, but rose a whopping 22 percent in young gay men. And, of course, young gay men of color shouldered most of that burden unfairly. At the current rates, more than half of college-aged gay men will become HIV positive by the time they are 50 years old.
These men who are at risk for becoming HIV positive, they are my friends. They are men with whom I am intimate on many levels. They are my intimate friends with whom I share secrets, they are my lovers -- whether potential or former -- and they are people for whom I care deeply. And that is the secret to being in this field. In their essay "The Soul of Our Work," Dr. George Ayala and artist Pato Hebert said that "to do this work well, you really have to love gay men," and if you don't, "could you do this work well?" and they go on to point out that we as queer people "make ourselves through storytelling" and we have to make sure that "storytelling is a top priority." And in that vein, I have a story to tell.
I don't remember my first HIV test. I remember my second test, which I volunteered for on Nov. 13, 2011, one month to the date after I held my father's hand while he passed away from an opportunistic infection in his liver. The first time I was tested was as a child, because my father was diagnosed with HIV around the time of my birth in April of 1989. When I came out, one of the first things that was given to me -- besides unending support -- was a warning about staying HIV negative. Of course, for my mother, that warning came from a place of understanding of what my path might look like. For me, and for the hundreds of thousands of gay men of color like me, the moments of intimacy that we share with others are tainted. For many of us, sex is only a stone's throw away from death, and we can't think of one without thinking of the other. And this is not any fault of our own. We inherited a crisis that we don't know how to navigate properly. On the flyer for this very event, the image of life-saving devices are imposed onto condoms. But you know what that implies? That we've already gone overboard.
Being a young gay man of color is not an easy task in today's world. Many people think that "coming out" is a happy process that is a process of addition. You learn more about yourself, you accept being gay, and you are welcomed into this community. But that's not the case. Coming out is not a process of addition, it is a process of subtraction, where young gay men of color have to unlearn many of the negative things that we are taught about ourselves every day -- the shame, the stigma, the hate -- and we turn those things into a celebration. We have to find ourselves underneath everything that is piled onto us. I was once taught by an activist that when you see an older gay man -- about 50 or older -- on the street, you always look at him with respect, because that man has survived the plague years, and he has seen the epidemic of the plague face-to-face and I respect each of them everyday. But now, I ask you all in this room and on this panel, to perform a similar exercise. When you meet a young gay man of color, know this: They have fought and are fighting in the trenches of this generation's war on AIDS. We have been kept away from their true selves. We have dealt with institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and sex-negative attitudes since birth. And we need your help to find ourselves. If you don't love young gay men of color, then what are you doing here?