"On the occasion of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, I am struck by the persistence of stigma of the disease over the course of three decades. To make any progress toward the goals of this year's mantra, 'Getting to Zero: zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,' we must take on the pervasive barrier of AIDS stigma and its influence on legislators, funders, public health agencies and care providers, as well as those stigmatized. . . .
"Burdened with the highest HIV infection rates, young black gay/bisexual men and transgenders live at the epicenter of the epidemic and the stigma it has coalesced. The crossfire of homophobia, racism, gender and class oppression and lack of legal protection makes it difficult for many to maintain housing and employment, achieve educational goals or sustain overall health. Outside of HIV prevention and support programs, there are few venues throughout the South designed or willing to meet their needs and accept them as they are. . . .
"For femme men and transgender individuals, walking to the MARTA [rapid transit] station is itself an act of critical resistance. The day-to-day resourcefulness they demonstrate is rarely acknowledged in bulletin reports of the latest HIV infection spikes.
"It is this very resilience that is featured in AID Atlanta's upcoming 'From Where I Stand' campaign, the brainchild of organizer Charles Stephens, who points out 'the stories of young black gay men cannot be told only through statistics.' This anti-homophobia initiative will couple diverse images with affirming first-person testimonials. As Charles explains, '[FWIS] aims to show each and every young gay black man his inner beauty and strength, to empower them, creating a sense of community while emphasizing individuality and diversity and to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS.'
"Stigma extends past individual prejudice to perpetuate the hatred and disenfranchisement of the targeted group and engender self-loathing, mutual distrust and disunity among its members. We need visible campaigns like FWIS to uplift young black gay men and all marginalized 'others,' and to challenge the hearts and minds of those who discriminate against them. For this World AIDS Day, I urge you to recognize the connection between stigma and the needless new infections and AIDS-related deaths it causes. How will you stand?"
The author is manager of prevention programs at AID Atlanta. He has been HIV-positive since 1985.