September 27th marked the fourth National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, founded by National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) to encourage gay men to remember how much has been accomplished in the fight against the disease and to commemorate the quarter million lovers and brothers who have been lost to the epidemic.
HIV continues to be a major public health burden, disproportionately affecting men who have sex with men and racial and ethnic minorities.
NAPWA was founded in 1983 and advocates for all people living with HIV/AIDS. Only tangentially represented in national AIDS Awareness Days, an awareness day devoted solely to gay, bisexual, same gender loving and transgendered gay men fills a gap in national HIV/AIDS consciousness raising efforts.
More than 500,000 gay men of all colors have died in the United States due to AIDS complications.
Since the disease was first recognized in the early 1980s, the epidemic continues to affect gay and bisexual men to a degree that far surpasses their proportion of the U.S. population. From 2006–2009 HIV incidences in the U.S. haves remained relatively stable. However, among young men who have sex with men, particularly Black men, incidences have increased.
Reducing social stigma is essential to stopping the epidemic. Negative public views hinder discussions and disclosure regarding HIV status. Sexual behavior and orientation for many men who have sex with men is an important part of self-identification, while for others it is a question of sexual practice rather than identity.
Some men who have sex with men identify as heterosexual and may not relate to prevention messages directed towards self-identified gay men. While this may signal internalized homophobia, it is important to focus on connecting individuals with the desired service and to encourage safer sex practices.
An underestimation of personal risk is an important part of the problem. Some would say negligence, and irresponsibility are logically the most important factors of transmission.
Unfortunately, for this population it is not that simple.
Institutionalized homophobia and racism play a role. As Blacks, we understand what it is like be to part of a minority group. However, Black gay men are a minority group inside a minority group, which faces major stigmas.
Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, and self-concept is who you think you are. In terms of Black gay men, the weakness is not their self-esteem, but their self-concept.
I grew up in Oakland in a Black family in the heart of the Black community, attending predominantly Black schools and worshiped at a traditional Black Baptist church. Whether it was on the playground, around the neighborhood, or at Sunday sermons, from the age of 5, all I ever heard were negative references to gay men.
Not only do gay men hear these messages growing up, but their families are affected as well by these destructive verbal assaults on one’s character. The connection between poor self-concept and HIV is difficult to pin down, but there is a connection.
It is time again for gay men, especially gay men of color, to lead the movement to end the epidemic. We now know how to do it, with routine HIV testing for all, every 3 to 6 months.
We know that an infected person who receives effective treatment is much less likely to pass the virus on to others.
We must strengthen our resolve and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among gay men, encourage HIV testing, early diagnosis and linkage to care and promote better understanding of the complex factors that drive HIV transmission among gay men.
The HIV epidemic is far from over for gay men – it is time for action.