Being Gay Is Something Positive
12/4/2012 3:00:00 PM
By Alex Garner
For the past thirty-one years, HIV has been part of our world. For many gay men, HIV was part of their consciousness long before they formed a gay identity. HIV is an integral part of the lives of all gay men and it’s a fundamental part of the gay experience. Our challenge is to create a culture and a community that is free of stigma while empowering gay men to live healthy lives.
PositiveFrontiers.com worked in collaboration with The Stigma Project to create an anti-stigma campaign for World AIDS Day. The article and images can be found online and in the print magazine. The photo to the right is titled, “Being Gay Is Something Positive.” Because the word “positive” also implies HIV, this image can be read many different ways. Ultimately it serves to demonstrate that HIV is nothing to be ashamed of, that it’s a part of our every day lives, and that HIV-positive gay men can live out and proud about their HIV, just as they do with their sexuality.
The notion of ascribing pride to someone who is living with HIV can often ruffle some feathers. Maybe there isn’t a perfect word to describe someone who isn’t ashamed of their disease. Could you call them confident, empowered, or triumphant? It’s perfectly reasonable for someone to be proud of the life they have lived and the struggles they have overcome. So there’s no reason someone shouldn’t take pride in themselves and affirmatively declare their HIV status.
Coming out about HIV is one of the best tools we have to fight stigma. If stigma is reduced more people will get tested, access care, and the quality of life for all gay men will improve. Our community will be a better place if stigma is significantly reduced.
Ultimately so much of this comes back to our community. We have a very unique relationship to HIV and for over three decades gay men have been the most severely impacted by HIV. In the U.S. gay men represent the majority of all those infected, the majority of new infections, and the majority of all deaths to AIDS. And HIV disproportionately impacts gay men of color.
These are the facts about HIV and our community. Certainly HIV is not a gay disease, scientifically speaking, but it’s a gay disease in every other sense. It’s our legacy, it’s our present and until there is a cure it will be our future. Don’t mistake what I am saying for some fatalistic vision of our community. I’m simply stating that HIV has been, and continues to be, etched on the soul of our community.
The epidemic began with us and it’s going to end with us. We can dramatically alter the course of this epidemic if we choose to commit ourselves to reducing stigma and empowering HIV-positive people.
We have the opportunity to reprioritize HIV and reinvest in the lives of gay men. Let’s challenge ourselves to have those difficult conversations about our sex, our health and our choices. Our community will be stronger for it and gay men are worth it. Let’s take a holistic approach so that we can tackle the full range of issues that confront gay men. Let’s do some real work to assure that gay men have a healthy sexuality and are educated about both harm reduction and pleasure.
We must also call on our national LGBT organizations to prioritize HIV, in particular among communities of color. Imagine what we could accomplish if we applied the same energy and activism to HIV as we have to marriage equality.
And finally we need more leadership from the HIV-positive community. HIV-positive people don’t just need to stand up and be counted we also need to make sure that we have a place at the table. We must be part of the decision making process about our heath and our lives. That also means that HIV-positive people need to speak openly and honestly about what it means to live with HIV. The stories of who we are can be provocative, sexy, funny, touching, and inspiring and they will help the general community understand who we are.
It’s indeed a positive thing to be gay. There is also no shame in being HIV-positive. Our community consists of negatives, positives, and unknowns. It’s our challenge to make sure we can all come together to create a stronger community. A community that is free of stigma. A community where we are empowered to take action and improve the quality of lives of others and ourselves. A community that endured a devastating epidemic and ultimately ended it.
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