Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation
Recently, the Pew Forum did a major poll on the attitudes of the LGBT community that found some surprising results. The timing of the study comes as everyone anxiously awaits the results of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, an issue that has virtually dominated the entire agenda of the LGBT community for the last few years. People might assume that this issue is the overriding concern of the community, but the poll shows it is not.
Fifty-three percent of respondents listed same-sex marriage as a priority issue. However, 47 percent placed HIV as a priority. Considering that gay men—who are most at risk for HIV—only comprised 35 percent of those polled, I find it interesting that it ranked so high.
Judging by the amount of press coverage the issues have gotten, you might have thought that HIV would trail way behind same-sex marriage and other issues.
Some voices in our community have made it sound like HIV is such a manageable illness and really doesn't affect the people who have it very much. It almost seems unfashionable to talk about HIV any longer. People who talk about HIV are relics of the ‘80s and ‘90s, when AIDS was a real problem. Apparently the rank-and-file LGBT person doesn't agree.
The question is why? First, for the gay men who are HIV-negative, the virus hangs over their heads as an ever-present threat. For men who are HIV-positive, they live with the knowledge that they have a deadly virus being controlled by medication. If there is not a cure, they will be infected and will have the potential to infect for life. For lesbians and others, they worry about their gay male, transgender and bisexual friends and want them to be protected. Lesbians, in particular, who lived through the worst of AIDS were often caregivers to the men living with and dying of AIDS.
As a community, we worry about the future of our youth. They didn't live through the holocaust. Like other young people, they may think they are invincible or are too horny, drunk or high to make good decisions. Nothing is more sacred to a community than its health, and the health of the LGBT community is still very much at risk today.
HIV may not be the trendiest issue. It may be depressing to think that we are still dealing with it 31 years later. However, it is still stalking us, and if we don't make it a priority in this country, probably no one else will.
Our community is capable of pursuing multiple issues at one time. HIV doesn't make marriage less important or vice versa. In fact, the normalization of gay relationships should help to reduce the level of HIV infection. As we increasingly define ourselves in broader terms than just sex, we will be more conscious of protecting ourselves. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us and the leadership of the LGBT community to continue raising HIV issues as key priorities for our people.
As with all vexing problems, the stratagies we use to combat AIDS need to be constantly updated. The situation we are dealing with today is completely different than it was five, 10 or 20 years ago. We have the opportunity to bring AIDS under control in this country and around the world. When this happens, it will be written that no group made a bigger contribution than the LGBT community. However, if we abandon the fight now, history will write a much different story.