Even as the gay community’s response to prevent the spread of AIDS seems to grow weaker, the response from other communities grows stronger and stronger.
I recognize how important it is for other communities to take ownership of this issue and organize to fight HIV, but it’s not hard to see homophobia in their strategies.
All too often, due to the competitive nature of funding and research attention, a growing response to HIV in other communities comes at the expense of gay men.
In Canada, where statistics generally reflect that an a alarmingly disproportionate number of people living with HIV and cases of new HIV infection are borne by gay men, governments and health bureaucracies have been molasses-in-winter slow to respond. I mean, c’mon, it’s been 25 years. They either want to do something to halt this or they don’t.
It seems super clear to me that as long as gay men don’t do anything to hold them accountable, they won’t even try.
At the recent International Conference on AIDS in Toronto, significant and long-awaited attention was finally given to the impact of HIV on women and girls in Africa and in other populations. But nary a nod was given to either the impact of HIV on gay men, and other men who have sex with men, or to the contributions of the gay community to the fight against HIV.
At a conference expecting over 20,000 participants, there was so little attention paid to gay men that a separate conference had to be organized in order to ensure gay men’s HIV-related issues would be addressed. Is the only way to include other communities in the HIV agenda to bump us off of it?
This “degaying” of AIDS has been happening slowly for almost two decades. This degaying was started within the community and has continued from outside.
Gay AIDS activists struggled in the mid-to-late ’80s to get the world to accept the threat HIV posed to heterosexuals in the hope that self-interest would save gay lives. The degaying of AIDS was believed by many to be an important step towards addressing AIDS in the gay community. Is it possible we went too far?
In Canada, research institutions like the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV have virtually abandoned gay men in their research agenda.
Outside of Canada, international organizations working in developing countries won’t even include gay men on the agenda for fear governments and com-munities will shut them out.
So in countries around the world where HIV is assumed to be almost exclusively a heterosexual disease, men who have sex with men are not getting access to information. They’re not getting access to relevant health care.
It’s one thing to say that HIV is not just a gay disease. It’s another thing to say HIV is not a gay disease. If we don’t act in our own interests I’m not sure we can expect anyone else to.
It’s time the gay community re-invested in the fight to end HIV. It’s time to actively participate in organizations that work to prevent HIV. It’s time to support a new, invigorated strategy to eliminate HIV so we don’t leave it as a legacy to future generations of gay men.
To quote a controversial campaign produced for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Centre: “HIV is a gay disease. Own it. End it.”