NBJC Commemorates World AIDS Day
Today is World AIDS Day. Held on December 1 each year, World AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. An estimated 33.4 million people worldwide live with HIV/AIDS and more than 25 million people have died since 1981. The 2012 theme for World AIDS Day is "Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation." As NBJC recognizes World AIDS Day and the tremendous progress that has been made in the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS, it is important to mark the milestones and bring continued awareness to the devastating impact that HIV/AIDS has had in our community, particularly among Black gay and bisexual men and transgender women.
Nearly six percent of Black gay and bisexual men under age 30 are newly infected with HIV every year in the United States, three times the rate among white men of the same sexuality in the United States, according to the largest study ever to look at infection rates in this population. New reports indicate that “while the number of new infections in the U.S. is relatively stable — at about 50,000 people each year — HIV is on the rise in young people under 25.” According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Black gay and bisexual men bear the greatest disproportionate burden of HIV. Among all men who have sex with men (MSM), the data found that Black/African American MSM accounted for 10,800 (37%) new HIV infections in 2009. Also in 2009, MSM accounted for 61% of all new HIV infections in the United States and 79% of infections among all newly infected men. Compared with other groups, MSM accounted for the largest numbers of new HIV infections in 2009.
Even more troubling, young MSM accounted for 69% of new HIV infections among persons aged 13–29 and 44% of infections among all MSM. Furthermore, at the end of 2009, an estimated 441,669 (56%) persons living with an HIV diagnosis in the U.S. were MSM. HIV/AIDS prevalence among transgender women, particularly transgender women of color, exceeds 25 percent nationwide. These rates of HIV infection should be cause for national outrage and should, at the very least, inspire a national campaign in the LGBT community. However, the unfortunate reality is that this is simply not the case.
Earlier this year, NBJC had the opportunity to attend the International AIDS Conference, held for the first time in the United States in 22 years. The International AIDS Conference is the premier gathering for those working in the field of HIV, policy makers, persons living with HIV and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic. It was a chance to assess where we are, evaluate recent scientific developments and lessons learnt, and collectively chart a course forward. It was a significant moment in our nation’s history. Nevertheless, the disparities remain.
According to a report released by the Black AIDS Institute, “Although Black gay men have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic first appeared in the early 1980s, the country has yet to mount a meaningful response to this crisis. Representing a mere 1 in 500 people living in the U.S., Black gay men account for nearly 1 in 4 new HIV infections. And the problem is getting worse, with new infections among Black gay men rapidly rising.”
The Black gay and transgender community has to lead the charge by calling for an end to this crisis and the stigma. During our annual OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit, NBJC educated members of the Congressional Black Caucus during our Issue Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill by urging our leaders to join the Congressional HIV Caucus. In addition, NBJC thanked supporters like Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who serves as one of the chairs of the HIV caucus.
Unfortunately, many states have criminal and civil laws that discriminate against those who test positive for HIV, often for consensual sex and conduct that poses no real risk of HIV transmission. A bill introduced in the 112th Congress that would help begin to positively impact our community is H.R. 3053, the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act. This proposed law would help prevent HIV discrimination by requiring a review of federal and state laws, policies, and regulations regarding the criminal prosecution of individuals for HIV-related offenses. The bill would provide incentives for states to explore repeal or reform of unfair laws and practices that target people with HIV. Another bill that is desperately needed is H.R. 1774, the Increasing Access to Voluntary Screening for HIV/AIDS and STIs Act, which would expand access to HIV/AIDS screening under Medicare, Medicaid and group health plans for low-income and vulnerable communities, regardless of sexual behavior, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It would also increase data collection and education in historically underrepresented populations, including men who have sex with men, women who have sex with women, and transgender people.
While we have made great strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the statistics are astounding and it remains clear that our most vulnerable -- youth, transgender women, and gay/bisexual men -- need additional support to prevent the spread of HIV through education and testing.
In January, NBJC will travel to Atlanta to attend Creating Change, the 25th National Conference on LGBT Equality, hosted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, where we will continue to advocate for an LGBT agenda that is inclusive of the priorities of people of color. One of our workshops will highlight research findings from the Social Justice Sexuality Project, which explores the attitudes and realities of LGBT people of color around health and healthcare.
As a Black gay man, I hope that I will live to see the day when HIV/AIDS is a distant memory. We must all challenge ourselves to continue to do more, especially in the Black community, to change hearts and minds on LGBT equality and HIV stigma, and hold our elected officials accountable to expanding access to healthcare and investing in research. Join me and the entire NBJC family in commemorating World AIDS Day as we work together to create an AIDS-free generation.
Rodney K. Nickens Jr. is an emerging leader and a passionate racial justice and LGBT equality advocate. He currently serves as the Policy and Networks Associate at the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), coordinating the organizational political and policy advocacy and national networks to advance federal public policy that is inclusive of the Black LGBT community.
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