National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: An Open Letter by Randall Brown, MPA
Did you know that there's a World AIDS Day every year? Of course you did. You knew that it's held on December 1st each year. You knew that it's also to support those with HIV and honor those who have lost their battle with the virus. And that it helps raise awareness of the disease. But did you know that there are other days set aside in the US for certain populations to help bring them into the spotlight?
In 2008, the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) launched National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to recognize the disproportionate impact of the epidemic on gay men while motivating individuals to get tested and attain services.
Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. African-American MSM account for the largest estimated number of diagnoses of HIV infection and AIDS in 2011, followed by white MSM and Hispanic/Latino MSM. The rate of new HIV cases among black men under the age of 30 who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States is three times greater than that of white MSM. This data was highlighted at the International AIDS Conference here in DC last year, but I was under another spotlight – within five minutes of arriving to volunteer, my own HIV status was disclosed to others by a "trusted" colleague without my consent.
Admittedly, testing positive for HIV myself in 2009 after spending years as an advocate made me susceptible to an incredible stigma – not only did I feel isolated from friends and family, I felt an incredible sense of failure. Would people see me as a fake or a hypocrite after espousing safer sex throughout my adolescence and young adulthood? Indeed, because of my shame, I allowed my fear and other challenges to conquer my common sense and avoided getting into care. Ironically, I learned while working at the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy that my diagnoses had indeed advanced to AIDS.
I'm writing this letter in honor of National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to join with other brave men and women to improve the health and well-being of gay men (and those who love us) through individual action, collective responsibility and education. I know that the Obama Administration is addressing the continuum of HIV care while implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and the Affordable Care Act will facilitate HIV testing to decrease the nearly 50,000 new infections seen annually, promoting a healthier America. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is now an FDA approved intervention, and new research and policy initiatives are moving us closer towards an AIDS-Free generation. With a positive end in sight, we as gay men must advance our leadership on both sides of the testing table to provide affirmation while achieving equality. To be clear, we must refocus our attention on the epidemic among gay men to achieve that end. As for me, my own viral load is now undetectable, and I'm proud that I am contributing to reduced community viral load. What can you do today to stop HIV?
Noted HIV/AIDS and public health advocate Frank Oldham Jr. noted that this day is important because of our history. I'm thankful for the many gay and bisexual men – regardless of their HIV status – for their leadership in advancing HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment and their involvement in efforts aimed at ultimately ending the pandemic. You are loved, and you are necessary, and your very existence motivates my efforts in this work. I also appreciate the National Black Justice Coalition for its observance of National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, as well as its tireless efforts to empower our community. Our shared fight against racism and homophobia contributes to a "whole health" approach that is critical to effective HIV prevention among gay men. Together, we shall overcome the obstacles that stand between us and a future free of HIV/AIDS.
—Randall Brown, MPA