Category Archives: Stigma

Philly LGBTQ conference addresses deadly stigmatization of HIV

From Newsworks

“We can find a way to end HIV. We got heart, and maybe that’s enough to fight the racism, stigma, homophobia, gender inequity …. We got to stick together. We got to stay strong.”

Performer Todrick Hall

Performer Todrick Hall

Todrick Hall sang these words, kicking off “Convergence: Forging the Path to End HIV,” a panel discussion plenary at the five-day Creating Change Conference, hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force in Center City Philadelphia. Hall, an openly gay and popular YouTube entertainer, received great applause from the audience.

The aim of the discussion was to address the stigma surrounding HIV in hopes of eliminating the virus.

When compared to other countries, the United States has a realtively low suppression rate, which is the number of people living with HIV but undergoing treatment, thereby decreasing the likelihood of spreading the virus.

Panelist Dr. Richard Elion of George Washington University explained that, “[In] Uganda, the rate of suppression runs at about 55 percent, compared to 30 percent in the United States. So clearly, our country is not doing something that we need to be looking at.”

Elion said there is more to decreasing the spread of HIV than affordable diagnosis and treatment options, and that combating the stigma of HIV is vital.

Read the full article. 

An open letter by Tyler Curry

From Advocate.com

Before I sprouted out of the closet as a little gay sapling, my mother had never met a single homosexual person in her life. And in the suffocating Southern Christian confines of Texas, her limited perception was open to the most horrific creative interpretation. The nightmares of evil drag queens and insidious perverts quickly faded away, however, once her son told her that he liked boys.

The majority of gay men know how it feels to secretly live in the presence of someone who is blindly afraid of you, yet that blind fear is exactly what we inflict on HIV-positive men. It is because of this that I write an open letter to gay men young and old.

Your friend is living with HIV.

dear-gay-menx750It doesn’t matter who you are or where you hail from; if you are a man who kisses other men, someone you know is HIV-positive. Hopefully, this is already yesterday’s news because you live in a collective space where your friends are not afraid to discuss their love and sex lives, regardless of status. But if you care to argue that this is a false narrative, then you may be creating barriers for your HIV-positive friends without even knowing it. This isn’t just a hindrance to their mental health; it is also a risk to your own HIV-negative status. If you don’t acknowledge the reality that your friends may be living with HIV, you probably think that you’ve never slept with an HIV-positive person either.

In the first six months after my diagnosis, I was petrified to tell my best friend about my status. As much as I knew he wouldn’t judge me or toss our friendship aside, something he had previously said kept ringing in my ears:

“I would never date someone with HIV. I just don’t think I could get over it.”

A world where my best buddy would reject someone just like me was a world I could live without. Yet I tucked it inside and hid something from my friend to avoid any stigma from someone I loved. When I did tell him my status and the reason for my hesitation, he was immediately overcome with unquestionable support and complete remorse. And just as happens with anyone who made a judgment before getting to know someone, his benign HIV stigma has become undetectable.

Although most days I do feel like a rainbow unicorn, my story and my status are nothing unique. If you are a gay man, or any other person who knows more than a handful of gays, then you know a person with HIV. Instead of trying to figure out who it could be, think about how you would feel if one of your closest friends were judged, rejected, and ridiculed for his status.

Or worse: How do you feel if one of your friends is remaining silent because he feels you might judge and reject him as well?

HIV isn’t exclusive to the LGBT community, but it is the backbone of its legacy of tragedy and strength. Today, HIV doesn’t have to rob a person of anything in their life, but only if they are surrounded by an educated and loving community that understands a disease is not a characteristic or a flaw. It’s just another thing to overcome, and the LGBT community overcomes its struggles together.

Be a part of that community. Be a friend, a lover, and an ally to people with HIV.

Why aren’t HIV prevention pills going to the people who need them?

From Rolling Stone online

When Truvada was introduced four years ago as a way to prevent HIV, public health leaders didn’t welcome the drug with open arms. The head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation panned the once-daily pill as a “party drug.” Other health officials claimed that taking Truvada would cause a wave of wild unprotected sex. Even members of the LGBTQ community parroted the criticism, with one gay journalist (regretfully) labeling some users “Truvada whores.”

But the last four years has seen a shift in attitude. More andgetting-prep-to-people-who-need-it more Americans are embracing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the HIV prevention method that requires a daily dose of Truvada to reduce viral risk. And more and more prescriptions are being written for the antiretroviral drug. While PrEP is growing in popularity, a new study out of the University of California released last month suggests that the populations most at risk of HIV infection are not the ones benefitting from the prevention strategy.

In a survey of gay and bisexual men in California, only a handful of participants reported having taken PrEP. PrEP use was highest among young white men, at 13.9 percent. For young Latino men, that figure was cut by more than half, while young black men represented less than 10 percent of people who started PrEP.

“This is not reflective of the HIV epidemic at all,” says Shannon Weber, founder of Please PrEP Me, an online directory of over 230 clinics in California that provide PrEP. “It is reflective about access, and where and how people are getting that information.”

Read the full article.

Web series explores what it means to be undetectable

From the Huffington Post

A new web series from Todd Flaherty is elevating the conversation surrounding what it means to have an undetectable HIV-positive status and helping to break down stigma for those living with HIV.

what is undetectableAccording to Tyler Curry, creator of The Needle Prick Project, “an HIV-positive person can achieve undetectable levels after undergoing antiretroviral therapy (ART). A level of a person’s HIV viral load is what causes them to be more or less likely to transmit the disease. An undetectable viral load reduces the likelihood of transmission by 96 percent.”

Many people, queer and straight alike, are still uneducated about what exactly undetectable means. Flaherty’s new web series, appropriately titled “Undetectable,” follows a fictional gay man after he finds out about his own HIV diagnosis and his subsequent journey.

The Huffington Post chatted with Flaherty this week about his new project.

F.D.A. ends ban, allowing some blood donations by gay men

From the New  York Times

gay men can donate bloodFollowing up on a preliminary recommendation it made a year ago, the Food and Drug Administration said on Monday that the agency would scrap a decades-old lifetime prohibition on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.

The agency continued to bar men who have had sex with men in the past year, however, saying the measure was needed to keep the blood supply safe.

Gay rights groups considered the lifting of the lifetime ban a major stride toward ending a discriminatory national policy, but had wanted blanket bans for gay men to be removed entirely. Donations should be considered on an individual basis, critics said, as some gay men — like some heterosexual men and women — are at far higher risk of H.I.V. infection than others.

GMHC, the advocacy group formerly known as Gay Men’s Health Crisis, harshly criticized the 12-month delay. Kelsey Louie, the group’s chief executive officer, said it “ignores the modern science of H.I.V.-testing technology while perpetuating the stereotype that all gay and bisexual men are inherently dangerous.”

The Food and Drug Administration enacted the lifetime ban in 1983, early in the AIDS epidemic. The virus that would become known as H.I.V. was discovered that year, and no way to test for it in donations existed.

Now, however, tests can tell whether donated blood contains the virus in as little as nine days after the donor has been infected. The “window period” — during which a unit of donated blood might test negative but still infect the recipient — is the reason for continuing time-based bans on people who engage in various kinds of high-risk behavior.

Read the full on the New York Times.

‘Undetectable’ a new identity for gay men diagnosed with HIV

 From aidsmap.com….

status: UNDETECTABLE

Achieving an undetectable viral load is a key milestone in the period after diagnosis with HIV, qualitative interviews with Canadian gay men suggest. Men incorporated knowledge of their own undetectable status into their identities as HIV-positive gay men and their sexual decision making, according to a study published in the August issue of AIDS Education and Prevention. Being undetectable helped many men feel ‘responsible’ and ‘normal’.

The findings come from in-depth, qualitative interviews with 25 gay men diagnosed with HIV in British Columbia, Canada between 2009 and 2012. All had acquired HIV less than a year before their diagnosis and half had been diagnosed with acute (very recent) infection. Up to four interviews were done, in order to see how experiences changed during the year after diagnosis.

Interviewees typically reported a period of sexual abstinence immediately after being diagnosed with HIV. During this period of adjustment, many men had no sex drive. Avoiding HIV transmission was a major concern for many, including this man:

“First of all, I killed my sex life. I was like, you know, I don’t want to infect anyone, I don’t want to take the risk and I don’t want to disclose, so the way of not doing is just not having sex.”

When participants did start to have sex again, they found themselves in an altered sexual landscape, facing new scenarios, challenges and possibilities. Faced with the difficulty of talking about having HIV with new partners, some sought out other HIV-positive men. Others avoided anal sex, even with condoms.

Learning that one’s viral load was undetectable could open up new possibilities:

“I didn’t play around when I was not sure… if I was undetectable or not. I didn’t play. They [sexual partners] would be open to it, but I didn’t want… Personally I didn’t feel comfortable, so I didn’t play until I was undetectable.”

Read the full article.