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Let Us Unite, Like We Did 30 Years Ago

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It was first known as the "gay cancer." Then GRID, the gay-related immune deficiency. Then AIDS, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Recently a young gay male friend asked what the acronym "AIDS" stood for. He didn't know.

Thirty years of loss, confusion, and heartache, particularly for gay men, who still bear the brunt of this disease today. And because they do, we must continue to teach and remember. Since we first discovered AIDS, close to 300,000 gay men -- fathers, sons, brothers, lovers -- have been lost to the disease.

But in the face of this terrible epidemic, particularly in the gay community, we found strength and power in life-saving purpose; we became more. Together, we rose up, we fought, and we redefined empowerment.

In many ways, the advent of the AIDS epidemic was the impetus of what would eventually become the strong and vibrant LGBT movement that lives on today. Responding together in triage to fight the disease spurred a beautiful camaraderie among gay men and lesbians, among young and old, in the gay community and with our straight allies. In a twisted turn, the disease confirmed our dignity and kindness. It humbled us and reaffirmed our common bonds.

Today we honor that beautiful camaraderie as we mark National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. It's a day to remind ourselves that HIV/AIDS is not over and it's important that we, as gay men, take care of our health. It's important that we get tested regularly for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at least every three to six months.

It's a time to take charge, too, and recognize that greater engagement of the LGBT community, from national and state organizations to grassroots activists, is vital for us to move closer to the day when HIV/AIDS is no more.

Right now in the United States, as many as one in eight gay men is living with HIV/AIDS. In some locations, particularly large urban areas, the prevalence of HIV is even higher. HIV infection rates are still on the rise among gay and bisexual men -- the only risk group for which this is the case.

The situation is even more sobering for young gay black men. This group is becoming infected with HIV at three times the rate of their white counterparts. This is unacceptable and we must do more to address the reasons these young men continue to experience such high rates of infection -- especially when research tells us that they are not engaging in riskier behaviors or having more sex partners than other men.

It's clear that now is not the time to slow our efforts in the fight against HIV. It's clear that we need to do more to fight stigma, homophobia, isolation, and poverty -- all drivers of new HIV infections. It's time we rekindle the beautiful camaraderie that helped launch the modern gay rights movement and once again mobilize our united efforts to truly end HIV, because it's within our reach.

We take pride in the success of the movement for full equality and all it has accomplished, particularly in recent years. The noble wars that have been waged to increase equality and inclusion have made our country a better place for gay people and our families.

Yet we observe that the gay community has become complacent in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and believe it is time to again make the disease a key focus of the LGBT movement's activities. If we are to end HIV/AIDS, quite simply, this conversation and focus will be required.

It bears repeating: HIV infection rates are still on the rise among gay and bisexual men -- the only risk group for which this is the case. Just as we did in the beginning, it's time to band together, rise up, and fight even harder as we approach the finish line and cross it together, as united as we were thirty years ago.

If you're a gay or bisexual man, there are a few simple things you can do right now to help. Schedule your next HIV test or screening for STIs. If you need help finding a testing location, visit www.ManyShadesofGay.org to create a cute little avatar of yourself that will help you find the nearest testing site. Educate yourself about HIV and STI transmission through the many resources online, including www.betablog.org or www.aids.gov. Make a charitable donation to an AIDS service organization in your community, give of your time as a volunteer, or as an organization, take part in the philanthropic response to HIV/AIDS at www.fcaaids.org.

If you're an ally of a gay or bisexual man, make sure he's getting tested and educating himself. And make sure you're doing the same, because HIV does not discriminate. Indeed, we are all in this together.

Now more than ever before in this fight, we can see the end of HIV/AIDS. We have the tools and the knowledge to make it happen; now we just have to summon the strength. We know the power is there, in the LGBT community and all or our supporters.

If we make fighting this disease a top priority for the entire gay community once again, we will be able to cross this fight off our list. And a country, indeed a gay community, without HIV/AIDS will be a huge step toward full equality, too.