Why am I writing this piece today, you might ask. Wasn't World AIDS Day last week?
Yes, it was, but as one speaker at the annual White House observance of the day said, every day should be World AIDS Day. Indeed, we have a global crisis on our hands and many have taken their eyes off the ball. So, I hope that by writing this piece today, it can be a part of a continuing and constructive dialogue that can get Americans to pay attention to this issue once again.
I was at the White House observance last week, and I was struck by the words of Bishop Yvette Flunder, who closed the event. She reminded us that in the time of the cholera epidemic, clergy and others stigmatized victims of the infection as second-class citizens. They said it was God's punishment for living a sinful life, and the sickness would weed out those in society who were not living as the church required.
Then finally someone stepped up, called upon others to quit passing judgment and simply said, "Boil the water." People began to do that, the stigma disappeared, and in fact, so did the cholera. Sadly, as we continue our fight against AIDS, way too many are still stigmatized. But Bishop Fuller called upon us last week to do as they did in the time of cholera and simply "boil the water."
That's because we know what to do in this country and around the world to keep from transmitting the HIV virus. Safe sex, anti-retroviral treatment for those already infected, the newly sanctioned pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), regular testing, and getting Americans enrolled in health care via the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to gain access to care are just a few of the tools in our arsenal when it comes to combating the crisis. What we now need to muster -- just as we did in the '80s and '90s -- is the public will to finish the job we started.
Perhaps some do not know that GLAAD had its origins in the fight against AIDS. It was the media's sensationalized and negative coverage of the gay men impacted by HIV and AIDS nearly 30 years ago that led activists to form a group to fight back. The result is now a nearly three-decade-long legacy of fighting injustice in the media for the LGBT community and leveraging the media to change culture.
So it is fitting that next year, as GLAAD moves toward its 30th anniversary, we will be launching a renewed and reinvigorated effort to bring attention to this crisis at home and abroad through our programs. We know that great strides have been made, but that there is much more work to be done.
Consider these facts.
- In the U.S., we have seen 50,000 new infections each year for the past two decades.
- Youth in the age range 13 to 24 account for more than 25 percent of all these new infections, which is up more than 132% over the previous decade. Among this group, people of color are the most represented.
- Finally, an estimated 49 percent of HIV transmissions are from persons living with HIV but unaware of their infection.
I grew up in an age in which contracting HIV was tantamount to a death sentence. Thankfully, that's no longer the case. But it's no longer the case so long as someone is tested, diagnosed, and receives a continuum of treatment. In the U.S., we are currently missing the mark by a mile.
It's time for America's communities to get real about this crisis once again. It's time for the entertainment industry to put its red ribbons back on, advocate for testing and prevention. It's time for policy makers to double down on addressing this issue. And it's time for the LGBT community to once again rally around those of us most severely impacted by this crisis -- the transgender community, our youth, and people of color.
Friends, it's time to boil the water.