Gay Community Won Battles on Marriage, But May Be Losing the War on HIV/AIDS

Published: July 3, 2013

As the Supreme Court heard arguments in March for the two gay marriage cases it decided last week, one image was shared again and again, adorning the Facebook and Twitter pages of brands, celebrities and political leaders: an equal sign in red, the color synonymous with love.

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It was only fitting that the logo of the Human Rights Campaign would become the symbol of the two gay marriage wins at the Supreme Court last week – on California’s same-sex marriage ban, and on federal benefits for gay couples. HRC, the largest LGBT group in the country, had thrown an enormous amount of resources behind the fight for gay marriage. Its "Millions for Marriage" campaign had, quite literally, raised millions.
 
But while the HRC has racked up win after win on marriage, it may be quietly losing another, harder battle, a battle some say it hasn’t fought very hard to win: the fight against HIV/AIDS.
 
In December 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released startling new data that showed HIV was still plaguing the gay community. While new HIV infections had remained steady in the general public between 2008 and 2010, infections had risen by an incredible 22 percent in young gay men. Gay men represented two-thirds of new infections. And nearly 6,000 gay men were dying of AIDS every year.
 
The Kaiser Health Foundation recently described the problem of HIV in the city of Washington, where the HRC and many other big LGBT groups are headquartered, as "as epidemic on par with some developing nations."
 
"Gay and bisexual men remain at the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic," says Jonathan Mermin, the director of the CDC’s division of HIV/AIDS prevention. "But HIV is not always at the top of the list of priorities for LGBT organizations."
 
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When HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz lists off the priorities for the organization, the list is long: gay marriage, workplace nondiscrimination protections, safe schools, corporate support and benefits for employees, fostering positive places of worship. He doesn’t name HIV/AIDS.
 
Choosing priorities, Cole-Schwartz says, is a "balancing act" and the issue of HIV/AIDS is one he says "thankfully we haven’t had to deal with too much." Most of HRC’s work on the disease, he says, is done through partnerships or coalitions.

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