Yale Daily News
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In most students’ minds, the HIV/AIDS crisis was an event of the past: a bleak time of public condemnation of men who have sex with men, a searing recognition of the absence of legal and human rights afforded to affected communities and, for many, a period of intense sadness and fear. Yet the belief that HIV in America is no longer a public concern couldn’t be further from the truth.
Federal research shows that the nation’s HIV rate fell by a third from 2001 to 2011. But, in the same 10-year time frame, new diagnoses of HIV among gay and bisexual men between the ages of 13 and 24 increased by nearly 133 percent. Why is this happening, and why aren’t people paying attention?
We can attribute this lack of awareness at least partially to a diminished sense of urgency surrounding the virus. With the advent of prescription drugs that depress HIV-positive individuals’ viral loads, it slowly fell out of the news cycle. Soon after, the same-sex marriage movement all but replaced other LGBT community issues on the national airwaves. A cohort of young men now face an increased risk of contracting a virus relegated to the past, all while the public looks elsewhere.
Yes, the virus is spread more easily through anal intercourse, making gay men more susceptible. Still, we must recognize that two behavioral trends play an outsized role in the spike in incidence: Gay and bisexual men tend to have more partners and to use condoms less often than our heterosexual counterparts. But, as Michael Specter noted in the New Yorker over a year ago, “HIV is tied up with sex, a basic human need, but also with desire, shame, discrimination and fear. What twenty-year-old man, enjoying his first moments of sexual adventure, is going to be scared because, ten years before he was born, people like me saw gay men writhe and vomit and die on the streets where he now stands?”
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