Where the hell is our community?
I’ve been reading And the Band Played On, and for some reason, it feels more like a commentary on today’s news than a historical account of the discovery of AIDS. As I read about the emerging infections on both coasts, along with Kaposi’s sarcoma and pneumonia leading to gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) — eventually named acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) — the pages reveal a disturbing struggle to get anyone to care about it, even the gay community, which was being hit so horribly hard.
Chapter 13, April 2, 1982: "[O]f the 300 cases in United States, 242 were gay or bisexual men, 30 were heterosexual men, 10 were heterosexual women, and 18 were men of unknown sexual orientation." Today, 31 years later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 1.1 million people are living with HIV and AIDS in the United States, and the vast majority are still gay men.
This month I was invited to participate in a meeting of more than a dozen federal legislators and a dozen leaders from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. The meeting was to talk about the LGBTQ community’s political priorities.
I discovered that I was fully out of sync with my fellow national LGBTQ leaders. The conversation went something like this: Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), DOMA, DOMA, ENDA, immigration, DOMA, ENDA. Had I not been there, I truly believe that HIV would have never been mentioned at all.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe that gay marriage, employment nondiscrimination and reforming immigration laws as they pertain to same-sex couples are worthy battles and should be priorities. But I’m heartbroken that HIV/AIDS has fallen off the gay radar. In fact, it hasn’t mrely fallen off; it’s been politely removed! It feels like it has been set aside because it requires conversations about more difficult topics, like sex, drugs and poverty, unlike the less-complicated message of love that is the cornerstone of the marriage talking points. We’ve de-sexed "gay" to win political wars about marriage and, as a result, abandoned confronting a sexually transmitted infection that is devastating our community.
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