Rise Up

BTL Editorial

As we report today, the gay community cannot rely on state and federal prevention dollars to help end the infection trend. Government dollars come with strings, and public health authorities are, by nature, cautious in adopting new science - no matter how proven.

With another World AIDS Day as a marker, the statistics are clear. Men who have sex with men (MSM), including transgender women, are disproportionately infected and affected by HIV. And MSM communities of color have dramatically poorer outcomes involving later diagnosis and less access to medical care and life-extending drugs.

A list of prevention interventions continues to expand each year, yet access to those options remains limited. They are hampered by stigma and shame, or priced out of the market.

It is clear that once again, our community must rise up to the HIV crisis and confront it head on.

We owe it to those who fought so hard in the early years of the epidemic just to live.

We owe it to our youth, who have never known a world without HIV but deserve to see that world.

We owe it to each other because communities come together to face overwhelming obstacles and crisis.

We owe it to ourselves because we do not have to be burdened with spiraling HIV infections, crippling stigma about a virus or by bitter recriminations that shame queer sexuality and try to control it.

We believe that we are uniquely positioned right now, at the close of 2013, to dramatically and substantially rewrite the history of HIV in our community. We believe that with the tools within our grasp - from treatment as prevention to PrEP, to condoms, to sero-positioning and top-only risk reduction options - we can achieve an HIV free generation in one decade. Not just an AIDS free generation - a generation of proud MSM and transgender women who are living without HIV, period.

It is an ambitious goal, but it can be achieved. It will require difficult, uncomfortable conversations that affirm our sexualities and sexual activity in all their diversity.

"We have been avoiding the conversation because we are afraid to acknowledge that we're afraid of HIV; and it's been killing us," says Emily Dievendorf, managing director of Equality Michigan.

And she is right, of course.

But the avoidance ends today.

BTL urges LGBT organizations - nationally, statewide and locally - to pledge to facilitate community dialogs in order to develop our own testing and prevention messaging, separate from the shackles of government funding. BTL commits to help drive this conversation, and stands ready to assist in creating comprehensive plans from the community, by the community and for the community to end the HIV crisis.

The dialogs need to do the following:

- Establish a clear timeline and plan for the local communities to address HIV using all the prevention technologies available.

- Must involve the state health department HAPIS division as listening partners only.

- Identification of all local organizations that can be brought in as partners including local public health, AIDS Service Organizations, other minority membership organizations and faith communities.

- Must engage local schools, K-12 through college, and address the lack of queer specific sexual health education.

- Must include explicit acknowledgement that condomless sex is, in fact, a healthy safer choice for some MSM and the continued shaming of condomless sex is harming our community.

- Findings, and step by step plans should be in place in localities by World AIDS Day 2014, one year from now.

These conversations, based on the local community needs as identified by that community, are key to stepping up to end HIV in Michigan's MSM community. We are ready - are you?

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