Fighting stigma: Increasing infection rates among young gay men a cause for concern

Anthony Siegrist and Roy Gomez listen to Andrew Brandon of Family Health Centers of San Diego talk about STDs

Anthony Siegrist and Roy Gomez listen to Andrew Brandon of Family Health Centers of San Diego talk about STDs

From UT San Diego

by Paul Sisson

At a time of ever-increasing treatment options, and the promise of a cure on the horizon, HIV infection rates for gay men age 24 and younger have increased 132 percent from 2002 to 2011. The numbers, which recently appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, highlight an important challenge: Beating HIV is not just about better drugs. It’s also about altering cultural practices that are allowing it to spread.

Observers say an erosion of safe sex behavior, coupled with a stigma that reduces the social opportunities of people who are HIV-positive, has created an environment where many do not admit they have the disease or avoid getting tested. Peter Staley, an AIDS activist whose story was featured in the 2012 documentary “How to Survive a Plague,” has blogged often on what he calls “gay-on-gay shaming.” He said the situation feeds on itself. “All of the negative guys are walking around thinking they don’t know any positive guys. The silence feeds the stigma which feeds more silence,” Staley said.

Many gay men who survived the early days, when HIV had no treatment, are quick to say that a lack of fear of HIV is feeding the increase in infection rates. But younger men, like Michael Manacop of Hillcrest, who are in the middle of the quiet crisis, say it’s not that simple. “All my close friends, they’re still afraid of it. Some are too afraid of it to even get tested. They think it’s better to not know whether they’re HIV-positive or not,” he said.

Continue reading on UT San Diego.

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