The history of HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

From the Body.com

The history of HIV/AIDS is a long and complicated one. There are many conflicting details in its story, and each life touched by the virus has a complicated and beautiful story of their own. In this synopsis, we have tried our best to highlight the most crucial parts of the story of HIV in America, understanding that this is a near-impossible task. HIV stands out from many diseases, because today we are still without a cure—but also, perhaps more importantly, because the AIDS pandemic is now embedded into the histories and cultures of queer people, people of color, creative communities, and dozens of fringe and subculture groups; AIDS has become part of our own personal histories.

AIDS quilt closeup

[…] Out of the fear, hate, stigma, shame, and death, came the seeds of legendary and prolific AIDS activism. Some of the earliest activism led to the creation of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in 1982. Founded by writer Larry Kramer and a small group of his friends and other volunteers, GMHC began to organize and raise money for research, and started the first AIDS hotline. The group received over 100 calls in the first night alone. Other community agencies began to pop up in Los Angeles, New York, and across the country.

Read the full article. 

 

 

The dudes who won’t wear masks

From the Atlantic

Americans are figuring out how to live with a deadly new virus now, just as gay men did in the early years of AIDS. Abstinence from sex wasn’t sustainable, and condoms became a ticket to greater sexual freedom. Likewise, Americans can’t abstain from human interaction forever, and widespread masking may be a ticket to more social and economic freedom. But trying to shame people into wearing condoms didn’t work—and it won’t work for masks either.

man wearing a mask The public-health messaging around masks during the coronavirus pandemic has been muddled and confusing. The federal government recommended against face coverings for the public in March, with some public-health officials positing that they may even cause more harm than good. But a growing body of science, including evidence that people can transmit the virus when they don’t have symptoms, indicates that masks are an important tool for mitigating coronavirus transmission, especially in combination with physical distancing, hand hygiene, and other preventive strategies. Indeed, public-health concerns may justify mask mandates in some settings, including indoor spaces where many people gather for extended periods of time. But mandates have major downsides: Any enforcement is likely to disproportionately affect communities that are already marginalized, and some Americans—including some elected leaders in states facing serious coronavirus outbreaks—believe that requiring people to wear masks is an infringement on civil liberties. In practice, if Americans are going to mask up, public-health officials will have to cajole, not compel.

Read the full article.

How AIDS Remained an Unspoken—But Deadly—Epidemic for Years

From History.com

By the end of 1984, AIDS had already ravaged the United States for a few years, affecting at least 7,700 people and killing more than 3,500. Scientists had identified the cause of AIDS—HIV—and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified all of its major transmission routes.Marchers on a Gay Pride parade through New York City

Marchers on a Gay Pride parade through New York City carry a banner which reads ‘A.I.D.S.: We need research, not hysteria!’, June 1983.
Barbara Alper/Getty ImagesYet, U.S. leaders had remained largely silent and unresponsive to the health emergency. And it wasn’t until September 1985, four years after the crisis began, that President Ronald Reagan first publicly mentioned AIDS.

But by then, AIDS was already a full-blown epidemic.

HIV originated in 1920 in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. It spread to Haiti and the Caribbean before jumping to New York City around 1970 and California within the decade.

Health officials first became aware of AIDS in the summer of 1981. Young and otherwise healthy gay men in Los Angeles and New York began getting sick and dying of unusual illnesses normally associated with people with weakened immune systems.

It didn’t take long for fear of the “gay plague” to spread quickly among the gay community. Beyond the mortal danger from the disease, they also dealt with potentially being “outed” as homosexual if they had AIDS or an illness resembling it.

In fall 1982, the CDC described the disease as AIDS for the first time. Despite the growing cases and a new name, news outlets struggled with the disease, or at least how to cover it—some even shied away from giving it too much attention. Though the New York Times initially reported on the mysterious illnesses in July 1981, it would take almost two years before the prestigious paper gave AIDS front-page space on May 25, 1983. By that time, almost 600 people had died from it.

David W. Dunlap, a reporter in the Metro section at the time, told the New York Times Style Magazine: “There were strong messages that you got that were not written on any whiteboard. You knew to avoid it. It was a self-reinforcing edict: Don’t write about queers.”

Read the full article on History.

 

Second Open Letter on COVID-19 Focuses on Nondiscrimination, Data Collection and Economic Harm for LGBTQ Communities

From the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association

On April 21, 2020, GLMA, Whitman-Walker Health, the National LGBT Cancer Network, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, the New York Transgender Advocacy Group, and SAGE issued a second open letter to public health officials, healthcare institutions and government leaders on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ communities. The letter, joined by 170 organizations, called for action to protect LGBTQ patients from discrimination and to include sexual orientation and gender identity in data collection efforts related to the pandemic. The letter also called for action to address the economic harm to LGBTQ communities from the pandemic.

To read the full second open letter and list of signatories, click here.

The letter released on April 21 is a follow-up to an open letter signed by more than 150 organizations issued by the six coordinating organizations on March 11, 2020. Information on the first letter is available here.

Important COVID-19 Resources:

How does COVID-19 impact LGBTQ2 communities?

From Xtra.com

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the health of people and of economies worldwide, many in the global LGBTQ2 decorative imagecommunity sense a particular vulnerability to the pandemic’s immediate and downstream effects. In response, many are coordinating efforts to care for their own communities, often modeling their strategies on lessons learned from HIV/AIDS advocacy.

“One of the things I’m very concerned about is the social safety net,” says Charles Stephens, the director of The Counter Narrative Project, a Black gay men’s advocacy organization based in Atlanta, Georgia. Indeed, systematic employment discrimination could make the potential economic and health-related fallout of COVID-19 a greater threat to queer communities.

 

Read the full article.

Challenging HIV Stigma

From Sean Strub, POZ Magazine’s founder…

Biomedical advances against HIV since the dawn of the epidemic have been nothing short of astonishing. An almost always fatal disease is now, for those with the privilege of access to treatment, a manageable chronic illness, treated with a single daily pill. A person who acquires HIV today has every reason to expect to live a normal life span.

Sean Strub
POZ Magazine’s founder, Sean Strub

Yet with such astonishing success in treatment, why is HIV stigma worse today than ever before? Why do so many long-term survivors, including many who were exceptionally open about their HIV-positive status for years, find they must now keep it a secret, sometimes going deeply into closets they thought they had left for good years ago?

Many people—especially those who do not have HIV—find these questions startling. That’s because they remember the days when one had to wear a spacesuit to visit a person with AIDS in a hospital or was afraid to eat in a restaurant with gay waiters or refused to touch a person they thought might have the virus.

Read the full article.

Health Alert: LGBT people may be at higher risk from COVID-19

From the Bay Area Reporter

More than 100 organizations sent an open letter to medical groups and the news media stating that LGBT people are at greater risk from the novel coronavirus due to other social and medical issues that affect the LGBT community.

Scout, who goes by one name, is a bisexual and trans man who is the deputy director of the National LGBT Cancer Network. That organization took the initiative on drafting the letter, which was released March 11, and gathering co-signers.

Scout is the deputy director of the National LGBT Cancer Network

Local organizations that signed the letter include Equality California, Horizons Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, and the Transgender Law Center.

The letter highlights three issues that may put LGBTs at greater risk during the COVID-19 epidemic: higher tobacco use than among the general population, higher rates of cancer and HIV-infection, and instances of discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity (COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.)

“We’re really concerned because we know that whenever there’s a health issue, the pre-loaded issues in our community create an issue for us,” Scout, a Ph.D., said in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter March 16. “We have more social isolation, more smoking. But we know how to offset that. As coronavirus expands so fast, we wanted to let the public health community know we can take steps to avoid another health disparity.”

Read the full article on the Bay Area Reporter Website.

Activist Victor Claros Helps Latinos Understand U=U

From hivplugmag.com

Victor Claros knows the ugly realities of war. The El Salvador-born immigrant fled his country after being captured and nearly killed by guerrillas when he was 15. But the young man’s spirit never died.

Despite having grown up in a religious and homophobic family, Claros found the strength to come out twice: first as gay to his then-wife, and later telling the world he’s living with HIV. What happened next prompted him to take the first step towards becoming a staunch activist.

Activist Victor Claros

“I felt guilty, I was really afraid and ashamed,” remembers Claros, who was working as an HIV educator at a nonprofit at the time of his diagnosis. “I think, sadly, it took me being diagnosed to realize how much stigma and discrimination people living with HIV face on a daily basis. What made it even harder is the fact that way too often the stigma came from individuals, providers, and workers who were helping people with HIV.”

One of Claros’s a-ha moments came when he overheard providers making negative comments about their own HIV-positive clients, an experience that made him realize he needed to fight harder for the people they were serving. So, he joined ranks with Bruce Richman and the Prevention Access Campaign to further promote undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U), a consensus that states when you are HIV-positive, undetectable, and on meds, it is impossible to transmit the virus.

Claros says, “The only way I was going to help others was by becoming vocal and openly start talking about these people I was testing on a daily basis. That’s kind of the thing that pushed me to come out [positive].”

Read the full article on Plus.

Bruce Richman: Meet the Man Behind U=U

From aidsplusmag.com….

Bruce Richman, the renowned activist and founder of the Prevention Access Campaign, the organization that launched the undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U) message, is on a return flight from Greece where he joined local advocates in sharing the news that when you’re living with HIV, on meds, and undetectable, it is impossible to transmit the virus to others.

For the last several years, Richman has united activists in efforts to end both the HIV epidemic and the stigma that many people living with HIV face. A growing network of health experts, professionals, teachers, siblings, spouses, parents, and friends have changed perspectives on what a positive diagnosis means. Through hard-hitting research and tenacious activism and lobbying, U=U has become a global consensus, recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous other agencies, doctors, and organizations around the world.

But despite the immense impact U=U has already had on the esteem, relationships, and overall wellness of those living with HIV (and the people who love them), the rest of the country’s general perception of HIV is still outdated. This is what drives Richman’s pursuit to change hearts and minds.

“U=U is my calling,” Richman, a lawyer-turned-activist, says. “It grabbed me by the gut and yanked me forward. I’ve never felt such a compulsion and clarity. I knew that undetectable equals untransmittable, but millions of people were suffering because they were not being told and people in positions of great influence to alleviate that suffering were sitting on their hands. I had no choice.”

Read the full article.

Post a selfie to help end HIV stigma

From plus online…

The campaign captures 24 hours in the lives of people affected by HIV stigma, which impacts everyone regardless of age, race, or status. The social media-driven campaign, now in its tenth year, is an opportunity for people to share a moment of their day and tell their story, while breaking down the barriers that stigma creates and raising awareness about HIV, as stated in a press release.

“Stigma can isolate and scare people,” said Positively Aware art director Rick Guasco, who created the campaign. “It can also prevent people from accessing care and treatment. A Day with HIV brings people together; it shows that we’re all affected by stigma, and that people living with HIV are just like everyone else.”

We encourage you to take a picture and post it to your social media with the hashtag #ADayWithHIV and include a caption that gives the time, location, and what inspired you to take the photo.

Images can also be uploaded to ADayWithHIV.com, where they will be considered for publication in a special section of the November/December issue of Positively Aware.

Check out some of last year’s photos

Learning he was “undetectable” was a game changer

In 2012, Bruce Richman received news about his health that would set him on an unexpected path.

His doctor explained to him that he was “undetectable,” meaning that by adhering to his HIV antiretroviral therapy, the viral load in his blood was so low that it could no longer be detected.

Bruce Richman, founder of Prevention Access Campaign, is working to change the way the world views people living with HIV

This was a game changer for him. The news meant that Richman, who first found out he had HIV in 2003, would be unable to pass the virus on to any sexual partner.

“I found out nine years after my diagnosis that I can’t transmit the disease. My doctor told me and, here I am, a privileged white guy with a support system. I’m privileged with this information, and I started looking around and saw that nothing confirmed it was true,” Richman told Healthline. “I started doing research. There was no information out there to the general public that was clear and inclusive and accepted that this was true.”

Richman’s realization that this information, which could benefit thousands upon thousands of people living with HIV, rested mainly within medical circles — accessible to those with connections and privilege — awakened something within him.

Continue reading on Healthline.com.

We won’t end the HIV epidemic until we help the most vulnerable

How do we reduce rates concentrated among black and Latino men who have sex with men? Or meet the needs of HIV-positive patients caught between insurance plans or places to live? To end the epidemic, we must start where we began — by focusing on those most affected, uniting advocacy efforts, pushing for a cross-sector response and focusing on the social determinants of health.

As someone who has spent the better part of my professional career as both an advocate and HIV public health expert, I’ve been reflecting on the decades-long fight for gay rights sparked by people who gathered together at Stonewall in 1969 to demand change for the LGBTQ+ community and put an end to years of discrimination. Not long after, the AIDS epidemic swept across the country, closely intertwining the movement for increased LGBTQ+ rights with the AIDS response. Gay rights groups were relentless in pushing for increased government attention and funding as thousands died from the disease. Activists organized “buyers clubs,” lobbied for faster FDA approval of promising drugs and countered the fear and discrimination people living with AIDS faced.

Read the full article.

How Pittsburgh is at the forefront of HIV awareness, prevention, and care

From the Pittsburgh City Paper…

On World AIDS Day in 2015, AIDS Free Pittsburgh launched as a collective initiative of healthcare institutions and community-based organizations to support those living with HIV/AIDS, and those in high-risk communities. Following the example of San Francisco and New York, the organization set three goals: to increase access to PrEP, to routinize and destigmatize HIV testing, and to put in place a rapid linkage to care for those diagnosed.

One of the major successes of these efforts has been the increased information about and access to PrEP. Dr. Ken Ho, chair of the PrEP subcommittee of AIDS Free Pittsburgh, says, “We’ve developed multiple programs to make PrEP more accessible in Pittsburgh.” He goes on, “My hope is that our efforts will translate to a continued decline in HIV infections.” These efforts have included putting together PrEP toolkits for providers, hosting informational happy hours for pharmacists, and multi-pronged advertising and media campaigns to chip away at the stigma associated with HIV.

Read the full article.

AIDS Education Month: Philadelphia FIGHT looks to raise awareness, combat the virus

From kywnewsradio.radio.com

June is AIDS Education Month, and Philadelphia FIGHT has organized a number of events designed to prevent HIV and get folks tested. “People are not going in to get treatment. People still lack access to care,” said Tashina Okorie the director of community health training alliance for Philadelphia FIGHT. She says, while many believe that the AIDS epidemic is over, there is a lack of education and a plethora of stigma.

So the goal of AIDS Education Month, Okorie says, is to dispel myths and provide details on testing, prevention and access to health care. “Access to prep and access to just medication, so you can take care of your health,” she said.

On Tuesday, hundreds will attend the HIV Prevention and Education Summit at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which will feature dozens of workshops. “Around HIV prevention, around hepatitis C treatment, around behavioral health matters,” she explained. Later in the month there’s a community cookout and workshop on how to teach others about HIV.

Read the full article.

Black and African American LGBTQ Youth Report

From the Human Rights Campaign

In 2017, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation partnered with researchers at the University of Connecticut to conduct a groundbreaking survey of over 12,000 LGBTQ youth and capture their experiences in their families, schools, social circles and communities. More than 1,600 Black and African American LGBTQ youth responded to the survey.

This resource presents data collected from these youth, shedding light on their challenges and triumphs encountered while navigating multiple, intersecting identities. This report utilizes the full sample (any respondent who answered more than 10 percent of the survey) and provides more detail than is captured in the 2018 Youth Report.

Find out more.

AIDS Resource Alliance offers education, support, prevention services in State College

From centredaily.com

Though HIV is treatable today, the challenges of navigating the health care system can be stressful for anyone, let alone an individual living with a chronic illness. AIDS Resource Alliance utilizes a team of case managers who are trained to help their clients with insurance, housing, treatment and other issues that impact the lives of persons living with HIV. Twice-monthly support groups give clients a chance to share their experiences and struggles within a safe space where judgment and stigma are not allowed.

AIDS Resource Alliance also provides prevention services to the communities they serve. HIV and STI testing are available free of charge during office hours, as are condoms and other harm reduction materials. Each testing client is also provided with risk-reduction education, and general education services are available to local agencies and organizations who want their members to learn more about HIV and sexual health.

Much has changed since the earliest days of the epidemic, and the staff at AIDS Resource are preparing for the future with programming that addresses the new landscape of HIV in America. PrEP, the daily medication that can prevent HIV infection, is prescribed free in the Williamsport offices, as are the required testing and physical examinations necessary to continue the medication (the cost of the drug is the responsibility of the patient, but the AIDS Resource team can assist the client in applying for programs that assist in covering the cost of the drug.) As the population of people living with HIV enters their 60s and beyond, support group and other focused social activities enable clients to maintain positive social connections. Counseling services are provided free of charge to clients who request them.

Find out more.

Five ways to flip the script on HIV

From HIVplusmag.com

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2017 HIV Surveillance Report, African-Americans represent 41 percent of new HIV diagnoses yet comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population. In 2018, an article in Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities offered a five-point “action plan” for community leaders to address and reduce that disparity.

Be Immersive: Although the authors don’t go as far as suggesting all efforts must arise from black communities, they do note the need for work to be done in collaboration with those communities, and for answers to these challenges to be culturally relevant to African-Americans. (Pointing to an “unavailability of access to HIV healthcare and testing,” the researchers also call for “free or reduced-cost testing.”)

Be Nonjudgmental: The authors call for leaders and service providers to work to eliminate prejudices and unconscious biases that may interfere with HIV diagnoses and treatment. After all, they point out, some of the most-impacted populations are those who face stigma, including LGBTQ people, drug users, and those currently or formerly incarcerated. In particular, the researchers call out “cultural HIV/AIDS stigma” and “homo-negativity.”

Be Knowledgeable: The authors stress the importance of understanding “new approaches” to prevention and treatment—clearly referencing the recent consensus that undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U, which shows that once an HIV-positive person in treatment reaches viral suppression they are no longer at risk of transmitting the virus to a partner), and explicitly mentioning the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as a highly effective barrier to transmission.

Be an Advocate: The authors want community leaders to become more vocal in calling attention to the epidemic and its impact on the black community. But that’s just the beginning. The action plan notes that much larger social issues must also be addressed in order to “eradicate secondary factors such as incarceration rates, poverty, STDs, and other factors that increase the chances of contracting HIV.” Essentially, they are calling for intersectional activism.

Be Innovative: The plan says to be “proactive and create solutions that evolve with the times and the changing needs of the affected populations.” Certainly, that includes new technologies and treatments, but the authors also point to innovative programs such as Many Men, Many Voices (3MV), aimed at black men who have sex with men who may or may not identify as gay or bi, in which small groups talk about cultural, social, and religious norms; sexual relationship dynamics; and how racism and homophobia influence HIV risk behaviors.

Help combat HIV in Pennsylvania by volunteering your feedback to the Department of Health

The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the HIV Prevention and Care Project (HPCP) are looking for community members interested in HIV prevention, education, and treatment; We need people affected by HIV and AIDS to provide feedback regarding the state’s efforts in combating HIV/AIDS.

As part of the HIV Prevention and Care Plan, our goals include reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to care, improving health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequalities.

As a community member effected by HIV, your feedback regarding the plan will help provide a road map in meeting the goals set out by the State Department of Health and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Volunteering can involve reading a short paragraph and providing feedback or just completing a brief survey.

For more information, and to find out how to get involved, check out the most recent copy of the Pennsylvania HV Prevention and Care News Bulletin and click on the Join Our List button.

You can also contact Daniel Hinkson at dlh49@pitt.edu for more information about the HPCP, the Prevention and Care Plan, and how to volunteer.

Your voice can make a difference!

Thousands gather Downtown as Pittsburgh shows its Pride

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Members of the LGBTQ community and supporters came out in full force Sunday for the EQT Equality March and Pride Fest in Downtown Pittsburgh — events that celebrate gay rights.

This year’s parade had an attendance of tens of thousands. At one point, an announcement over the loudspeaker said this year’s parade was larger than the city’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. It also was supported by a number of corporate sponsors and religious organizations.

Click here to go to the Post Gazette Video

“To see all these companies coming out and supporting us indicates there is more inclusiveness in the workplace,” said Craig Skvarka, 42, of Banksville. “There were a few [corporate sponsors] in years past. But there are more now.

The Pride march is an opportunity for people in the gay community to express their individuality. The streets were teeming with rainbow colors — representing the coming together of different sexual orientations — worn on capes, T-shirts and flags.

“It’s a way of expressing who we really are and allowing everyone to be comfortable in Untitled-3our own skin,” said Alayna Mott, 23, of Ambridge. “It means a lot to me because I am part of this community and I feel accepted by all around me.

See the video and read the article here.