Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gay Men's Health Crisis commemorates National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (9/27)

National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NGMHAAD) on Thursday, September 27, helps to raise attention to the critical issues faced by gay and bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men (MSM), who are living with and at risk of HIV.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its estimates of HIV incidence in the United States for the years 2006-2009. MSM represent approximately 2% of the US population, but accounted for 61% of new HIV infections in 2009. Blacks/African American represent approximately 14% of the US population, but accounted for 44% of new HIV infections in 2009. Hispanics/Latinos represent 16% of the US population, but accounted for 20% in 2009.

These estimates also markedly showed there was an estimated 21% increase in HIV incidence for people aged 13-29 years, driven by a 34% increase in young MSM--the only group to experience a significant increase in incidence in this age range. Among MSM aged 13-29, HIV incidence among black/African American MSM increased significantly (48%) from 2006 through 2009 with a 12.2% estimated annual percentage increase. 

"Gay men, especially those who are young and black, continue to face a serious uphill battle in the fight against HIV/AIDS," said Marjorie J. Hill Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of GMHC.  "We must develop more targeted and empowering HIV prevention messages, tailored to these populations."

GMHC recently launched a public service campaign, "Address the Stress around the Test," noting that staff members in the David Geffen Center for HIV Testing and Health Education offer stigma-free counseling about feelings such as fear, anxiety and shame that may be connected to taking the HIV test, and are sensitive to the particular issues about sex, relationships and health related to gay men (as well as heterosexual women).

Also for NGMHAAD, GMHC partnered with Amida Care to update our HIV prevention campaign “Kiss & Tell” initially targeting young black and Latino gay men, but now reaching older black and Latino gay men.

“At GMHC, we work with our clients and program participants to create social marketing campaigns that highlight our target populations with visual messages emphasizing they are important and they matter,” added Hill.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gay Men's Health Crisis Commemorates National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day

National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day (NHAAAD) on Tuesday, September 18 helps to raise attention to the critical issues faced by older people living with and at risk of HIV.

According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 75% of HIV-positive New Yorkers are now 40 and older, and more than a third are 50 or older.  Women over age 50 comprise a growing percentage of new HIV diagnoses among older adults.

By 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over half of the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV will be over the age of 50.  Yet our nation is not prepared for the medical and social implications of this growing population. Existing research on appropriate treatment is meager, and HIV and AIDS stigma are widespread among older communities. Moreover, the myth that older adults are not sexually active causes a serious barrier to prevention and care.

The United States needs to increase response to social services and research on aging with HIV, prevention programs geared towards older adults, as well as culturally competent training for care-providers.

"GMHC continues to highlight this trend and in 2010 issued a report, 'Growing Older With the Epidemic: Aging and HIV' to better emphasize solutions for this critical problem," said Marjorie J. Hill, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC.  "We remain committed to working with local and national leadership and our elected officials to address the complexities of HIV and aging."

In August, GMHC partnered with ACRIA (AIDS Community Research Initiative of America) and SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) to host a satellite session titled, "HIV and Aging: The Challenge of the Epidemic's Fourth Decade," at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC.

GMHC recently launched a public service campaign, "HIV is Ageless," noting that regardless of a person's age, anyone can be at risk for HIV if they have unprotected sex or share needles, and encouraging people to seek free HIV testing at the GMHC Center for HIV Prevention, 224 West 29th Street.  
For NHAAAD, GMHC is also providing free HIV testing at the Senior Health Fair on Thursday, September 20, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Riverbank State Park, 145th Street and the Riverside Drive.

Monday, September 17, 2012

GMHC Congratulates the Empire State Pride Agenda on Their Selection of Nathan Schaefer as Their New Executive Director

photo courtesy of Empire State Pride Agenda
Gay Men's Health Crisis has been incredibly fortunate to have Nathan Schaefer serve as Director of Public Policy since 2008.  During his tenure, he has achieved great success such as spearheading the fight to lift the HIV travel and immigration ban, which allowed the International AIDS Conference to be held in the United States in 2012 for the first time in 20 years; and coalescing the coalition behind the new NYS HIV Testing law, legislation that will save lives by alerting people to their HIV status earlier and linking them to medical care and support services.  He has also been at the forefront of advocacy to revise Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines which prohibit gay and bisexual men from ever donating blood, building a diverse coalition of LGBT organizations, hemophilia groups and other groups concerned with blood safety and fairness, to push for much needed reform.

GMHC is confident that Nathan will do amazing work at the Empire State Pride Agenda.  They are smart to have chosen him, lucky to have him in the position and GMHC’s loss will be New York State’s gain.

 “I have proudly watched Nathan grow and evolve during his nearly five year tenure as our Director of Public Policy, states Marjorie J. Hill, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC.  “Nathan is a strong leader, passionate health advocate and innovative thinker. While sad to see him go, I am just thrilled that he will lead the Pride Agenda.”

“My years at GMHC helped me personally grow and professionally develop in profound ways,” said Nathan Schaefer. “GMHC will always have a special place in my heart.  I look forward to maintaining strong relationships with clients, volunteers and staff at GMHC.”

GMHC looks forward to partnering with Nathan and the Pride Agenda on our ongoing work to improve the lives of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and to fight for LGBT equality and social justice. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dating and Fear in the Age of HIV: 'I'd Like to Sleep With You -- and I'm HIV-Positive'

By Carl Sandler

This is difficult for me to write and maybe for you to read.

I'll start with a story.

I came out 23 years ago. My mother said, softly, "This is the worst day of our lives. The next worst will be the day we bury you from AIDS."

Much has changed since then. We know now, as we knew then, that being gay doesn't foretell an HIV diagnosis. The infection is far from a death sentence, at least for those with access to life-saving medications. And for many people, like my parents, a fear of gay people and HIV has been replaced with love and acceptance.

But as gay men, we're still ashamed of HIV, whether we're positive or negative. Some would rather have cancer than live with the stigma of the infection, where a diagnosis is filled with not only internalized gay shame but a sense of fault: "It could have been prevented if only we had just loved a little less..."

Nationally, 20 percent of gay and bisexual men are estimated to be living with HIV. Some are aware of their status and are being treated; others are not aware at all. Whether they know their status or not, there are hundreds of thousands of gay men living with HIV, hooking up and falling in love.

Many HIV-negative men I know live and love in a seemingly blissful denial, pretending HIV isn't already enmeshed in their dating and sex lives. But the fact is that if you're a sexually active, HIV-negative gay man, chances are you are already sleeping with HIV-positive men. You, and they, just may not know it.
You certainly would not know through a casual read of profiles on many dating sites and apps; you might get the opposite impression and be fooled into thinking the infection has gone on some extended holiday, like an aging Hollywood starlet. But sadly, many positive men are just not made to feel comfortable disclosing their HIV status openly on dating sites and apps. Some leave the question of status blank or even list their status as negative. Others may list their status upfront but refrain from showing their faces. Some brave souls add a discreet "+" sign to their profile name.

The dearth of proud, openly positive gay people online in most cities is a lost opportunity for all of us. More open disclosure can lead toward better, more informed, and safer sex. It would also go far toward removing some of the shame we have toward the disease.

To get there, we need to do more to encourage HIV-positive and HIV-negative gay men to openly discuss their status and risk online and to create a dialogue that supports both HIV-positive and HIV-negative people who are working through the difficult challenge of being in relationships with each other.

For Those Who Are HIV-Negative (or Think They Are)
We need to address our own fears and shame around HIV and do it in concert with other people, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative. Only by being honest with ourselves about our fears and our demons can we begin to overcome our own prejudices. We must ask ourselves how we are perpetuating ignorance and shame in our community, regardless of our HIV status, through the actions we take and the decisions we make around dating and sex.

Be Informed
We need to inform ourselves about the risks of HIV in 2012 and understand what it means to have the infection today. And we need to understand, and incorporate into our sex lives, the fact that a risk of transmission is higher with someone who doesn't know his status and/or is not on medication than with someone who is being treated.

There are tens of thousands of serodiscordant (positive/negative) couples who are in vibrant, healthy relationships that last years or decades without one transmitting the virus to the other. Through drugs that can often (although not always) reduce the virus to undetectable levels, PReP, and basic safer sex practices, it is actually remarkably easy to protect both yourself and your partner.

I understand this because I've been there. My younger self struggled to kiss someone whom I knew to be HIV-positive. I've always known you can't get HIV through kissing (t's a simple, safe activity), but the irrational mind is powerful. Today I have many friends I love who are HIV-positive, and I make a point to kiss each and every one of them.

Treat All Your Sex Partners As If They Were HIV-Positive
Everyone who is HIV-negative needs to develop a sexual health strategy that presumes that everyone we are sleeping with could be HIV-positive. For anyone who is sexually active and regularly dating or sleeping with other men, we need to practice safer sex -- 100 percent of the time.

I know plenty of HIV-negative guys who are comfortable sleeping freely with strangers they believe or assume to be negative, but the moment someone discloses that they are positive, they lock the door, paralyzed by fear and discrimination.
In the gay world, we can be sensitive to straight people criticizing or judging us, but there is an amazing amount of hypocrisy and elitism in our own backyard, much of it a result of fear and misinformation.

Don't Be a Douche Bag
We need to let our HIV-positive friends know we are available to discuss status and safe sex openly. Rather than spending time writing things like "neg for neg" in an online profile, we need to clue people in that we are ready to have a more informed discussion around risk and transmission.

And those of us who are HIV-negative need to stop using words like "clean" in our profiles to describe ourselves. "Clean" implies that people who are HIV-positive are dirty. On the Mister app and on, we discourage users to use the term and ask our users to report people who do. After all, we don't tolerate racist profiles or verbal harassment. I wish other sites and apps would do the same, but until then, we can set an example for others.

For Those Who Are HIV-Positive (With or Without Medications)
If all the HIV-positive people online felt comfortable enough to disclose and discuss their status and what it means to have responsible sex on medication, it would go a long way toward creating a less shameful and hidden online culture. Those of us who live in large cities often forget that, for many, the online world is their first and, in some cases, only connection to gay culture and safer-sex messages.

The people I know who are out as HIV-positive are amazingly free of shame and fear around their diagnosis. They are able to receive support and love from their friends; they are able to change perceptions. On an individual level, if you have shame around your diagnosis, every time you tell someone else about your status, you have the opportunity to have some of this shame lifted. You take away shame's power through sharing. You may also be surprised by how many people are willing to love and date you even after they know. Some people you disclose to might even risk telling you about their own HIV-positive status that they are keeping secret.

When and how to disclose is something that every HIV-positive person must reconcile for himself. I'd like to risk sharing some of my own strategies around sex and dating.

Strive to Be Truthful
We all bend the truth. Online, I have been 10-percent lighter or younger at times. But when it comes to sexual health (and not just HIV), it's important to strive to be truthful. If someone asks me directly or indirectly about anything related to health, even a cold, and I plan to have sex with them, then I give them the opportunity to decide for themselves if they want to have sex. Yes, I risk that they may walk away, but I've found that if I blend the truth in order to have sex or a date, I ultimately cheat myself. Informed sex is better sex.

Don't Do Things You Might Regret the Next Day
I don't do things I will worry about the next day -- even if the other person wants to engage in something unsafe.

Admit Your Fears
Until HIV-negative guys start admitting we're afraid of being HIV-positive, until we admit our investment in being HIV-negative, and until we admit the judgments that often get attached to HIV-positive status, we're never going to get rid of the shaming power of HIV and the negative impact it has on us, on HIV-positive men, and on future generations of gay men. If you are HIV-negative, I urge you to to face your fears, acknowledge your prejudices, and stop the cycle of discrimination within the gay community.

Sex, in this ongoing age of HIV, requires clarity, responsibility, and maturity in our acquaintances and friendships, our romances, and, most importantly, in the heat of the moment.

Carl Sandler is the CEO of MISTER app.  His article was originally printed in the HuffPost Gay Voices on September 10, 2012.