Tuesday, October 23, 2012

People Are More Terrifying Than HIV/AIDS

courtesy of typs.org.uk
Just recently I went to a doctor's appointment. As I was going through the doors, I noticed a very familiar face. I was so stunned all I could say was, "What are you doing here?" Yeah, just like we were at a store.

It's very obvious I knew what she was there for, as well was the fact she knew the exact same of myself. She happens to be the daughter of someone I've known for many years, and I hadn't had a clue about her diagnosis. From the moment I saw her until I got out of there all that kept running through my mind was what was going to come out and what was going to be said. From the original day I was diagnosed I kept my issues to myself (and wife).

A few weeks later I ran into her father and we talked about many things, and I'm so glad not a word was mentioned about any doctors or my seeing his daughter at her appointment; after all, the doctor's office is specifically for HIV/AIDS patients. I haven't seen this person in a while now, but I'm sure glad she didn't say a word about anything.

You see I'm the kind of guy who has to be bleeding from the eyes, to be going to a hospital or the doctor's (except now) and I hold my cards very close to the vest as a means to protect myself from those who don't know or are just opinionated on issues they have no knowledge of.

Just two weeks ago it was let out again, to someone who used to treat me as a friend, and don't you know he's got the biggest mouth there is, as well as the totally wrong outlook on the HIV issue and its real implications to a person's body, and the means in which we contract HIV. He's one of those who think anyone who has it must be dirty, or a lesser person than he is. I had been around him even before I was diagnosed, and to sit and hear some of the things that come out of his mouth would have dropped the average person; but me, I'm not so easy a target. I just listen to him ramble his ideas and incorrect thoughts.

All the while, he had not a clue he was preaching the uninformed lesson to the choir, so to speak.  As time went on I slowly slipped some information (always use condoms) to his teen kids without them knowing I had HIV. It's because I do understand a lot of medical issues, and have gone through so many, I have learned so much that I wasn't ever worried about saying what I thought.

As I wrote in the title, it's more the people who worry me the most now that I know what to do with my health. It used to be I worried about this virus. It's really ironic that someone you have known for so long can turn into someone you never knew after all; they were just somebody whose name and phone number you knew, that's all.

It's sad when you realize things truly aren't what they seem, when for years things were good. All the uninformed and misinformed people are the ones who suffer silently because they just don't get it. Sure I suffer in silence too, but I suffer for different reasons. As I'm getting older I become more guarded with who I allow myself to call a friend, and it's really disheartening to me, because I'm the kind of guy who will be out having fun telling jokes and trying to get other people into a good mood. Maybe this is the part where I grow up finally. I have been called a big kid long enough.

I just don't like the seriousness of how people can still be so naive to such a big health issue. HIV is still around and I have seen it firsthand -- both the caring and the not caring at all. Kind of like being on a listing ship; flip a coin and decide which way it's going to turn over. It can be bothersome most times, but, then there are times I don't care and I say it the way I see it.

I hope that ex-friend calls me one more time, so I can tell him, "Sorry, but I can't speak right now, I have HIV and I heard you can catch it through the phone now" -- then just hang up and leave that part of my life gone for good.
The article was initially published in thebody.com on October 23, 2012.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Personal Reflections on AIDS 2012

 by Thu Yain
photo courtesy of Youth LEAD
Youth advocate Thu Yain shares his experience of attending The MSMGF Pre-Conference and this year's International AIDS Conference. Thu is a member of The MSMGF's Youth Reference Group and board member at Youth LEAD in Singapore.

AIDS 2012 was the first international conference that I have ever attended. It was also the longest trip that I have taken in the past 26 years of my life. I was very excited to be given the chance to attend a huge scale event with so many learning opportunities.

I started my week long stay with The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) for their Pre-Conference entitled, From Stigma to Strength: Strategies for MSM, Transgender People and Allies in a Shifting AIDS Landscape. The Pre-Conference was a day long affair to discuss issues affecting men who have sex with men (MSM) and Transgender (TG) people, and how we can move forward as a community in the HIV/AIDS response. I was most interested in the young MSM (YMSM) related sessions.

One thing that impressed me when I entered the conference hall was the handmade quilt for those who have died from HIV. It was part of a project called Quilt in the Capital. I was interested in the numerous quilts displayed around FHI 360, the conference venue. Each quilt paints a personal story about someone who has perished from the disease.  These quilts remind me that for each positive person, there are many other loved ones who are affected by their loss. The HIV/AIDs movement is felt by everyone because the virus never discriminates. These quilts encourage me to keep fighting on, to advocate about HIV/AIDS, and hopefully end HIV discrimination one day.

From the YMSM break-out session that I attended, I realized that there are many other young leaders around the world who work for their own communities. The issues affecting each country and region were cross-cutting and similar. For example, many young gay and bisexual men live in conservative societies and face barriers in coming out safely and seeking sexual health services due to stigma and discrimination. There is also lack of data on YMSM, making it harder to reach out to the funders to support existing YMSM-specific services and initiate new programmes. The government does not understand the importance of reaching out to key affected populations. We need to work hard to develop strong data on YMSM, which is aggregated by sub groups such as age, racial groups, socio-economic status, etc.

With data, there is good evidence to prove to government, funders, and other stakeholders that YMSM are one of the most vulnerable groups, and that they need the most support and assistance. Homophobic bullying still exists in schools around the world. This greatly affects the self-esteem of young men, potentially leading to suicidal thoughts. Many YMSM thus do not feel the need to care for their own health and future. This also affects YMSM judgment, resulting in lack of negotiation skills when engaging older and commercial partners for safe sex to protect themselves.

These issues and barriers were again echoed during the MSMGF Youth Reference Group’s (YRG) meeting. The MSMGF Youth Reference Group helps advise and coordinate the work of the MSMGF on YMSM issues. Each of the young leaders in the YRG highlighted how YMSM are still vulnerable and need more support in the HIV/AIDS response. Globally, the issues that were raised - stigma & discrimination, lack of specific YMSM data, and the need to build leadership for YMSM - were shared by all members at the breakout session. There was slight variations based on the unique local cultures and characteristics, but, not everything was negative. It was very encouraging to find out that various programmes and services were already running in certain communities, and that these programmes were reaching out and serving YMSM. For example, there are great information, education, and communication (IEC) materials in Ireland. The photos they use are actual young people from the community, and have language that is youth-friendly. This reaches out to YMSM easily as they are able to identify themselves with their peers in the photos. The friendly, accessible messages are also easily understood by young people.

Although YMSM are a young key-affected population, we must not forget that there are other young vulnerable persons. This message was given to me when I assisted in the session hosted by Youth LEAD, Asia-Pacific Network of Young Key Affected Populations (YKAP). This interactive session was held in the Youth Pavilion. Engaging games allowed the participants to understand the issues affecting YKAP, including YMSM. The ecological model of YKAP is a useful tool to understand the roots of problems, and the way various factors interrelated and affect the HIV/AIDS response, enabling us to tackle each issue in a systematic way.

AIDS 2012 inspired me to work hard in achieving my goals of building an inclusive, safe environment for YMSM. I want to see a society that does not judge people by their sexuality or sexual preferences. Although there will always be hurdles to overcome, we are never alone in this fight. I will always believe in our work, and that the rest of society will eventually understand us. With hard work, I trust we can achieve our dreams and hopes.

Thu Yain was born in Myanmar, but has called Singapore his home since he was 8 years old. He has been a HIV/AIDS advocate for the past two years. He believes that every young person, especially young gay and bisexual men, should be equipped with comprehensive sexual knowledge, and have affordable access to sexual health services.

Thu has attended training in the field of HIV/AIDS and young vulnerable/most-at-risk people conducted by UNICEF, UNFPA, and UNESCO. He also completed a course in delivering quality technical assistance in advancing human rights and gender equality in HIV response offered by UNAIDS, ActionAid and TSF South Asia. He recently served as a workshop reviewer for AIDS 2012.

Thu is a member of Youth Reference Group with The Global Forum on MSM and HIV. He is currently serving as a Board Member of Youth LEAD, a regional network of young HIV/AIDS activists in Asia-Pacific. He is also a focal point for Youth Voices Count, a network of young MSM and TG concerned about HIV/AIDS in Asia-Pacific. Locally, he is a Senior Executive with SGRainbow, a social group for young gay and bisexual men in Singapore.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thoughts About GMAD and New York's Black Gay Community

by Joey Pressley

The recent resignation of Tokes Osubu from New York City’s Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) has prompted me to think very seriously about the future of the Black gay/same gender loving (SGL) community and the vision needed to confront and address our needs as we work to move forward. It has also generated my interest in becoming GMAD’s next executive director. A position for which I would consider applying the moment the organization’s Board of Directors elects to initiate its search process.

I’ve read that GMAD founder, the Reverend Charles Angel, was a tireless, outspoken and fearless activist who stood in the forefront of several organizing efforts in the New York City gay and people with AIDS communities including, the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, ACT-UP, and the People with AIDS Coalition. In those Silence = Death days, he understood the vital importance of advocacy, a clear vision and establishing a set of goals for addressing a community’s broader needs. It was a holistic approach to activism rooted in a proud African heritage, progressive Christian teachings and his belief in psycho-spiritual growth. It was from this set of beliefs that GMAD grew, and continued to grow even after Charles Angel’s untimely death from AIDS complications in 1987, three years before I discovered GMAD via its Friday night forums. These forums often brought a hundred or more Black gay men to The Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in Greenwich Village.

Organizations such as GMAD, many of which are more than two decades old, were founded as psycho-social-political entities designed to celebrate and empower Black gay/SGL men. GMAD employed its holistic approach to create a much needed safe space for its constituents to look at the intersecting issues in our lives. In the 1990s, these well-intentioned organizations sought funding to combat HIV/AIDS. This shift transformed them into AIDS service organizations that, by necessity, narrowed their scope and vision. As the unpaid director of GMAD in 1991, I was involved in securing one of the first grants for the organization thinking that it would create a pathway to growth and facilitate a greater response to the devastation levied by AIDS on our community.

Given this ongoing devastation, it stands to reason that our organizations must maintain a powerful response to the epidemic; however, being pigeonholed as only an AIDS service organization restricts the ability of Black gay/SGL institutions to effectively speak for and to the myriad needs of their constituents. Black gay/SGL men are as concerned about employment as they are about HIV prevention and treatment. We are concerned about the impacts of climate change and hate crimes, a woman’s right to choose as well as marriage equality and our presence in the military. Black gay/SGL men are equally concerned and impacted by lack of access to healthcare, education, housing, criminal justice issues and income inequality. Working with faith-based institutions, combating stigma, homophobia and addressing the social, economic and behavioral cofactors related to the rise in HIV/AIDS infections will be ongoing work for GMAD. At the same time, I see GMAD standing shoulder to shoulder with other progressive organizations working in coalition to promote a fairer, more just society and world.

Our organizations need new funding streams that will enable us to become active participants and thought leaders in these arenas. As an expert in community organizing and policy analysis, with years of experience in organizational management and fund raising, I would seek to diversify GMAD’s revenue supports so that its efforts would reflect the broader needs of its constituents. An initial first step moving forward is for GMAD to engage in a strategic planning exercise designed to assess strengths and weaknesses and to redefine its vision and related mission. Stakeholders engaged in this process would include past and current staff and funders, policymakers, community leaders and of course a diverse representation of New York’s Black gay/SGL men. The organization would work directly with Black gay/SGL men via ongoing participatory engagement to develop agendas and strategic plans reflective of the community’s priorities and work with legislators and public officials to shape policy and legislation responsive to identified needs.

I recognize that this vision is broad and ambitious, but it is also one of more personal concerns. I think about my 9 year old nephew. What if he shared with my husband and me that he is gay? What world would he face? Simply put, I would want our society to embrace and support him. I would look to GMAD, and organizations like it, to stand without equivocation or shame in demanding that all of us, including my dear nephew, have the equal and unmitigated opportunity to celebrate our lives, and have the space to act as partners in bringing about transformative social, economic and political change. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Governor Cuomo Appoints GMHC's CEO Marjorie J. Hill, PhD as Chair of NYS AIDS Advisory Council

Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the appointment of GMHC's CEO Marjorie J. Hill, PhD as Chair of the New York State AIDS Advisory Council (AAC) which was created in 1983 by Public Health Law, Article 27-E, Section 2778. The AAC is responsible for advising the Commissioner of Health and the NYS AIDS Institute, and for making recommendations regarding the State's response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Prior to her appointment as Chair, Dr. Hill served as a member of the AAC, selected by NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in 2007. Dr. Hill presently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), the world's first AIDS service organization. GMHC is a leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, education and support services in NYC, and a vocal advocate on HIV/AIDS at the city, state and federal levels.

Dr. Hill commented: "I am honored to be appointed Chair of the NYS AIDS Advisory Council and look forward to continuing to work closely with Governor Cuomo, the NYS Department of Health and the AIDS Institute, as well as my distinguished colleagues on the AAC. New York State has more cases of HIV than San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, DC combined, yet most New Yorkers do not know this. HIV awareness and education will be top priorities for my tenure."

The AAC has 17 appointed members (appointed by the Governor, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Assembly Minority Leader) whose affiliations include educational and medical institutions; local health departments; nonprofit organizations, including the advocacy and service communities; legislators; and persons living with HIV/AIDS.  The Chairperson of the AAC is designated by the NYS Governor.  No terms of office are specified in the authorizing legislation and AAC members receive no compensation for their services.

Mr. Humberto Cruz, Director of the AIDS Institute, stated, "The AIDS Institute congratulates Dr. Hill on her appointment as Chair of the AIDS Advisory Council.  Dr. Hill has been a dedicated member of the Council with state and national expertise in HIV/AIDS that will benefit this newly appointed leadership role.  We look forward to our continued work with Dr. Hill and all Council members."

Among the many notable achievements of the AAC are:  the development and evaluation of the Expanded Syringe Access Program (ESAP); recommending the formation of the Interagency Task Force on HIV/AIDS (created through an Executive Order in 1997); and the publication of an array of important reports such as "Principles on HIV Testing of Defendants in Certain Crimes" (1996); "Report on Needle Exchange Programs and Deregulation of Needles and Syringes" (1996); "Report of the Ethical Issues in Access to HIV Treatment Workgroup" (1998); "Findings of the HIV Surveillance Workgroup" (1998); "Report on HIV/AIDS Services in New York State Correctional Facilities" (1999); "Communities at Risk: HIV/AIDS in Communities of Color" (2001); "Report on Syringe Access in New York State" (2005); and "Women in Peril, HIV & AIDS, The Rising Toll on Women of Color" (2005).

Dr. Hill assumes her position effective immediately and will chair her first meeting on November 1, 2012.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Show Me the 'Get to Zero' Money!

by Marjorie J. Hill, PhD

I have been to four International AIDS Conferences, and although they have all been interesting and inspiring, the conference in July was especially wonderful for the mere fact that it was held at home. Having the conference in the U.S. showed that our advocacy had worked. By lifting the HIV travel and immigration ban, we triumphed over stigma, bias and discrimination. We do not often have absolute victories in our social-justice work.

What was also captivating about this conference was the vision of an AIDS-free generation that was often invoked. It has been a long road since I lost my first friend to AIDS back in 1982. Throughout most of my adult life, the losses have continued to add up, so the possibility of ending AIDS is enticing and uplifting. I didn't just hear that message; I believed it. We have the tools to get to "zero new HIV infections," though I am not convinced we have the collective commitment yet. And we definitely don't have the "get to zero" money.

With additional funding, we could increase GMHC's work, expand outreach to women and gay men, provide more testing opportunities and improve treatment adherence. We could make more headway in fighting the structural barriers that place people at higher risk of HIV, and those that block people living with HIV/AIDS from accessing services.

But there is not sufficient funding from the federal government, particularly for prevention programming. Many foundations and private entities do not recognize the complexities of this epidemic. They do not comprehend that structural challenges interfere with achieving good health outcomes. Some of these challenges include the lack of comprehensive sex education for gay youth, insufficient child-care options for mothers who are working or accessing care services, the need for life-skills workshops for elders and the failure of our society to provide support for black men, who are made to feel worthless and emasculated, or women, who are not respected and may experience other stigmas.

While enough is not being done, we absolutely know what works. We know a sustained campaign targeting gay men with a message -- "you are worthy" -- and an increase of affordable housing and culturally relevant resources for HIV prevention would be effective. We have come to recognize that medical treatment is prevention. However, I struggle with the reality of individuals who have doctors but have not successfully suppressed their viral load. Why aren't they achieving that goal? Having a doctor is not enough. Having medications is not enough. Knowing your status is not enough. We need to ensure that people living with HIV are able to achieve this goal, too.

I left the conference conflicted. I have hope and enthusiasm, and now more than ever, it's clear to me that we can win this fight. I am also anxious and agitated about receiving this good news, but I am not sure this good news will be realized. It's like having the keys to the kingdom but being unable to find the door.
As we move forward in the fourth decade of the epidemic, our challenges at GMHC are to continue to do the things we know and to continue to fight for what we know will get us to zero new HIV infections.

Marjorie J. Hill, PhD is the CEO of GMHC.  Her article was initially published in the Huffington Post Gay Voices on October 12, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

For Many Gay Men, We Must Come Out Twice

by Kali Lindsey, Director of Legislative & Public Affairs, NMAC

Each year, on October 11, the LGBT community marks the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, by celebrating National Coming Out Day.  As a black gay man, I know how difficult coming out can be.  I also know how important it is to be open and honest about who you are and who you love.  For much of our history, the LGBT community was relegated to the proverbial closet, unable or unwilling to live in the open.  That all changed when a group of drag queens fought back against police brutality one summer night in New York City.  Gays and lesbians across the country realized that no one was going to hand them equality, they’d have to demand it.  And the best way to fight hate was to live and love openly.

I came out for the first time in 1997.  But, like so many gay men, I’ve had to come out twice.  In 2003, I was diagnosed with HIV.  Coming out to my friends and family about my HIV status was just as difficult, and no less important, as telling them that I am gay, especially after promising my parents that I would keep myself safe and healthy.  I am lucky to have family and friends that continue to love me unconditionally.  It is very difficult to manage this disease without the support of your loved ones.   But I took that risk and came out both times, because just as living as an openly gay man is the best way to combat homophobia, being open about my HIV status is critical to combating the stigma that surrounds this disease.

The stigma surrounding homosexuality and HIV go hand in hand.  Fear of being “outed” about either too often prevents individuals from being tested or seeking care and treatment.  The irony is that much of the current gay rights movement owes its existence to HIV/AIDS.  As the epidemic ravaged gay men in the 1980s, with little to no response from the government, the LGBT community stood up and demanded action.  Gay men came out in droves, and the lesbian and transgender communities were by their sides.  The government may not have been concerned with a disease that mainly affected gay men, but because these brave individuals came out, the public saw the face of AIDS, and it looked like their brothers and their sons. 

While today is a day to celebrate who we are, we must also acknowledge the hard reality facing gay men in this nation, especially young gay men.  Evidence suggests that those who come out and live openly as gay men are more likely to become HIV-positive.  Young gay and bisexual men are the only group in which HIV infections are increasing, with young black gay men seeing an alarming 48 percent spike in new infections between 2006 and 2009.  As we celebrate National Coming Out Day, our community must once again come together and support young gay and bisexual men and help them grow into adulthood HIV-free. 

I am proud to be an openly gay man living with HIV and look forward to the day that HIV is a thing of the past.  But until that day, I encourage anyone in a position to do so to come out.  While the decision to live openly about one’s sexual orientation and HIV status is deeply personal and often scary, I am living proof that there is joy, fulfillment and love waiting for those that choose to. 


The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) represents a coalition of faith based and community based organizations as well as AIDS service organizations advocating and delivering HIV/AIDS services in communities of color nationwide.  Since 1987, NMAC has developed leadership in communities of color through a variety of advocacy campaigns, public policy education programs, national conferences, research programs, capacity building, technical assistance and trainings, and digital and electronic resource materials. For more information visit www.nmac.org.