Today is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. For me, every day is an “awareness day” about HIV/AIDS. I feel it is important for me to talk about it, because I am increasingly concerned that many in the LGBT community don’t. I am worried about the kids out there and the generation that hasn’t seen the devastating impact of this epidemic the way my generation has. Now more than ever we need to be talking about HIV/AIDS. Just a few days ago The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published new heartbreaking data showing that one in five gay and bisexual men in 21 major US cities are living with HIV. I am one of those men. I have been living with HIV since 2001.
I have the privilege of serving as the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and President Obama’s Liaison to the LGBT community. I want to share a personal perspective on the importance of the recently released National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States that was issued by the Obama Administration in July. While I work closely with the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), I was not directly involved in writing the plan, but I clearly have a personal stake in the mission.
The Strategy provides a vision for America that puts saving the lives of gay and bisexual men front and center in our national plan for ending HIV/AIDS through preventing new HIV infections, increasing access to care, and reducing HIV-related health disparities. Not only is the Strategy the first comprehensive plan for responding to the domestic AIDS crisis, it is perhaps the first time that our national policy dialogue could be so forthright about the disproportionate impact of HIV among gay and bisexual men. While we have great HIV leaders across the Federal government, this honesty, grounded in the latest data results from President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to ensuring that Federal policies are based on facts about who is most affected and what programs and policies work most effectively.
Gay and bisexual men make up roughly 2% of the US population, but we account for 53% of new HIV infections. We are the only group where HIV infection rates are rising.
These statistics are shocking and they demand a stronger, more focused national response that includes Federal leadership, combined with new levels of commitment and focus at the State and local levels. This data also demands a reinvigorated commitment to ending HIV/AIDS from the LGBT community. We all have a responsibility to reverse that trend.
I encourage all of you to read the Strategy and Federal Implementation Plan. In addition to describing the challenges, it presents a roadmap for responding that includes increased attention on high risk communities including gay and bisexual men, along with Transgender Americans, Black Americans, Latino Americans and substance users. The Strategy also calls for new efforts to reduce infections, and calls for us to take new steps to end stigma and discrimination. In the President’s budget proposal for next year (that begins on October 1st), he also proposed a new initiative at CDC to take a more holistic approach to preventing HIV in the LGBT community with promoting sexual health and preventing sexually transmitted infections.
There is a lot to be done, but I have seen firsthand that our President and his whole Administration are committed to this task – working in partnership with the LGBT community and others. I feel like we all have a responsibility to do this for the kids out there, and also in the memory of those who have fought this fight before us. There is barely a day that goes by that I don’t think of my dear friend, Bob Hattoy, an activist and appointee in the Clinton Administration that helped shine a light on this epidemic. He is for me a constant reminder of the work ahead of us and the responsibility we all share.