In recognition of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) hosted its first day-long meeting on HIV among gay and bisexual men on September 26. The theme of the meeting was “Focus. Action. Impact,” and it brought together researchers, advocates, and included a delegation of black LGBT leaders from the National Black Justice Coalition’s 5th Annual OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit. A major theme of the meeting was the importance of shifting the paradigm of HIV prevention, care, and treatment to a more holistic approach for addressing the health of gay and bisexual men.
It is important that we take this holistic approach to our health. While black gay and bisexual men continue to bear the brunt of this epidemic, we can finally avail ourselves of the advances in science and medicine to take control of our health. That means we need to know our current HIV status, and we need to take our HIV medication if we are positive.
When I was diagnosed with HIV at 23, I knew that I had so much life to live. HIV, or any other health condition for that matter, was not going to take me out without a fight. It also meant more than a quarterly focus on viral loads and labs. One conversation I remember having with my doctor after being newly diagnosed was: “As a black man, HIV is not the only condition you will have to deal with if you don’t start taking care of your health… right now!”
As a black, gay man living with HIV—and one who also works in the HIV community—I often think about how having HIV has evolved from an almost-immediate death sentence to a condition where people who take antiretroviral medication as prescribed can live a very long and productive life. During the ONAP meeting, we were challenged to think about the tools needed to truly end this epidemic among black gay men. Being there made me think critically about how I manage my own HIV and how I could do more to lead by example.
Maybe it’s because I have to actively monitor my health via things like labs and regular doctor visits that I’m constantly reminded of the things I should be doing all the time. Things like taking care of my physical health, mental health, economic health, and everything else that makes me a whole being. This also meant creating space to build healthier relationships with my friends and family, because they are critical in building a strong support system.
As we continue to tackle the challenges of ending HIV, we have to keep reminding ourselves that people are living with more than their HIV status. Our health is one of the most important things we have. Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle that preserves this precious resource is critical in gaining control of the HIV epidemic. It’s great to see the White House’s continued commitment to ending an epidemic that has taken the lives of countless gay and bisexual men. It was an honor to be in the room with so many leaders coming together to refocus and take action in order to truly make an impact in ending AIDS.
Whether you are HIV+ or not, how are you taking control of your health? Are you leading by example?