In 1968, Frank Kameny coined the phrase “Gay is Good.” Since then, LGBT people have achieved many victories and become a visible, active, dynamic and fabulous community. For many, gay is good but in order to truly honor Frank’s legacy, we need to make it great. One of the ways we can make it great is by recommitting ourselves to the fight against HIV/AIDS and improving our collective health. The impact of homophobia and growing up as outcasts has had a negative effect on our self-esteem. In my case, this manifested itself in struggles with substance abuse, smoking and a lifelong struggle with obesity and diabetes. Many in our community suffer similar struggles.
According to several studies, the LGBT community is more likely to smoke, abuse drugs, engage in high-risk sex acts and are more prone to suicide ideation and depression. Our HIV rates are still unacceptably high and while there have been great improvements in prevention messaging, the ability to make lasting, meaningful change is limited by a finite amount of fiscal resources and political will that government is willing to commit. Additionally, as progressive as government can be, a campaign about self-esteem created by LGBT people for LGBT people isn’t necessarily the highest priority in public health prevention.
One of the best ways to boost self-esteem is to take action. Getting a regular HIV test and knowing your status is crucial in preventing the spread of HIV. Testing is just a start; we need to take to Twitter, GRINDR and other social media and encourage our friends and loved ones to get tested. If each of us were to encourage 10 friends to get regular HIV tests, it would make a significant impact. Having frank and open conversations about whether or not we practice safe sex with one another would also be good. Many of us, including me, don’t practice fealty to safe sex all the time and candid peer-led discussions should have a lasting impact.
Additionally, we need to feel comfortable intervening when our friends drink and drug too much. I have been blessed with the gift of sobriety and have spent a lot of time in bars, beaches and nightclubs and having a blast. I have seen members of the community who struggle with addiction and a culture that seems uncomfortable at intervening. We need to feel more comfortable talking to friends whose drinking might be out of control. These conversations aren’t easy but I can attest to their efficacy. I was very fortunate to have several friends point out that my drinking was out of control and I got help. I have friends who are still struggling and the conversations are painful and frustrating, but they are necessary and can easily be replicated. I also tend to feel much better about myself by being able to help.
We should be nicer to one another in places where we go to socialize. The online world seems to be a great deflator of self-esteem. For some, the online experience reduces our identities to a picture of a well-sculpted chest and people aren’t always the nicest when rejecting suitors. Would it kill us to be nice to each other online and in person to be gentle and polite when turning down prospective suitors? The word “troll” should be banished from our language and I don’t think it would hurt to smile more.
There are still great challenges in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and improving health. We need to build a large network of individuals who can be informal peer educators to expand the reach of government and the well-meaning social service agencies that are responsible for our health. We need to donate more to these organizations and continue to strive for excellence. We have built a great foundation of treating each other with grace and dignity and should be able to super-size this experience to reach everyone. Gay is good and together we can make it great.
Christopher Dyer is a consultant and experienced advocate in the LGBT community. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.