Last January, in my first column for the Washington Blade’s health section, I focused on AIDS and LGBTQ health. In the column I talked about how the AIDS community grew out of the gay community. Yet today, rather than a link, a separation has developed between the two communities. However, this week I saw something indicating it may be changing. It was a news release announcing 34 LGBTQ and AIDS organizations vow they will start working together.
In a joint statement, the organizations said, “As the nation marked the opening of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, executive directors from 34 LGBT and HIV AIDS organization from across the United States have released a joint letter committing themselves and their organizations to re-engaging the broader LGBT community in the fight against HIV.”
Of the 34 organizations listed, there are only about a half-dozen that are AIDS focused. In other words, AIDS organizations are in the minority. I also looked at the website mentioned in the statement. It’s headed “We the LGBT.” Shouldn’t it be “We the LGBT and AIDS communities?”
I can’t tell you how many joint sign-on letters I have seen in my 25 years of working to win the war against AIDS. I’m a firm believer that actions, not words alone, produce results. I hope there is someone out there listening.
Also, why haven’t the 800-pound gorillas, groups like HRC and GLAAD, also signed the letter? Perhaps they are waiting to see what will happen? Maybe they’ll add their names only if and when the joint movement gathers force?
If we are truly going to do this the right way, then we need to have a meeting of all of the minds of all of the AIDS and LGBT organizations. One propping up the other simply won’t suffice.
Here is an excerpt from my column in January: “It’s time to link gay and AIDS again. It was the gay community that created the AIDS community and, in many cases, it was the AIDS community that helped support and raise awareness of the gay community.”
We really are talking about human rights and fighting stigma. Most people who have been working for a long time in the area of AIDS issues probably can confirm the biggest challenge surrounding AIDS isn’t the disease itself, but the stigma linked to the disease. Stigma prevents testing and treatment. Stigma hurts and kills, which is why we see AIDS linked with LGBTQ.
Now let’s think globally. The U.S. LGBT and AIDS activists’ movements drove and helped create the global effort against the AIDS epidemic. Moreover, the United States provided — and still provides — the majority of support and money for the international AIDS effort. U.S. and international AIDS-related organizations still have much to be learned and gained from working with each other as do the international organizations.
I do want to give kudos to both our LGBT and AIDS communities for taking the first step. But we need to go back to the drawing board if we’re going to be effective. We also need to link the two communities globally.
The last line of my January column is what I still believe today: “Every AIDS organization should have a division and point person whose sole focus is gay-related issues, and every gay organization should have an AIDS division and expert. That way, resources, ideas, and strategies can be shared, benefitting both communities, which could lead to the kind of power that could end AIDS and homophobia forever.”
Finally, anyone up for organizing the world’s first Gay and AIDS Pride? Just an idea. After all, living with HIV and AIDS and being gay is nothing to be ashamed of. Be proud and loud.