September 28, 2012 at 12:28 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
D.C. officials mark National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
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D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Mayor Vincent Gray stressed Thursday during a press conference at Freedom Plaza to mark National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day that testing positive for the virus no longer amounts to “a death sentence.”

“If you get into treatment and stay in treatment, you can live as long a life as anybody else,” he said.

First held by the National Association of People with AIDS in 2008, National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day seeks to raise awareness of the epidemic’s impact on men who have sex with men. NAPWA President Frank Oldham, Jr., who has lived with HIV since the late 1980s, noted that the epidemic has killed 280,000 gay men since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first cases of what became known as AIDS in 1981.

“We’re here today because 280,000 gay men — white gay men, black gay men, Latino gay men, Asian and Pacific Islander gay men have lost their lives to AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic,” he said. “We honor them and we’re here to save the gay men who are living today from destruction by HIV and AIDS.”

Roughly 20,000 D.C. residents have been diagnosed with HIV — and more than 10,000 Washingtonians have died from AIDS — since the city’s first known case in 1983.

Although Department of Health statistics indicate that new HIV diagnoses dropped 36 percent among white Washingtonians and 24 percent among black men in D.C. between 2006 and 2010, 2.7 percent of city residents were still living with the virus at the end of 2010. DOH interim director Dr. Saul Levin noted that between 14 and 20 percent of gay and bisexual men — and an estimated 30 percent of black MSM — in the nation’s capital live with HIV. He further pointed out that a third of all new HIV/AIDS cases were transmitted through MSM.

“Like the mayor, NAPWA has been a voice and a conscience of both the District and the nation in ensuring HIV’s discussed, prevention programs and treatment being the goal we must achieve and continue to achieve,” said Levin. “I’ve seen many of my friends in the gay community grapple with the epidemic since the 1980s. We need to make sure that now when we have these great medications that make it a chronic disease, that we do not see new people coming in and getting HIV/AIDS. And if they do, we need to get them into treatment as soon as possible.”

Doctor Gregory Pappas of the DOH’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration joined Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs; Venton Jones of the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition; David Mariner, executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and other HIV/AIDS service providers and activists at the press conference.

“We recognize that when one discovers that they’ve tested positive, it’s no longer a death sentence, but far too many people have become cavalier about it,” said former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. “And so what is the purpose of today? To remind everybody that we can still move forward, but we can do it with the two T’s: testing and treatment. Well you’ve got to test, and then you’ve got to treat. We’ve got to encourage people to recognize that this is something that impacts all of us and all of us therefore need to test and treat. And eventually it won’t be the two T’s; it will be the one C for the cure.”

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President of the National Association of People with AIDS Frank Oldham, Jr. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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