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Time to reconnect gay and AIDS communities

Rethinking strategies after decades of drift



Dave Purdy, Washington Blade, gay news
Dave Purdy, Washington Blade, gay news

Dave Purdy (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)


Last April I attended a White House LGBT Conference on HIV and AIDS, held at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. Following the meeting I posed a question to two leaders responsible for AIDS and LGBT issues in the White House:  “When did the gay community separate from the AIDS community?” At first, I think they were surprised. After all, the gay community created the AIDS community. But now they are going in different directions.

I asked a second question: “Do you think if the gay and AIDS communities worked as one, as they did in the ‘80s and early ‘90s during the height of the U.S. epidemic, we would improve the chances of winning the war against this dreaded disease?”

“Absolutely,” they replied.

What happened and when did the separation occur? And how can we bring them together again?

First, a little history. On Jan. 4, 1982, following the Centers for Disease Control’s confirmation that the “new disease” is an epidemic, six gay men met in the Manhattan apartment of Larry Kramer, the author and playwright, to discuss “gay cancer,” now known as Kaposi’s Sarcoma. That day they created the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the world’s first AIDS organization.

In a few years, GMHC was also supporting straight men and women, children, hemophiliacs, drug users and blood transfusion recipients. Kramer also helped establish another entity, ACT UP, to generate and build support for the rights of AIDS patients through political protest. As GMHC continued its work, I remember talking with people who actually wanted GMHC to remove the word “gay” from its name.

Prior to AIDS, there was GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). It was the Centers for Disease Control that changed the name to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), a more accurate description of the disease. Of course, we all knew retaining the word “gay” could hold down funding, research and support.

In the early days of the disease, hospital rules and state laws commonly denied gay men visits with their partners; in many cases, the families prevented contact, as well. Thus, thousands of AIDS-infected gay men died alone and many never received a proper burial.

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.

One example is GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), established in 1985 specifically to fight the stigma of AIDS and sensationalized reporting in the media. But will you find the word AIDS on the GLAAD website today? Rarely, as is the case for a number of our largest gay organizations.

The words gay and AIDS have been synonymous. Being a gay man and living with HIV in the United States definitely has its challenges, but they’re nothing compared with being gay and HIV positive in other parts of the world. In some countries, it’s common to be banished from your village or town, ostracized, or beaten and, in many cases, killed. Throughout the world, gay men with HIV are dying, not killed by AIDS, but murdered.

Before the 19th International AIDS Conference I discussed this separation of communities with staffers connected to one of the largest LGBT organizations. In addition to other issues, their responsibility includes HIV. When I asked how and when the separation occurred, they denied there was a problem. The gays have their issues and organizations, they pointed out, and those living with HIV and AIDS have theirs – it’s all covered.

Covered? Really? According to the CDC, young gay men and MSM account for 69 percent of all new HIV infections among persons aged 13–29. Also, the number of new infections in this country has never decreased. Never.

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.

Dave Purdy is founder and CEO of the World AIDS Institute. Reach him at [email protected].



Gilead awards $5 million grant to HRC’s HIV and health equity programs

Money to support efforts to end the epidemic and combat stigma



Human Rights Campaign headquarters in D.C.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign was awarded a $5 million grant from drugmaker Gilead Sciences to expand the organization’s HIV and health equity programs, supporting efforts to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 while combatting stigma in Black and Latino communities.

Funds will be used over the next three years for the HRC Foundation’s HIV and Health Equity Program, its Historically Black Colleges and Universities Program, and its Transgender Justice Initiative, HRC said in a statement Wednesday announcing receipt of the award, which extends Gilead’s $3.2 million grant to the HRC Foundation in 2021.

The organization said its HIV and Health Equity Program plans to develop a “benchmarking tool for institutions that provide HIV services, helping better evaluate the quality of care and measure racially and socially inclusive approaches” while defining “best practices, policies and procedures to optimize HIV service provision for BIPOC LGBTQ+ communities.”

HRC President Kelley Robinson said, “Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, racism and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination have created dangerous hurdles for those seeking prevention or treatment.”

“With the generous support of Gilead Sciences, we’ll be able to continue providing critical
resources to help overcome these hurdles, especially focusing on Black and Latine communities in the U.S. South,” Robinson added. “We’ll also be able to expand our efforts, as we seek to remove institutional barriers often unknowingly created by HIV service providers. We must decrease the disparities that place an unnecessary burden on Black and Latine LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV.”

Gilead Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and General Counsel Deborah Telman said the company “is committed to advancing health equity, particularly in Black communities and other communities of color that are disproportionately affected by HIV.”

“This grant will build on the impactful work HRC has done with community partners and HBCUs to increase awareness of HIV treatment and prevention options and reduce health disparities, combat discrimination and fight stigma,” Telman said.

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New CDC data shows HIV infections dropped, but mostly among whites

Socioeconomic factor into disproportionate rates



Data published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a significant decline in new HIV infections, but suggests the impact of prevention efforts was far less substantial for Black and Latino populations.

From 2017-2021, as rates of HIV testing, treatment and the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication rose, new cases dropped by 12 percent overall and by as much as 34 percent among gay and bisexual males aged 13-24.

The numbers show a “move in the right direction,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a press release.

However, when broken down by race, the CDC found new infections were down by 27 percent and 36 percent, respectively, among Black and Latino populations, compared with 45 percent of whites.

Similarly, by 2021 about one third of those who are considered eligible were taking PrEP for HIV prevention, but the CDC noted this number includes “relatively few Black people or Hispanic/Latino people” despite the significant increase in prescriptions up from just 13 percent in 2017.

“Longstanding factors, such as systemic inequities, social and economic marginalization and residential segregation,” Walensky noted, continue to act as barriers “between highly effective HIV treatment and prevention and people who could benefit from them.”

She added, “Efforts must be accelerated and strengthened for progress to reach all groups faster and equitably.”

Robyn Neblett Fanfair, acting director of the CDC’s Division of HIV Prevention, said that “At least three people in the U.S. get HIV every hour — at a time when we have more effective prevention and treatment options than ever before.”

“These tools must reach deep into communities and be delivered faster to expand progress from some groups to all groups,” she said.

The HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute issued a press release following the CDC’s announcement of the new data, noting both the encouraging progress and need for improvement.

“It appears that our investments in HIV prevention are providing some positive results, but the persistent high number of new diagnoses and the low usage of PrEP among the communities most impacted by HIV point to the need for increased resources, particularly for a national PrEP program,” said the group’s executive director, Carl Schmid.

President Joe Biden’s FY24 budget requested $237 million for a national PrEP program along with $850 million to support the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” initiative.

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Officials eye mpox prevention, vaccination initiatives for this summer’s LGBTQ events

New cluster of cases reported in Chicago



Drs. Robert Fenton and Demetre Daskalakis, coordinator and deputy coordinator for the White House national mpox response, during a briefing in August 2022 (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

Federal health agencies, in coordination with their state and local counterparts and community partners, are exploring opportunities to offer mpox prevention initiatives and vaccinations at LGBTQ events this summer, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis said on Thursday.

Daskalakis, the deputy coordinator for the White House’s national mpox response, described these deliberations in response to a question from the Washington Blade during a media telebriefing on mpox that was hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC on Monday issued a Health Alert Network Health Update on the potential risk for new mpox cases.

Since the peak of about 460 cases per day in August 2022, new cases have steadily declined, but following the cluster recently reported in the Chicago area, the update warns, “spring and summer season in 2023 could lead to a resurgence of mpox as people gather for festivals and other events.”

“We have the vaccine, and we have organizations that are willing to do it,” Daskalakis said during Thursday’s call, adding that resources are available and can be deployed flexibly because they are built into existing “HIV and STI funding to allow for this work.”

And the Mpox Crisis Response Cooperative Agreement, Daskalakis said, “provides even more resources locally for such efforts.”

Daskalakis and CDC Mpox Response Incident Manager Dr. Christopher R. Braden also briefed reporters on findings from new studies on the efficacy of the JYNNEOS vaccine for the prevention of mpox.

That data, per the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, reveals that “Among gay, bisexual, and other MSM and transgender adults aged 18-49 years, two doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine were 86 percent effective against mpox, indicating substantial protection against mpox.”

Additionally, “All routes of vaccine administration provided similar protection.”

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