Caring about HIV/AIDS on more than one day a year

Yesterday was World AIDS Day, and the Task Force recognized the solemn day with personal stories and a call to action. But HIV/AIDS, just like life, doesn’t impact the world on just one day a year. It’s imperative that communities, queer or not, work to end the epidemic throughout the year. In July 2010 the White House published the first ever national strategy to for HIV/AIDS. The National Strategy is a good, though long overdue, step to curbing new infections and treating those who are HIV positive with the respect they deserve. But there is more to do and we need to keep pushing; the government and ourselves.

Then-Task Force Executive Director Urvashi Vaid interrupting President H.W. Bush's first and only AIDS policy speech at the National Community AIDS Partnership meeting on March 29, 1990.

As was discussed yesterday, the Task Force has a history with HIV/AIDS that goes back to the beginning of the epidemic. The tragedy of the epidemic is woven into our history. Our mission is to fight for marginalized people at the national, state and local levels. And many people living with HIV continue to face stigma and discrimination.

We are so thankful to the HIV activists of the ‘80s and ‘90s who fought to ensure that public health officials understood the LGBT community’s relationship to sexual health, even in the face of scalding stigmatism. Their demand for attention to the AIDS crisis is the very reason that millions of federal dollars each year are dedicated to prevention and programs to serve those courageously living with HIV/AIDS.

But without data showing the impact of HIV/AIDS on our communities, sustaining that funding would be an even harder battle. Because of those HIV activists, the government was forced to shift from intentional ignorance to research that consistently shows the disproportionate disparities that the LGBT community faces. The first LGBT data collection efforts by the government began by asking about sexual health behavior that put people at risk. Since then, each new survey to include LGBT questions has proved that our community experiences disparities in health, housing, violence, bullying, and employment. That’s one reason we launched the Queer the Census campaign and why we are continuing to fight for more data collection about the lives of LGBT people. The more data we have, the stronger our advocacy for more life-saving prevention services becomes.

Of course, the reason to be counted is so that money can be designated for providing services specifically for LGBT people. For example, in September 2011, the Center for Disease Control granted 34 community organizations $55 million over five years. The goal of these grants is to increase HIV prevention services for young gay and bisexual men, transgender youth, and their partners, with a special focus on people of color.
Still, it’s 2011, and the epidemic is far from over. As new treatments for HIV positive people are coming out every year, HIV infections are still growing for gay and transgender people of color. One of the most shocking numbers released in February’s Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey is that 1 in 4 Black transgender people are HIV positive.

But the work does not end with prevention. The Williams Institute’s recent study on discrimination in the dental industry highlights the fact that people living with HIV continue to be stigmatized. In this case they may face limited access to dentistry, and this represents the broad array of ways that people continue to be denied equality.

Today and always, we are an organization dedicated to winning inclusion of our community in government data collection efforts, but we could never have achieved our success on that front without the success of recognition that we won hand in hand with the HIV/AIDS community.