Progress on one front, less on another

Two events yesterday spotlighted just how far we’ve come — and have yet to go — with respect to the well-being of LGBT people in the U.S.

First, the positive news.

The policymaking body of the American Psychological Association (APA) unanimously passed a resolution supporting full marriage equality for same-sex couples. The vote was 157-0. The APA is the world’s largest organization of psychologists. The APA is among a large and ever-growing chorus that realizes marriage inequality is not only unfair, it literally places families in harm’s way.

As the Task Force noted:

Right now, all across this country, same-sex couples and their children are needlessly being put at risk because they are denied the freedom to marry. They are vulnerable to greater health and economic disparities because they are blocked from important protections and benefits afforded through civil marriage, including access to health insurance and federal survivor benefits. No family should have to suffer because of discrimination. The APA and countless others know that marriage equality is good for families, and the country.

Now, the other news.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday released statistics on HIV/AIDS for 2006-2009. After decades of battling against HIV/AIDS, the statistics show that there remains an alarming rate of new infections each year.

While the overall incidence of HIV was stable, the new stats show the epidemic continues to greatly impact young men who have sex with men, particularly in the African-American community.

We also know from our National Transgender Discrimination Survey, Injustice at Every Turn, that respondents reported over four times the national average of HIV infection, with rates even higher among transgender people of color.

The Task Force and many other organizations in the community have been working through multiple avenues to address HIV/AIDS. Preventing and treating HIV/AIDS requires a multi-faceted approach that goes beyond just talking about HIV/AIDS.

Last year the Obama administration released the first-ever National Prevention Strategy detailing how the federal government can coordinate a response to the ongoing epidemic. Developing appropriate interventions and strategies to address targeted communities is a central aspect of this strategy, which is entering the implementation phase. Government agencies like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are reaching out to targeted communities to make the plan a success.

Prevention and treatment also means having access to affordable, culturally relevant and quality health care services. The passage and ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act presents significant opportunity for everyone, including the LGBT community, to have affordable basic health care insurance that will provide access to services necessary to whole body and mind health. This is a critical step toward ensuring access to needed care for those living with HIV/AIDS.

The Task Force, along with many of our partners, is working hard to ensure that implementation of the Affordable Care Act includes the LGBT community. Through the New Beginning Initiative, we have been pushing hard for the inclusion of standards that will ensure access to basic health care needs like annual exams, prescriptions drugs and culturally appropriate care for LGBT people.

Programs like the Ryan White Care Act continue to be available to those who need them, but we must also focus on more than HIV-specific programs when working to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

Given the continued impact that HIV/AIDS has on young people it is vital that our youth understand the mechanics of safe sex. One of the major barriers to properly educating young people on what it means to have a healthy and safe sex life have been the medically inaccurate and physically harmful “abstinence-only-until-marriage” programs around the country. While these programs continue to be shamefully funded by the federal government, the advocacy community has been working to end them.

Last year, we advocated for the federal government to clarify that “abstinence-only” programs must be medically accurate, more flexibly defined and should include the needs of LGBT youth around the country. While these changes are not enough, they provide some assurances that our youth will not be taught inaccurate information about safe sex. And while these changes are positive, it is absolutely vital for the health of the nation that these programs be defunded by Congress.

Prevention also means ensuring that people with possible exposure to the HIV virus have access to the latest medical tools designed to prevent infection. In 2005 the CDC released protocols for n-PEP (non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis). The n-PEP protocols support the use of anti-retroviral medications within 72 hours of likely exposure to the HIV virus as a method of preventing infection.

Last year the Task Force spoke out in support of n-PEP guidance when the Michigan Department of Community Health was unreasonably delaying implementation of the protocols in the state. It is absolutely necessary that programs intended to serve the health of all communities implement systems like n-PEP to provide essential tools to preventing new HIV infection.

The Task Force’s Rea Carey says:

Now into the fourth decade of this bitter epidemic, we have no cure and our nation is still waiting for more resources and less ignorance. The epidemic has not gone away for the LGBT community or any other community. It is critical we all recognize that HIV/AIDS continues to be a significant, life-threatening condition that affects the entire community and disproportionately burdens gay and bisexual men and people of color. The time is now to redouble our efforts to end this devastating epidemic.