Panel Voices: Are we too focused on the LGBT community when we talk about HIV/AIDS?
August 1, 2012 | 1:00 pm
(Updated: February 22, 2013 | 5:13 pm)
OFC panelists Michael Carr and Jen LaBarbera weigh in on this week’s question:
HIV transmission is still a huge problem with the “men who have sex with men” community. We might want to focus more on the HIV/AIDS issue as it relates to gay men. Although as a wider GLBT community we have raised awareness and money, I’m not confident we are doing enough.
I’m surprised at how little my gay friends and peers know about HIV, as though it were only a concern for past generations. And I’m even more surprised how uninvolved they are in fundraising and advocacy. I see a handful of friends participating in the AIDS Ride or The AIDS Walk and Run. Although I see a lot of women of all ages participating, almost none of the guys I see look like they are the gay under 35 set.
It seems to me that I continue to benefit from the influence of my more mature gay friends. These friends can tell stories of the friends they’ve lost over the years to AIDS. They can entertain for hours with fabulous lives and adventures of gay men, who alas, aren’t around to relate the experiences of their own bygone youths. Instead the victims’ memories are kept alive only through the vibrant anecdotes of their surviving friends. Unfortunately I am starting to collect the stories of my own friends who get “The HIV”—despite the hard work of my older friends, who had hoped that I’d never have those stories to tell.
Michael Carr is a member of the National Board of the Log Cabin Republicans, President of Aspirant Marketing, Inc. and resides in Cheesman Park with his partner, Fred. They were Civil Unionied in Illinois in January.
When I came out to my mom (on my way out the door to an Ani DiFranco concert, naturally), one of her first reactions was a concern for my safety, because, and I quote, “I don’t want you to get hurt by people and I don’t want you to get AIDS.” Her first fear is legitimate, but the second fear is pretty silly – lesbians are at a very low risk for most STIs (but still use those dental dams, gay ladies!). I told her this, but it wasn’t until my OB/GYN confirmed that yes, it is indeed perfectly healthy to have lesbian sex and that I didn’t automatically contract an STI upon coming out that my mom dropped her “but you’ll get AIDS and die!” refrain.
I tell this story because while it shows that my mother was unbelievably uninformed, it also shows that the idea that “AIDS is a gay disease” is still alive and well. This is what can happen when we focus on the LGBT (or, really, MSM – men who have sex with men) community in our dialogue about AIDS. And while it’s important to remember what AIDS did to our community (fellow younger queers, watch We Were Here for some history), our MSM brothers are not the whole story when it comes to HIV/AIDS. They’re at a high risk, yes, but let’s expand that conversation and include everyone who’s at risk.
Jen LaBarbera is a 20-something queer woman in Denver. She is an organizer for reproductive justice and member of One Colorado’s People of Color Caucus.