As Gay Pride Month approaches in June and many people begin to celebrate the triumphs of the gay community, not just in New York City, but across the globe, we must remember all of the men and women who died (and continue to die) of AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses. The country failed these individuals in the 1980s by not recognizing this epidemic, shaming individuals into silence and treating members of the LGBTQ community as lepers. As a nation we have evolved on many issues pertaining to the gay community—marriage equity, childhood adoption, employment practices, etc.—but there is still a long road ahead. I recently spoke to my colleague, Dr. Sheldon Applewhite, who is a professor, scholar, sociologist and active participant in LGBTQ policy and research. He illuminated some areas that need to remain in the forefront of our minds and political efforts.
First, Applewhite argues that Gov. Cuomo’s “The End of AIDS” goal is to reduce new HIV infection rates for New York City from 1,083 in 2016 to 600 by 2020 and to reduce the new HIV infection rate statewide from 2,881 as of 2016 to 750 by 2020 for all gay men in New York State. Applewhite believes these goals will be met if we adequately address the new HIV infection rate among Black gay men. Decreasing Black male infection rates can only happen if an adequate amount of resources and funding are given to Black-led organizations with the specific goal of addressing HIV infection among Black gay men.
Second, Applewhite states that there is an HIV crisis in the Black gay community, which demands both city and state attention. Black gay men carry a disproportionate amount of the HIV infection burden in both the city and state, with nearly 50 percent of new HIV infection rates among this group. Therefore, he strongly recommends that both the city and state earmark special finding dedicated to addressing the HIV epidemic among this population.
Third, there is a dire call to action needed. Applewhite argues about the need to increase the number of Black gay men who use pre-exposure prophylaxis. You might have seen some of the ads on the NYC subway. The drug, which if used daily, will prevent new individuals from becoming HIV infected. Moreover, Applewhite states that there is a need for HIV-negative people in the Black community who are sexually active to use pre-exposure prophylaxis.
Because of advances within the medical community, it is now possible to lead a healthy life while living with HIV. However, sustained education about prevention is a must, for all communities. If you’d like to learn more about the report, go to www.health.ny.gov/diseases/aids/ending_the_epidemic/.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is the 2018 NYU McSilver Institute Fellow and an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream” and the host of The Aftermath on Ozy.com. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.