It's Time to Face Facts on HIV/AIDS

On this National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, it's time to face facts. Even as a rising tide lifts support for LGBT equality all across the country, who you are and where you live still has an enormous impact on how HIV/AIDS is likely to affect your life.

Here's just one example. This past summer, I attended a lunch meeting with a group of progressive advocates and leaders in Jackson, Mississippi. These were incredibly dedicated and deeply inspiring folks -- representing LGBT organizations, economic justice coalitions, welcoming churches, HIV/AIDS resource groups, just to name a few. Despite their shared goals, a lot of them had never met each other before, and I was glad for the opportunity to help open a dialogue.

But for the people at that meeting, the most important person we met that day wasn't seated at that table. It was our 25-year-old server.

We didn't know it at first. As we discussed the work ahead, he refilled our water and sweet tea, and paid quiet attention. But when conversation started winding down, he stepped back up to the table and cleared his throat to speak.

He told us that he was a gay man recently diagnosed with HIV. He said that in the months since he heard his diagnosis, there wasn't a day that went by that he didn't weep with anger and isolation -- certain that living in a place like Mississippi was going to keep him from accessing the resources and care he needs. But, he told us, the very act of listening to all of us speak about a better future had overwhelmed him with hope. He said that he would do just about anything he could to help us.

I don't have to tell you that every person in that room jumped at the chance to help that young man. He was lucky. Before we left that day, he had been connected to treatment resources and advocacy opportunities and a community that he didn't know existed.

But the simple fact is that you shouldn't have to depend on luck to get that kind of help and support. It should be available to everyone. But today, it isn't.

Right now, 63 percent of new HIV infections occur among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men -- with particularly high infection rates among men of color and men 13- to 24-years-old. Transgender women face an even greater risk -- they're up to 49 times more likely to have HIV than the general population. And as the number of older Americans identifying as LGBT continues to grow, our health care system isn't consistently prepared to provide the comprehensive treatment they deserve.

We're at a turning point. Recent advances in prevention, testing and treatment offer incredible hope for a future without HIV/AIDS. But that future is only possible if everyone has access to resources and care.

So on this National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the LGBT community has to do more than get tested -- though testing is vital. Here at HRC we're intensifying our work on HIV. And as a larger community, let us double down on our commitment to subduing this disease and the stigma that surrounds it. Americans like that young man I met in Mississippi shouldn't have to depend on luck to have hope for the future.

Follow HRC's "Be in the Know" blog series for more facts on HIV/AIDS and the LGBT community.