International AIDS Conference Kicks-Off in Nation’s Capital

Upwards of 30,000 people are expected to descend on our nation’s capital this week to address the advancements and challenges from around the world to combat the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Since the mid-1980s, more than 30 million people have succumbed to the infection. Here in the US that number hovers around 650,000.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who has championed the issue worldwide, reiterated her belief that it is possible to virtually eradicate HIV-infected births globally and that the U.S. is donating $80 million in new funding to help poor countries reach that goal.

According to The Washington Post, Clinton told the International AIDS Conference Monday that the new money will help get those life-saving drugs to women who now slip through the cracks.

Clinton also says the U.S. is investing millions more to study what works best to protect the highest-risk population in hard hit countries— gay and bisexual men, sex workers and injecting drug users.

According to a new study released last week by the Black AIDS Institute’s new study, “Back of the Line: The State of AIDS Among Black Gay Men in America 2012”, Black gay men in the United States are at the highest risk of contracting HIV of any people in the world with a 60 percent chance of being infected by age 40.  

The report also explained the several ways in which black men who have sex with other men (referred to as MSM) in America are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS:

  • Close to 1 in 4 of all new HIV infections are contracted by people in this group
  • Black MSM are seven times more likely to have undiagnosed HIV than MSM who are not black
  • HIV is twice as common among gay and bisexual men who are black than gay and bisexual men who are white
  • Black MSM are significantly less likely to live three years after developing AIDS than white or Latino MSM
  • Black MSM in mid-sized southern cities are at the greatest risk for contracting HIV as well as the ones with the least access to help

In the early 1980s media coverage of HIV/AIDS often sensationalized the infection, painting a plague-like picture of gay men wasting away from a mysterious illness. The reporting in the mainstream media focused largely on generating fear and hate towards the LGBT community rather than the stories of the individuals whose lives were actually being affected by the infection. In June 1983, leaders from a number of LGBT organizations met with the vice chairman of the New York Times to express their concerns about the newspaper’s coverage of the epidemic and the community — AIDS was rarely mentioned in the Metro section or the paper’s national news reporting, and large events like the Madison Square Garden circus to benefit the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) — which even New York Mayor Ed Koch attended — failed to be covered. In the meeting, the leaders asked the vice chairman to use the word “gay” instead of “homosexual” in their reporting, but the New York Times vice chairman refused. The interaction was representative of the era, and in 1985, after a slew of grossly defamatory AIDS coverage in the New York Post, GLAAD was formed to start turning AIDS coverage around.

While we acknowledge the progress made in the conversation around HIV/AIDS to reflect a more humanizing tone, there remains significant work to be done around the criminalization of the infection, both in the media and within the public's perception. GLAAD encourages media outlets to continue to highlight the stories of the individuals affected by the epidemic while lending their editorial influence to denounce the criminalizing of people currently infected with HIV/AIDS.

We also encourage you to take this opportunity to remember the millions who have died so far from HIV/AIDS.  There is a “We Can End AIDS” march being organized in Washington, DC for tomorrow July 24. For more information visit: http://www.wecanendaids.org/

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