GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: HIV, AIDS & The LGBT Community

HIV transmission is tied to specific high-risk behaviors that are not exclusive to any one sexual orientation. Avoid suggesting that simply being gay makes one part of a "high-risk group," or that risk of HIV infection increases simply by having sex with someone of the same sex.

"MSM" is acronym created by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for "men who have sex with men." It should not be used to describe openly gay or bisexual men, individually or collectively, except in specific clinical or statistical contexts. Where MSM do not self-identify as gay or bisexual, the term may be a useful as a description of that discrete category of people.

Avoid terms that directly or indirectly pit gay people against others at risk for HIV. For example, references to "the general population" typically are used to suggest that gay men, bisexuals and/or MSM should be considered separate and apart from broader prevention and treatment strategies.

The invisibility of disproportionately impacted groups threatens the effectiveness of prevention messages aimed at them. It is important to focus attention on gay and bisexual men of color, transgender people, and others who are often overlooked in HIV/AIDS coverage.

The term "HIV criminalization" refers to the inappropriate use of a person's HIV-positive status in a criminal prosecution, typically under an HIV-specific criminal statute, or as heightened charges or punishments under general assault, prostitution, or other statutes.  HIV criminalization is based on outdated and erroneous beliefs about the routes, risks and consequences of HIV transmission. Public health professionals oppose HIV-specific criminal statutes because they may discourage persons at risk from getting tested for HIV, and make those who do test positive less trustful of public health officials and less willing to cooperate with public health measures. HIV criminalization perpetuates unwarranted stigma and treats HIV differently from other sexually-transmitted infections, which if left untreated, can inflict serious harm or even kill. In July 2014, the Department of Justice called upon states to eliminate or reform antiquated laws which criminalize conduct by HIV-positive individuals that would be legal if they were not HIV-positive or did not know their status. For detailed information about states with HIV criminalization laws, please contact GLAAD's Director of News at news@glaad.org, or contact the Sero Project.

Use the term "Down Low" only to describe men who self-identify that way. A controversial term describing the phenomenon of MSMs who publicly identify as heterosexuals and maintain sexual relationships with women, the "Down Low" has become synonymous with sensationalized claims that MSM are spreading HIV into "the general population." Avoid inaccurate claims that the "Down Low" is a phenomenon exclusive to communities of color.

Despite rigorous blood testing and risk factors that cross lines of sexual orientation, self-identified gay men are still prohibited by federal law from donating blood or organs. Some public health officials have condemned these policies, noting they can jeopardize the blood supply by senselessly preventing millions of men of all blood types from donating.

Coverage of rare or unusual phenomena (such as "bug-chasing") often veers toward sensationalism. Please avoid suggesting or allowing others to suggest that obviously outlying trends are representative of larger populations or LGBT people in general.

If you report on HIV/AIDS, please seek information from diverse resources, including public health agencies, service organizations, advocacy organizations, and groups that focus on health education LGBT communities of color (see Directory of Community Resources).

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