GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: HIV, AIDS, & the LGBTQ Community

HIV transmission is tied to specific high-risk behaviors that are not exclusive to any one sexual orientation. Avoid suggesting that simply being LGBTQ 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 gay or bisexual men who self-identify as gay or bisexual, individually or collectively, except in specific clinical or statistical contexts. For men do not self-identify as gay or bisexual, and yet engage in sexual activity with other men, the term may be a useful as a description of that discrete category of people.

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

PrEP and PEP should be presented alongside other methods to present a complete picture of HIV prevention tools. PrEP (preexposure prophylaxis) is a drug treatment for HIV-negative people that protects against exposure to HIV and the federal government recommends that PrEP be prescribed for people who are at substantial risk of contracting HIV. PEP (post-exposure prophylaxsis) is an emergency medication for HIV-negative people that can help prevent infection after exposure to HIV. PEP should be started within 36, and ideally no later than, 72 hours after exposure to HIV. With expanded knowledge and use of PrEP and PEP, alongside regular testing, condom use, access to clean needles, and mutual monogamy, HIV transmission can be severely curtailed.

Despite rigorous blood testing and risk factors that cross lines of sexual orientation, self-identified gay and bisexual men are still prohibited by federal law from donating blood unless they have been celibate for at least one year. In December 2015, the FDA amended its policy that previously banned all gay and bisexual men from donating blood. However, the FDA's updated policy still prohibits sexually active gay and bisexual men from donating blood. Some public health officials have condemned this policy, noting that it can jeopardize the blood supply by senselessly preventing millions of men of all blood types from donating. Gay and bisexual men also face different restrictions when donating  tissue and organs.

Use the term "Down Low" only to describe men who self-identify that way. A controversial term describing the phenomenon of MSM (men who have sex with men) who publicly identify as heterosexual 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. If you report on HIV and AIDS, please seek information from diverse resources, including talking to people who are living with HIV and AIDS, public health agencies, service organizations, advocacy organizations, and groups that focus on health education LGBTQ communities of color (see Directory ofCommunity Resources).

Spotlight: PrEP & PEP - PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a drug treatment for HIV-negative people that protects against exposure to HIV. The federal government recommends that PrEP be prescribed for people who are at substantial risk of contracting HIV. PEP (post-exposure prophylaxsis) is an emergency medication for HIV-negative people that can help prevent infection after exposure to HIV. PEP should be started within 36, and ideally no later than, 72 hours after exposure to HIV.

PrEP and PEP should be presented alongside other methods to present a complete picture of HIV prevention tools. With expanded knowledge and use of PrEP and PEP, alongside regular testing, condom use, access to clean needles, and mutual monogamy, HIV transmission can be severely curtailed.

Spotlight: HIV criminalization - 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.

As of 2014, 34 states have laws that specifically criminalize HIV exposure (not transmission) through consensual sex, needle-sharing, spitting, and biting. 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 be fatal.

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 the Sero Project.

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