Thirty years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it seems downright bizarre that human immunodeficiency virus was once known as GRID—“Gay-related immune deficiency”—because the earliest cases were concentrated among gay men in New York City and Los Angeles.
Today, of course, we know better, after a 13-year-old boy named Ryan White and tennis star Arthur Ashe let the world know that what was once dubbed “gay cancer” could be acquired through blood transfusions, among other routes.
After a little girl named Hydeia Broadbent who was born with HIV started speaking out, and a 23-year-old, drug-free, HIV-positive professional woman named Rae Lewis Thornton proclaimed her status on the cover of Essence magazine.
After Magic Johnson—Magic Johnson!—retired from the Lakers due to HIV and prejudice.
After N.W.A’s nasal-voiced frontman Eazy-E announced he had AIDS and died a month later.
After these high-profile stories; the sparkly M.A.C Viva Glam and the conspicuously urban Rap-It-Up campaigns; the “No Glove, No Love” slogans; the free condoms at Planned Parenthood; the films like “Life Support”; and the memoirs like Marvelyn Brown’s “The Naked Truth.”
After seeing our family members, friends and neighbors live with HIV and, in way too many cases die of AIDS-related illnesses, we now know without a doubt that this thing is ours. All of ours.
Today is World AIDS Day. I want us all to take a minute to actively think about what HIV means and does to our communities. How it wreaks havoc on heterosexual black women at grossly disproportionate rates; how it claims four times as many transgender folks than cis-gender folk; how gay and bisexual black men are once again at the epicenter of it.
Then I want us all to act.
-Get tested. Both of you. Together. Today.
-Use condoms. Correctly. Every single time.
-If you must do things that require needles, use clean ones.
-Take your meds. Every day, on time.
-Address infections like herpes and syphilis that make your body more vulnerable to HIV infection.
-Demand adequate funding for quality health care for people living with HIV right here in the U.S., so we don’t have thousands on waiting lists for drugs and reports that less than a third of people in treatment are succeeding at it.
-Tell your health department to stop fearing honest talk about sex and adequately fund real prevention that supports healthy choices without stigmatizing people.
And, most important, don’t forget that HIV exists. Yes, many of us are living with it now, but it can still kill us. And it doesn’t have to be this way.