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Health experts to address high STI rates in gays

STI, gay news, Washington Blade

UK health officials report record high STI rates for gay men there.

LONDON — Health experts in the UK were slated to meet in London Friday to share evidence and devise new strategies to address what they say are record high STI rates for gay men there, the Independent reports.

Rates of gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis in gay men have soared in recent years, official figures show, while new HIV infections have also reached record highs, the paper said.

Experts say that, paradoxically, the rise of successful drug treatments for HIV has contributed to increased infection rates for other sexually transmitted infections. More men are having unprotected sex in the assumption that they no longer need to wear a condom to protect themselves from the virus, once considered a death sentence before the advent of effective anti-retroviral drugs. Other men are lowering their risk by sero-sorting, or ensuring partners have the same HIV status as them, but then having unprotected sex, risking the transmission of other infections, the Independent said.

The problem has taken on a worrying new dimension in the past five years, with a minority of gay men, particularly in London and other major cities, taking up high risk sexual behavior associated with the injection club drugs such as crystal meth.

Infection rates for HIV itself are also on the rise, with 3,250 new diagnoses in men who have sex with men the UK in 2012, an all-time high, the paper reported.

There were 36,000 STI diagnoses in men who have sex with men in England alone in 2012, including 8,500 new cases of chlamydia, 10,800 for gonorrhoea and 2,100 cases of syphilis. Although improved testing and screening explains some of the rise, health experts agree that high risk behaviours have become much more common, the Independent reports.

12
Feb
2014

DC Center, GWU partner in ‘PrEP’ HIV prevention program

Truvada, Gilead, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy of Gilead)

George Washington University’s School of Public Health has awarded the DC Center for the LGBT Community a $10,000 grant to provide HIV prevention activities associated with the use of the AIDS drug Truvada as a pre-exposure prophylaxis, or “PrEP” for members of the LGBT community who are HIV negative.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Center said the grant funds would be used in a “multi-pronged approach of awareness, research, and compliance in an effort to improve the lives of people living with and at risk for HIV in the District.”

Two officials with GWU’s Milken Institute School of Public Health were scheduled to present a $10,000 check to D.C. Center Board Chair Michael Fowler and Center Executive Director David Mariner at a ceremony at the Center’s offices at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 30.

The Center is located on the ground floor of the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U Streets, N.W.

Fowler told the Blade that the Center will not serve as a dispensary for Truvada but instead will provide referrals to medical providers for those interested in going on PrEP. Fowler said the Center, among other things, would send reminders to those on the program to take the pill every day, provide educational seminars on PrEP, and develop a mobile app to help people find a PrEP provider at a location convenient to them.

The Gilead pharmaceutical company, which manufactures Truvada, received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012 for the use of a doctor prescribed, one-pill-a-day regimen of Truvada as a pre-exposure prophylaxis to help uninfected people reduce their risk of HIV infection.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which promotes the use of Truvada as part of the PrEP program on its official government website, AIDS.gov, says the program is recommended for population groups considered at “high risk” for HIV infection. Men who have sex with men are among the groups considered at high risk for HIV, according to a write-up on the website.

However, critics of the PrEP program, including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the nation’s largest AIDS service providing group which has offices in D.C., point to studies showing that a significant percentage of people on the PrEP program have been non-compliant in taking their daily Pravda pill, placing them at risk for becoming infected with HIV. The group’s director, Michael Weinstein, has said promoting condom use among men who have sex with men is a more effective method of HIV prevention.

In a separate development, D.C. Center spokesperson Matt Corso said the Center’s first AmeriCorps staff person began work at the Center on April 28 and will be with the Center for at least a year.

Corso said the staffer, Eric Perez, will work on the Center’s LGBT military veterans support program. He said Perez is part of AmeriCorps’ Vetcorps program, which supports veterans.

“We are the first LGBT community center to ever receive a Vetcorps volunteer, and this is Vetcorps’ first time looking specifically at the issues LGBT veterans face,” Corso said.

01
May
2014

What’s next for Equality Maryland?

Gay News, Washington Blade, Carrie Evans, Gay Maryland

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, said her group will address HIV/AIDS and schools issues, among others. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

With the Maryland Senate’s passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, which provides protections in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations based on gender identity, and the House of Delegates currently debating the measure, Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT rights organization, has provided a glimpse into its future initiatives.

Last July, the organization developed a three-year strategic plan as reported in the Blade that provides a roadmap for its future. It focuses on “the intersections of the lives as LGBT and as military personnel, as people of color, as immigrants, as we age, as we are HIV+, as we attend school, and as we are persons with disabilities,” according to an Equality Maryland email to supporters.

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, recently acknowledged that future legislative initiatives, while not having the same “stature” as marriage or transgender equality, are important nonetheless.

“Legislative issues around HIV and AIDS and schools come to mind,” Evans told the Blade.  “In 2013 and early 2014 we have worked extensively on health care issues, especially on issues surrounding the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.  We held several town hall meetings for the LGBT community and what the new law means for the community and people living with HIV/AIDS.”

Evans pointed out that during the current General Assembly, Equality Maryland has been part of the coalitions working to increase the minimum wage, reform marijuana policy and earned sick leave for workers. “These coalitions portend our commitment to focus on ensuring the ‘ands’ of LGBT lives are addressed,” she says. “We are more than our sexual orientation and gender identity, we are black, immigrant, parents, rural dwelling, disabled, young, and senior citizens and Equality Maryland will work on advocating for the whole of a LGBT person’s identity and issues.”

11
Mar
2014

Testing young gay men for HIV

young gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Sex education needs to start at home.

What should we be telling young gay men about HIV testing? And more importantly, who should be telling them? The answer is simple – parents, schools and medical professionals – the same as for all young people.

But this might still be a tall order, despite our shifts in acceptance of LGBTQ people. While some folks may be prepared to attend a lesbian co-worker’s wedding, is our society really ready to have “the talk” with a generation of youth who are coming out at younger and younger ages?  The data is clear that we should be.

As a city we’ve done a good job of increasing HIV testing, but we can do more. In Washington, D.C., young men who have sex with men have consistently made up about 50 percent of new HIV cases (among young people ages 13-19). At Metro TeenAIDS our HIV testing efforts over the last year found 14 new positives: 12 identified as gay or bisexual; two of them were under 18.

Ideally we parents and educators would be better at these conversations but the reality is that we’re not. In fact, most of us don’t even know what good sex education looks like – especially as it relates to LGBT youth.

In the city with one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in the country, we should be doing more. And yet, a recent report from the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) showed that fewer middle school students reported getting HIV/AIDS education than even five years ago.

I have a few recommendations that I hope will help.

• Sex education needs to start at home, probably by fourth grade. This means schools and pediatricians ought to have more resources to give to parents.

• We need to make sure that LGBT young people are accepted at home. Teens who perceive that their parents are supportive and involved are not only more satisfied with their relationships but they also tend to engage in fewer sexual risk behaviors, have fewer sexual partners and report more consistent condom use.

• We need to make sure that LGBT young people are accepted at school. We need to support the work of organizations like SMYAL, which are trying to expand Gay/Straight Alliances in schools. When kids feel like they have people to stand up with them and for them, they are more likely to stay in school.

• Finally, we need to keep the pressure on schools and the city to ensure that we have high-quality sex education that includes relevant information for LGBT youth.

Despite my day job, as a father I am already nervous about having “the talk” with my five year old. This stuff is just not that easy. That said, getting tested for HIV and STDs is certainly on the list of things to discuss.

Adam Tenner is executive director of Metro TeenAIDS.

27
Jun
2014

Reports: Uganda HIV/AIDS organization raided

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveniin February signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Ugandan authorities on Thursday reportedly raided the offices of a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization.

Police reportedly surrounded the offices of the Makerere University Walter Reed Project in Kampala, the country’s capital. Onziema, a transgender Ugandan LGBT rights advocate, noted on Twitter that authorities raided the group’s research site for conducting “illegal homosexual research.”

The Makerere University Walter Reed Project did not immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

The organization notes on its website that it has conducted HIV research in the East African country since 1998. The group said it “expanded its portfolio to include prevention, care and treatment activities” in 2005 under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in February signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex acts.

The White House announced after Museveni signed the controversial measure that it had begun a review of its relationship with the Ugandan government.

The U.S. has suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university. A CDC agreement that fully or partially funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic expired on Feb. 28.

Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through PEPFAR to fight the epidemic in the East African country. The Ugandan government in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation told the Blade last month from Kampala the anti-gay law has forced his organization to “close shop.”

“The community is very scared, very worried,” he said. “They’re underground.”

Ofwono Opondo, a spokesperson for the Ugandan government, did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment.

Museveni on Monday defended the anti-gay law during a “thanksgiving service” in Kampala.

“We have fundamental disagreements with the west on homosexuality,” said the Ugandan president. “Homosexuality is no sex.”

The Blade will provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

03
Apr
2014

SPECIAL REPORT: Poverty in the LGBT community

Kadeem Swenson, poverty, LGBT, gay news, Washington Blade

Kadeem Swenson told the Blade in 2010 that his parents kicked him out of the house for being gay. He spent a year living in abandoned buildings in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This week, the Blade kicks off a special yearlong focus on poverty in the LGBT community. The occasional series will examine the problem with special reports from D.C. and around the country. To share your ideas or personal story, visit us on Facebook or email knaff@washblade.com.

 

As the 50th anniversary of the U.S. war on poverty launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 is commemorated this year, LGBT advocates are pointing to little noticed studies showing that the rate of poverty in the LGBT community is higher than that of the general population.

In a 2013 report analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other data measuring poverty in the United States, the Williams Institute, a research arm at the University of California Law School in Los Angeles that specializes in LGBT issues, concludes that rates of poverty are higher than the general population among gay men and lesbians between the ages of 18-44 and gay men and lesbians living alone.

The report shows that couples – both gay and straight – tend to have a lower rate of poverty than single people and the population as a whole. But it found that the poverty rate for lesbian couples is higher than that of gay male couples and opposite-sex couples and the poverty rate of same-sex African-American couples is higher than it is for opposite-sex African-American couples.

Among the report’s findings that surprised LGBT activists were data showing that bisexual men and women had poverty rates of 25.9 percent and 29.4 percent respectively – higher than gay men (20.5 percent) and lesbians (22.7 percent). The report says the same set of data show that heterosexual men had a poverty rate of 15.3 percent compared to a rate of 21.1 percent for heterosexual women.

“The LGB poverty data help to debunk the persistent stereotype of the affluent gay man or lesbian,” the Williams Institute report says.

“Instead, the poverty data are consistent with the view that LGB people continue to face economic challenges that affect their income and life chances, such as susceptibility to employment discrimination, higher rates of being uninsured, and a lack of access to various tax and other financial benefits via exclusion from the right to marry,” the report says.

The report uses the U.S. Census Bureau definition of poverty for 2012 in its analysis of LGBT poverty levels based on family income. That definition lists the “poverty line” for a single person household as an annual income of $11,815 or less. The poverty line for a two-person household was $15,079, and for a four-person household was $23,684 in 2012.

 

poverty, gay news, Washington Blade

Researchers with the Williams Institute say this graph summarizes their findings of higher poverty rates among samples of mostly LGB and some LGBT people in the U.S. The bar graph on the left represents data taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey (ACS). The chart in the center is taken from data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The chart at right is from a 2012 phone survey conducted by the Gallup Poll organization. (Graph courtesy of the Williams Institute)

Trans poverty ‘extraordinarily high’

 

A separate study prepared jointly by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2011, called “Injustice at Every Turn,” shows dramatically higher rates of poverty and homelessness among transgender Americans in each state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

Kylar Broadus, senior policy counsel and director of the Trans Civil Rights Project for The Task Force, called the poverty rate in the transgender community “extraordinarily high.” He said a key factor leading to economic hardship among transgender people is the persistent problem of employment discrimination.

“There’s double the national rate of unemployment,” he said in discussing the trans community of which he said he’s a member. “And once we’re employed 90 percent of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment and discrimination on the job,” he noted in pointing to the NCTE-Task Force study.

“Forty-seven percent said they experienced adverse outcomes such as being fired, not hired or denied promotions because of being transgender or gender non-conforming,” Broadus said.

He said the respondents reported various forms of housing discrimination that are contributing factors to homelessness in the transgender community. According to the study, 19 percent of respondents reported having been refused a home or an apartment to rent and 11 percent reported being evicted because of their gender identity or expression.

“Nineteen percent experienced homelessness at some point in their lives because they were transgender or didn’t conform as well, and then 55 percent were denied access to shelters,” he said.

Another study released by the Williams Institute last week reports that 2.4 million LGBT adults, or 29 percent, “experienced a time in the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family.”

The study, written by Williams Institute demographer Gary Gates, found that LGBT people are more likely to rely on the federal food stamp program for assistance than their heterosexual counterparts.

“One in four bisexuals (25 percent) receive food stamps,” the report says, “34 percent of LGBT women were food insecure in the last year; and LGBT African Americans, Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians experienced food insecurity in the last year at rates of 37 percent, 55 percent, and 78 percent respectively,” the report says.

 

LGBT homeless rate high in San Fran

 

Yet another report released last June found that 29 percent of the homeless population in San Francisco identified as LGBT. The report, which was part of the city’s biennial homeless count, included for the first time a count of the number of homeless people who identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Brian Bassinger, director of the San Francisco-based AIDS Housing Alliance, which provides services to the HIV and LGBT communities, said although the finding to some degree reflects the high LGBT population in San Francisco, which is 15 percent, he believes LGBT people make up a sizable percent of the homeless population in other cities throughout the country.

Bassinger said he also believes the 29 percent figure for San Francisco is most likely an under count and that the actual number is higher.

“LGBT people in the shelter system here are regularly targeted for violence, harassment and hate crimes, which are very well documented,” he said.

Since much of the effort to count homeless people in the city takes place at shelters, large numbers of LGBT homeless people are not counted because they generally avoid the shelters out of fear of harassment and violence, Bassinger said.

He said his group also closely monitors a development in San Francisco threatening to push the city’s older LGBT population into poverty and which may be occurring in other cities – the enormous rise in the cost of housing due to gentrification and a booming real estate market. Those who for years have lived in popular gay neighborhoods as tenants are being displaced by the conversion of rental apartment buildings and houses into upscale condominiums, Bassinger said.

“Long-term San Franciscans who have spent decades building the system to deliver access to equal treatment under the law here in San Francisco are getting displaced by all of these people moving into our community,” he said.

And because they can no longer afford to live in San Francisco many are being forced to move to other parts of the state or other states that are less LGBT friendly and don’t have the support community they came to enjoy for so many years, according to Bassinger.

The Williams Institute’s 2013 report, meanwhile, analyzes data from four surveys of the U.S. population with a demographic breakdown that included mostly gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals as well as a smaller, combined “LGBT” sample.

The four surveys were conducted by these organizations or government agencies:

• The 2010 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau with a sample of more than 500,000 and which included data from same-sex couple households.

• The National Survey of Family Growth conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics from 2006-2010 included a sample of more than 19,000 people throughout the country, including people who identified as LGB, the Williams Institute study says.

• The California Health Interview Survey conducted by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research in collaboration with California Department of Public Health surveyed more than 50,000 Californians, including LGB adults from 2007 to 2009.

• A Gallup Daily Tracking Poll conducted between June 1 and Sept. 30, 2012 with a sample of more than 120,000 adults from 18 and older, included people who identified themselves as LGBT in all 50 states and D.C. The poll was conducted by phone.

The report includes these additional findings on the subject of poverty in the LGBT community:

• African-American same-sex couples have poverty rates more than twice the rate of different-sex married African Americans.

• One-third of lesbian couples and 20.1 percent of gay male couples who don’t have a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 18.8 percent of heterosexual couples.

• Lesbian couples living in rural areas are more likely to be poor (14.1 percent) compared to 4.5 percent of lesbian couples in large cities; 10.2 percent of gay male couples who live in small metropolitan areas are poor compared with just 3.3 percent of gay male couples who live in large metropolitan areas.

• Nearly one in four children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2 percent of children living with a female same-sex couple is in poverty. This compares with 12.1 percent of children living with married heterosexual couples who are in poverty.

• African-American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3 percent) of any children in any household type.

• 14 percent of lesbian couples and 7.7 percent of gay male couples received food stamps, compared to 6.5 percent of straight married couples. In addition, 2.2 percent of same-sex female couples received government cash assistance compared to 0.8 percent of women in different-sex couples. And 1.2 percent of men in same-sex couples received cash assistance compared to 0.6 percent of men in different-sex couple relationships who received cash assistance.

The report’s co-author Lee Badgett, a Williams Institute senior fellow and professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said it’s difficult to draw a conclusion from the Williams Institute and other studies as to why there are higher poverty levels in the LGBT community.

“The people that I know who worked with LGBT people in poverty talk about the reasons being very complex,” she said.

“I suspect that there are lots of disadvantages that people face, whether it’s in the labor market or in schools and that maybe somehow they kind of come together, that they are sort of cumulative over time and make people more vulnerable to poverty. But I think we don’t really know exactly why that happens,” Badgett told the Blade.

In the Williams Institute report, she and co-authors Laura Durso and Alyssa Schneebaum call for further studies to explore the factors that contribute both to “poverty and economic resilience” within the LGBT community.

“Our analyses highlight different demographic subpopulations that may be particularly at-risk; however, we are unable to take a more fine-grained approach to identifying factors that contribute to poverty in these different communities,” the report says.

“Identifying the conditions under which individuals and families descend into and escape from poverty will aid service organizations and government agencies in designing interventions to address this significant social problem,” the report concludes.

Broadus of the Task Force said discrimination and bias make up at least some of the conditions that force LGBT people into poverty.

“We are less economically secure as a community due to suffering at the hands of discrimination in employment, marriage, insurance and less familial and societal support,” he said. “The LGBT community as a whole lives at the margins and some at the margins of the margins such as women, people of color and children. When some of our community is vulnerable we are all vulnerable.”

12
Feb
2014

GLCCB town hall tackles PrEP

Truvada, Gilead, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy of Gilead)

On April 28, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) hosted a town hall at the Waxter Center with 30 people in attendance to discuss the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to prevent HIV infection. PrEP is medicine taken daily by HIV-negative people who are at high risk of exposure to HIV, to prevent becoming infected with HIV.

Tenofovir-emtricitabine, or Truvada, manufactured by pharmaceutical company Gilead, is currently the only medication approved for use as PrEP. Truvada is also widely used as part of HIV treatment. At this time, daily pills are the only form of PrEP.

The panelists included Brian M. Palmer, D.O., M.P.H., of Gilead Sciences, Inc.; Dr. Patrick Ryscavage, of University of Maryland Medical Center; Dr. Renata Arrington-Sanders, of Johns Hopkins Hospital; and Deb Dunn of Chase Brexton Health Services.

06
May
2014

Us Helping Us debuts new HIV testing van

Us Helping Us, testing van, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy of Us Helping Us)

An eye-catching new mobile health screening van launched on February 28 is carrying out its mission of encouraging black gay and bisexual men throughout the city to get tested for HIV, according to Ron Simmons, president and CEO of Us Helping Us, the HIV advocacy group that’s operating the van.

Simmons said the mobile health unit van is part of a national HIV testing and prevention program directed toward black gay and bisexual men through a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which developed the program. The CDC says the program is aimed at lowering the HIV infection rate of black men who have sex with men, which is the highest of all the population groups deemed to be affected by the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

Simmons is a nationally recognized expert on HIV-related services for people of color. He served as a member of a working group that advised the CDC in the development and implementation of the program, which is called “Testing Makes Us Stronger.”

That slogan along with a large drawing of a bare chested young man flexing the muscle of his raised arm appears on the side of the new van.

12
Mar
2014

Cuomo seeks to end HIV epidemic in New York

Andrew Cuomo, gay news, Washington Blade

‘We are in a position to be the first state in the nation committed to ending this epidemic,’ said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

NEW YORK — New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said last week that it has developed a plan to aggressively identify, track and treat people with HIV infection there with hopes of lowering infections there to non-epidemic levels by 2020, the New York Times reports.

The Cuomo administration described the effort as reflecting a once unimaginable sea change in thinking since the first cases of AIDS were reported among gay men, mostly in the city, by the Centers for Disease Control in July 1981. It has gone from a mysterious plague to a disease that experts can envision one day vanquishing.

“Thirty years ago, New York was the epicenter of the AIDS crisis,” Cuomo said in a statement on Saturday as quoted by the Times. “We are in a position to be the first state in the nation committed to ending this epidemic.”

The state’s acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said on June 27 that he believed that by 2020, New York could reduce its annual incidence of new infections to about 750 from the current 3,000, bringing the number of new cases below the number of annual deaths, or as he put it, “bending the curve” in the direction of ending the epidemic in the state, the Times article said.

The prospect of ending the AIDS epidemic is gaining momentum in epidemiological circles. It is based on studies showing that AIDS drugs have a double-barreled effect not just as treatment but as a means of blocking transmission. On June 24, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a leading AIDS researcher, argued at the Aspen Ideas Festival that “we can end the AIDS pandemic in the next 10 years,” the New York Times article said.

In New York, of an estimated 154,000 people infected with HIV, 22,000 do not know they have it, state officials said. Of the 132,000 who know they have it, 64,000 need treatment to suppress the virus.

02
Jul
2014

The bonds of battle

‘The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience’

By Perry N. Halkitis

Oxford University Press

$49.95

249 pages

AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience, Perry N. Halkitis, books, gay news, Washington Blade

AIDS Generation‘ by Perry N. Halkitis. (Book cover image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

Some of the best experiences you had last year were with your friends.

When you think back about the highlights, you remember dancing together, eating together, late-night bull sessions, parties, travels and idle man watching. Those shared experiences are the glue that forever hold your friendship together.

Or maybe, like the men in “The AIDS Generation” by Perry N. Halkitis, your bond is that you’re survivors.

The history of AIDS is vast and can’t be told without the stories of the people lost to the disease and the ones they left behind. Of the latter, Halkitis writes, “All the gay men of my generation, infected or not, are long-term survivors.”

Those are the men who came of age in the 1980s when “the promise for sexual freedom and sexual expression existed.” They are the men who, in the prime of their lives and when they should’ve been the picture of health, watched their friends and lovers die and who were told, upon their own AIDS diagnosis, that they, too, would probably be dead within two years.

But of course, that wasn’t necessarily true. This book, the culmination of a large-scale project on gay men who have lived with AIDS for decades, pulls together 15 survivors who were “still alive to tell their stories as middle-aged men.”

Some of them don’t remember when they learned of their diagnosis, while some remember the day clearly. Regardless, all exhibited “the pause,” as Halkitis calls the stress reaction to remembering that time.

Some of the 15 knew, deep-down, that they’d been infected; one said it would’ve been “a miracle … not to be positive.” For others, it came as a surprise. Some got sick, while others waited for illness that never really came. All are “resilient,” says Halkitis, and are now surprised and amazed to experience the kind of normal health issues that men in middle age endure.

“I’ve been at the worst of this virus,” one of the men told Halkitis, “and now I’m in the golden years of this virus. This virus has taken me halfway around the world and I’m still here.”

At first blush, “The AIDS Generation” may seem like it’s more academic than not. That assessment is true; there is plenty for academics in this book, but casual readers will find something here, too.

As one of the “AIDS Generation,” author Perry N. Halkitis knew which questions to ask of his subjects in order to get the memories and emotions he pulled from them. That questioning leads to a fresh sense of heartache in the telling of tales and a distant theme of horror that bubbles with anger and ends with a general awe for life and an appealing sense of triumph. Despite linguistic stumbles that might’ve been better off edited out, that makes them compellingly readable.

I believe there are two audiences for this book: long-term survivors who count themselves among the warriors, and younger men who need to learn. If you fall into either category, then reading “The AIDS Generation” will be a worthwhile experience.

07
Jan
2014