Wednesday, September 01, 2010


For the past couple of years, I have been a member of the Community Advisory Board at the LGBT Community Health Center in Chelsea. It's where I go for all my health care, including periodic counseling and all of my dental work. My work on the CAB, aside from being rewarding on it's own, is my way of paying back all of the wonderful care I have received over the years, before and after I was diagnosed as HIV+.

Last year during the annual elections that are held for the meeting chairman position ... I didn't win. I did however become first runner up (Miss Congeniality was not something I aspire to) and was elected to be the Vice-Chair. Coming in 2nd in a group of 8, third if you take in to account the previous chair was out of the running, only diminishes an already dubious honor slightly.

One of the projects I ended up spearheading last year was a patient newsletter. Previously, it was published in a very basic, two-page, black & white copy machine version. It had a very grassroots, low-budget look to it, and I thought we could do better. I originally started the project with another CAB member who had a lot of experience in graphic design, as my abilities are limited and self-taught. Halfway in to the first issue, my co-editor quit, leaving me to finish the first issue and take charge of the project.

Right after Gay Pride Weekend (end of June) I submitted the final draft for our 2nd (summer) issue. It was published late in August, distributed throughout the Health Center and published to their web site. In addition to supplying all the photos for this issue, I also wrote an editorial of sorts, to coincide with Gay Pride Weekend.

Lately I've been doing a lot of reading about the stigma that is still attached to HIV. Many gay men, after being diagnosed, are further traumatized when they experience being ostracized from their own community. As I say in the article, being HIV+, even in the gay "community", is the dirty little secret everyone would prefer just go away. Many HIV+ gay men feel damaged and alone.

I am attempting, through my work at the LGBT Community Health Center, and my contact with various HIV+ support groups, to address and hopefully eradicate that stigma. Here's the article reprinted:

This issue of Patient 2 Patient is
being assembled during what has
become known as Gay Pride
Month, June of 2010. Amid all the
parties and benefits, parades and
celebrations that take place in all 5
boroughs throughout this time of
year, there are many issues that
are relevant to the LGBT
community that have taken center
stage. High profile issues like gay
marriage, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and
the passage of a transgender
inclusive Employment Non-
Discrimination Act have all
received the lion’s share of the
media coverage of late.

It seems to some within the HIV+
LGBT community that amidst this
cacophony of protests, marches and
demonstrations, the voices of HIV+
Americans are no longer being heard. To
some, it seems as if we are being actively
shut out.

Consider these sobering statistics:
According to the latest findings by the
CDC 4,762 New York City residents
contracted HIV in 2006. That’s three
times the national rate and an estimated
72 new infections for every 100,000

Nearly two-thirds of the city’s new
infections occurred in people 30 to 50
years old. Minority groups were
hardest hit among young people. For
example, of new HIV infections
among men under age 30 who have
sex with men, 77 percent were in
Black or Hispanic men.

In another study conducted by the
CDC, over 50% of young Black gay or
bi Southern men that were diagnosed
HIV+ had engaged in high risk
sexual behavior, but still had not
thought they would ever become
infected with the virus.

HIV+ men feel that we have become
the dirty little secret in the LGBT
community. The equivalent of the
crazy relative with a room in the attic
that only gets trotted out during big
celebrations. If we don’t sit quietly in
the corner and enjoy the plate of
sponge cake already provided, eyes
get rolled then its back in the attic we

Gay men who seemingly lack
education or compassion think
nothing of unleashing bigotry, stigma
and shame upon newly infected HIV+
men who have sex with men. After
all, HIV is “preventable” and those
engaging in risky behavior should
simply “know better.” Nowhere is this
more glaringly evident than in the
halls of our own LGBT Community
Center. Where you won’t find a single
sign, poster or notification welcoming
HIV+ gay men and women nor will
you see any large scale permanent
signage advocating or directing
anyone to HIV testing and treatment.
Worldwide there are approximately 33
million people living with HIV and over
25 million people have died.

Why then has HIV become a seemingly
back-burner issue? That’s if it’s talked
about at all. Certainly this country’s
legendary short attention span and a
certain amount of “grief fatigue”
explain some of it. As does the
supposition that HIV is thought of as
more of a chronic disease, survivable
and treatable, and not the frightening
and alarming death sentence it once
was. Happily that’s true, assuming you
get a diagnosis and treatment in time.
Not everyone does. And not everyone
responds well to the available

The fact remains that unlike other
chronic and treatable diseases, like
diabetes or depression, HIV still carries
a stigma that sets its patients apart.
Often resulting in HIV+ men feeling
shunned or ignored by their uninfected
(or undiagnosed) gay brothers. Many
So as Gay Pride week is about to begin
and Gay Pride Month draws to a close,
as the celebrations wind down and the
streets are swept clean, the next time
you write a check or turnout en masse
for the latest cause celebre, consider

HIV doesn’t know or care who you are.
It doesn’t worry about how much money
you have in the bank or how much
education you enjoyed. HIV doesn’t
know who you’re sleeping with, and
doesn’t care if it’s one person or a
hundred. HIV doesn’t know if you’re gay
or straight. HIV can’t tell if you are a
homeless teen or a dancer in the New
York City Ballet. HIV doesn’t think of
itself as a punishment. HIV doesn’t
worry about causing you
embarrassment or shame. In short, HIV
doesn’t judge or discriminate.

So why should you?

You can check out the entire (PDF) newsletter by following this link.

No comments: