This post originally appeared on The California Endowment. Post submitted by Thomas Davis & Noël Gordon Jr.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caused a media firestorm when it announced that Black men who have sex with men in the United States now have a 50 percent chance of being diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.
But for us, this is not some abstract statistic. It is the reality of our lives. And it is not the whole story either. Often lost in mainstream coverage of HIV are the ways stigma and discrimination put young people like us at increased risk for HIV – while also limiting our ability to get tested or seek treatment.
How can we take steps to reduce the spread of HIV if our schools failed to offer comprehensive sex education? How could we be expected to take advantage of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis – the once-daily pill regimen that can prevent HIV – if there were no providers in our communities willing to prescribe it? How could we be expected to adhere to our medication and reach an undetectable viral load if we were constantly worried about where were going to put our heads at night? Or, what food we were going to eat? These are the questions young people are grappling with as we continue to make-up more than 25 percent of all new HIV transmissions in the U.S. These are the questions that demand answers.
But rather than scaring young people into submission with reminders of how terrible things used to be, we should be empowering them to make smarter, healthier choices. Young people don’t need to be shielded from the truth about HIV and AIDS. What we need is love, compassion, and mentorship from the people around us. What we need are laws and policies that affirm all of who we are. Only then will an “AIDS-free generation” ever truly be in sight.
So whether you're a young person living with HIV - as one of us is - or not, we all have choices to make about our role in fighting this epidemic. It does not have to be grand and loud - although there's certainly nothing wrong with a little flair every now and then - but each of us has a responsibility to work first on ourselves and then in support of others.
We’re both often asked why we’re so vocal about the lives we lead. But what other choice do we have?
Noël Gordon Jr is an openly gay, Black man who is vocal about his experience using - and advocating for - PrEP. He currently serves as Senior Program Specialist for HIV Prevention & Health Equity at HRC. Thomas Davis is an openly gay, Black man and youth advocate for other people living with HIV. Thomas is also a Health Education Specialist for the Los Angeles LGBT Centers in California.
HRC is committed to working with our allies, partners, members, and supporters to end the HIV epidemic and the stigma surrounding HIV. Click here to learn more and join the conversation about National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day using the hashtags #BeInTheKnow and #NYHAAD.