The following World AIDS Day essay was written by our intern Tabias.
Tomorrow millions will take note of the symbolic World AIDS Day. Each year for the past twenty five years, communities across the globe have stood together to observe the progress that has been made and the work that is yet to be done in the journey toward eradication of HIV and AIDS. Over the years we have seen remarkable progress. We have gone from watching in horror as many of our loved ones mysteriously fell to the stigmatized “Gay Related Immunodefiency Disease”, to lifesaving and life altering medications like AZT to HIV becoming what many now call, a maneagable chronic illness. Many lucky folks, like myself, are able to survive by taking a once a day, one pill regimen that will ultimately lead for many us to become “undetectable.” These new medications, while still wreaking particular havoc on our bodies, are a far cry from where we were years ago, where medications often caused cancers and other very serious illnesses. POZ people around the globe, those with access to proper medication and treatment, can now expect to live normal lifespans. This is indeed amazing! However, none of this came without costs. Those of us who are the Generation Y of HIV, owe a great deal of gratitude to those who came, protested and died before us. We owe particularly thanks to the black, brown and white activists associated with groups like ACT OUT! who made it their mission to gain life for our community, or die trying.
While we’ve come a mighty long way, life isn’t quite peaches and cream. Forty five states in the US have laws criminalizing sex for those who do not disclose their HIV status to each sexual partner. Many of these states do not require transmission for these laws to take effect, rendering many responsible POZ people felons, and in many cases, sex offenders. These laws generally do not take into account the risk of transmission, the responsibility of the assumed “negative partner” or if condoms were used during sex. This has the effect of both stigmatizing and pathologizing HIV. The logic implicit in these statutes creates an image of POZ men and women, that are sex-crazed and willfully “spreading” HIV willy-nilly. Any cursory glance of recent (and many historical) research would that this reasoning requires a willful suspension of reality. HIV is a disease of poverty, not malice, and we should treat it as such. Criminalization laws reject the notion that POZ folks are human beings entitled to sexual relations and reproductive functions, just like everyone else. While we’ve come a long way in our fight against stigma, those who are POZ are still viewed as a viral underclass by our legal apparatus.
Any post about HIV and World AIDS Day would be remiss without mentioning the fact that HIV is increasingly becoming a disease associated with being black, brown or poor. Research by Dr. David David Malebranche of Emory University has shown that the maldistribution of resources in our country, namely healthcare, socioeconomic status and education, are the primary culprits for transmission vulnerability in these populations. President Obama recently crafted the nations first comprehensive HIV attack plan, and within that document, he specifically targeted minority communities for research, treatment and preventative care. This is the way forward. For the next 25 years we must be committed to making sure that community bears the brunt of the virus, the stigma or the criminalization. For my POZ peers, this means telling our stories and asserting our humanity, at all costs just like those before us. For our family, loved ones, allies and those new to this issue of viral apartheid, we ask you to pledge to listen, speak and work with and for us while always giving us a space at the decision making table. For everyone, regardless of your HIV status, this is a call to be HIV neutral. We can longer divide our social or romantic endeavors based upon HIV status, but instead, we must endeavor to have direct, frank and open conversations so that our lives will be more fulfilled and that we made create a safer world for our loved ones. Let the next 25 years be years without stigma, without shame and full of love.