Southern HIV/AIDS AWareness DAy

This week’s blog was written by the Southern AIDS Coalition in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. We are excited to have had the opportunity to partner with SAC to raise awareness of the impact of HIV in the South.

Southern states are suffering from an HIV epidemic. Data on HIV shows that 45% of people living with HIV, and 52% of all new HIV diagnoses are found in the South (AIDS Vu). In 2019, the Trump Administration announced the plan End the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America. This plan focused on increasing resources for testing, treatment, and prevention to decrease new HIV infections by 90% by 2030. The Plan focused on 58 priority jurisdictions that suffer higher rates of HIV in the country. Located in the South, the majority of these jurisdictions include 7 Southern states. In the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we also encounter many health disparities when talking about diagnosis, treatment, and access to healthcare. HIV disproportionately affects African American men and brings out systemic issues that lead to these disparities. The fight to end the epidemic cannot only focus on HIV/AIDS, but all the other factors that impede people to gain access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. It is important to bring attention to the South because the epidemic looks much different in Southern states that often were overlooked by large metropolitan areas. There are many factors in the South that affect the HIV epidemic, such as lack of healthcare, vast rural areas, lack of health insurance, transportation issues, stigma, and many other factors.

The Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (SHAAD) was launched on August 20th, 2019 by the Southern AIDS Coalition (SAC). The purpose of SHAAD is to bring awareness to the HIV epidemic in the South and amplify efforts to combat it. During SHAAD 2019, multiple organizations, health departments, and businesses fighting to end the epidemic gathered to talk about the efforts being done on the ground and sharing success stories. Additionally, SHAAD ensures to bring an array of intersectional topics that affect people living with HIV in the South and systemic issues that affect the treatment and prevention of HIV. This year the Southern AIDS Coalition will be hosting SHAAD virtually. The theme of this year’s event is Pursuing the Possible, Doing the Work. Although SHAAD is taking a virtual approach this year, it will still be an impactful event, where organizations can come together and highlight the efforts done to end the HIV epidemic in the South. SHAAD 2020 will take place during August 20th and the 21st, highlighting five different panels. These panels will be on various topics such as: amplifying Southern voices, a conversation with Gilead COMPASS Initiative, EHE in the South from a federal perspective, and finally, addressing healthcare, housing, and hunger.

Having the Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is extremely important. For many years HIV treatment and prevention have been focused on large metropolitan areas, therefore overlooking rural areas and the majority of the South. In consequence, there was a lack of funding and resource allocation to the South, which ties to the many disparities that we see in HIV today. By bringing awareness to the HIV epidemic in the South, we can gather the voices of people doing work locally and see what is working and what is not. There are unique challenges in the South that make the work in HIV harder. For example, the lack of Medicaid expansion. For many, the only way to get HIV treatment is through Medicaid. However, many people living with HIV are uninsured, which is why Medicaid expansion is so important. The vast rural areas that make up the Southern states also have an impact on access to healthcare. Obtaining care in rural areas is a challenge, and an additional barrier when it comes to finding a physician that works with HIV treatment and prevention. At SHAAD, we not only look at the problems and challenges, but we focus on finding solutions through our strengths. The work that is being done in the South to fight against HIV/AIDS is impressive. We have many strong advocates in the South doing fantastic work. Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is essential for bringing all these incredible Southern leaders and advocates to highlight and celebrate the work done in the South around HIV and AIDS.  At SAC, we hope that we can continue SHAAD for many years to come because creating partnerships and coming together to share our stories and voices is how we create change.

The continued epidemic of methamphetamine among gay/bi/msm

Methamphetamine is not a new drug, it was developed in 1919 in Japan and was widely used by all sides in World War II.  Later, the drug was prescribed for weight loss and as treatment for depression.  It wasn’t until 1970 that the US government made methamphetamine illegal which lead to the underground production and sale of the drug. In the 1990s, drug cartels began large scale manufacturing of methamphetamine while smaller labs in homes and vehicles began producing meth in rural cities across the country.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s meth became the most widely used drug among urban gay men and spread throughout gay culture.  Methamphetamine use among gay/bi and other MSM has been shown to be 20 times that of the general population (Oldenburg, Et Al, 2016) and it’s use has not decreased over the decades (Mimiaga, Et Al 2019). 

Meth is used by gay/bi/msm to party, promote confidence, and enhance sexual experiences.  Many gay men report that “chemsex” is far more enjoyable and that after experience sex while using meth, regular sex is less enjoyable. 

For people living with HIV, using methamphetamine can have disastrous consequences.  Meth users who are living with HIV tend to have higher viral loads and are at risk of not being in treatment.  Meth may also effect a person’s immune system which makes it easier for HIV to replicate.

In the early 2000s, there were large campaigns focused on raising awareness of and combating meth use among gay/bi/MSM across the country.  These efforts have largely faded away but the prevalence of methamphetamine use has remained a part of our community.

To learn more about methamphetamine use among gay/bi/MSM, particularly among Latinx gay/bi/MSM, register for our future webinar “Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” an Achieving Together Conversation sponsored by the Texas HIV Syndicate and presented by Poderosos.

HIV Home Testing

Saturday, June 27th, 2020 is National HIV Testing Day.  Knowing your HIV status is the critical first step to living a long and healthy life.  In Texas, there are roughly 16,000 people living with HIV and unaware of their status.

While we are all staying safe during the coronavirus epidemic by staying home and practicing social distance, HIV testing may be a challenge.  Many testing sites have limited hours or have changed other practices to keep their communities safe.  One exciting new strategy that organizations may be providing to ensure testing is available to their communities is HIV mail order self-testing kits.

HIV self-testing (or HIV home testing) is a promising testing modality, especially for individuals who do not or cannot access HIV services in traditional healthcare settings. The availability of home HIV tests may help increase awareness of HIV among people who wouldn’t otherwise be tested. During the coronavirus era, interest in home testing is stronger than ever for many people.

In the U.S. the OraQuick In-Home HIV test is the only FDA-approved home HIV test. This test kit is designed to allow users to take an HIV test with the collection of an oral fluid sample and find out their result within 20 to 40 minutes.

Virginia, Arizona, and New York City have piloted the delivery of home test kits and found that this process enabled them to reach individuals who hadn’t tested recently. In some cases, they have succeeded in reaching a higher positivity rate than traditional testing strategies.  

  • New York City: 28% of testers hadn’t tested in the previous year and 14% hadn’t ever tested. They reported a positivity rate of 0.3%
  • Virginia: 29% of testers hadn’t tested in the previous year and 21% hadn’t ever tested. They reported a positivity rate of 1.3%; 88% of new positives were linked to care within 30 days.
  • Arizona reported a positivity rate of 1.2%.

In a recent NASTAD video, presenters from Virginia and Arizona shared their experience:

eSTAMP was a national randomized controlled trial designed to evaluate the public health benefits of mailing HIV self-tests to Internet-recruited gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the US in 2015 and 2016. Compared to men in the control group, men who were mailed HIV self-tests:

  • Tested themselves more frequently
  • Identified significantly more prevalent HIV infections
  • Did not increase sexual risk behaviors
  • Shared the study HIV self-test with members of their social network, resulting in many more persons becoming aware of their HIV infection.

In addition, the new program TakeMeHome is currently piloting a national free home HIV testing program. The program, which is a partnership between Building Healthy Online Communities (BHOC), Emory University, and NASTAD, will allow state and local health departments to offer free, confidential HIV and STD testing delivered securely and discreetly. During the pilot phase, TakeMeHome will target MSM who use dating apps, but project leaders expect to expand to other populations in the future.

2020 LGBTQ+ Pride month

As we roll into pride month this year, so much is different than previous years.  In unprecedented numbers, Americans are taking to the streets to protest police violence and systemic racism that continues to result in the murders of Black people.  As pride events across the country are adapting to the restrictions of COVID-19 and going online to connect and celebrate LGBTQ+ identities and communities, it is important that we remember the roots of pride month.  What we celebrate in June are the Stonewall Inn Riots that erupted against the targeted and oftentimes violent policing of LGBTQ+ people. The Stonewall uprising is widely considered to be a crucial event that spurred the modern LGBT rights movement in the United States. Check out last year’s post to learn more.

While we celebrate pride this month, we must also understand that LGBTQ+ liberation is also rooted to direct action and must support all civil rights liberation efforts.   This pride month, it is crucial that we lift up the voices and experiences of Black and other LGBTQ+ people of color, and remember that from the beginning of the Stonewall uprising, it was Black and other LGBTQ+  people of color leading the charge for liberation.

Multiple pride celebrations across the country, and here in Texas, are going virtual this year.  We’ve compiled a short list to highlight some of the events taking place.

Dallas Pride

Dallas Pride will be moving online for a virtual celebration. While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people apart, Dallas Pride sees “the opportunity to bring even more people together.”  Check out their website for updates on the virtual schedule, performers, and online events.


PRIDE San Antonio will be moving online for a celebration on June 27, 6-9pm. Join them to show your support! You can learn more on their webpage.

Rio grand valley pride

RGV Pride, in collaboration with organizations and individuals from across south Texas, is hosting events throughout June. You can keep up with them and all the events on their Pride Calendar.


Houston Pride is postponed but they are hosting a virtual film fest June 20th. Tickets are $10 and you can learn more at their website.

san francisco 50th anniversary virtual pride

San Francisco plans to host a virtual pride to celebrate their 50th year of Pride. Check out their website to learn more.

miami virtual pride

Miami Pride is also holding virtual events throughout June, learn more here.

Boston pride virtual events

Check out all of the Boston Pride events here.

west hollywood pride events

West Hollywood Pride has also gone virtual this year, check out their website to learn more.

san diego pride virtual events

You can learn more about all the San Diego Pride events here.

human rights campaign’s pride inside campaign

To help everyone celebrate pride safely this year, HRC has launched the Pride Inside Campaign. The campaign website provides resources to celebrate pride safely including this fantastic Pride Inside Activity and Coloring Book (fun for adults and kids)!

Global Pride

In addition to these online celebrations, The European Pride Organizers Association (EPOA) and InterPride, a consortium of local Pride organizations in the US and internationally, are organizing a huge, worldwide Pride event to be held entirely online. They plan to host a 24-hour online Global Pride event on June 27, the anniversary of Stonewall, which will feature musical performances, speeches, and other Pride-related content each hour. While organizers recognize that being online isn’t the same as attending an in-person event, they hope that the online format will reach people in countries that are unsupportive of LGBT people and allow them to participate in Pride.

Global Pride recently announced the first wave of speakers and artists appearing at the online event. World leaders and Grammy Award-winners are among the line-up, including Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica – which this week legalized equal marriage.

You can learn more about the Global Pride event on their website and sign up for the event on Facebook

How are you celebrating Pride this year?

Hepatitis awareness month

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by viruses.  Most common are hepatitis A, B, and C.

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks to several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected and can be spread when someone ingests the virus, usually through eating contaminated food or drink or through close personal contact with an infected person. Hepatitis A is very contagious and people can even spread the virus before they get symptoms. However, hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine, which is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at riskincluding travelers to certain international countries. (Centers for Disease Control, Hepatitis A,B,Cs)

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.

The hepatitis B virus is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid carrying the hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not have hepatitis B. People can contract with the virus from:

  • Birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth)
  • Sex with an infected partner
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or drug preparation equipment
  • Sharing items such as toothbrushes, razors or medical equipment such as a glucose monitor with an infected person
  • Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
  • Exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments of an infected person

Hepatitis B virus is not spread through food or water, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, hand holding, coughing, or sneezing. (Centers for Disease Control, Hepatitis A,B,Cs)

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. Most people who get infected will develop a chronic, or lifelong, infection. Left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious health problems including liver disease, liver failure, and even liver cancer.  Hepatitis C is usually spread when someone comes into contact with blood from an infected person. In the past, hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1990 and the hepatitis C virus was virtually eliminated from the blood supply by 1992. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. Rates of new infections have been on the rise, particularly among young adults, which coincides with the recent increase in injection drug use related to the United States’ opioid crisis. While more uncommon, hepatitis C can also spread through healthcare exposures, sex with an infected person, birth to an infected mother, and tattoos and body piercings from unlicensed facilities or informal settings. (Centers for Disease Control, Hepatitis A,B,Cs)

Learn more about hepatitis at the CDC’s Hepatitis information page.