This year marks 40 years since HIV/AIDS was first reported in the United States. On June 5, 1981, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR): Pneumocystis Pneumonia—Los Angeles. This article described “cases of a rare lung infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), in five young, previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles…This edition of the MMWR marks the first official reporting of what will later become known as the AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) epidemic.”
We are all too familiar with what followed. By 1992, the CDC reported that more than 250,000 people had been diagnosed with AIDS, nearly 90% of whom were men, and almost 230,000 had passed away from AIDS. As we honor National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day #GMHAAD on September 27, we take this time to reflect upon the past 40 years of HIV/AIDS history in the United States and honor those many lives lost and those who fought for access to life-saving treatments and medications, while celebrating the message of U=U and what that means for ending the HIV epidemic. While HIV/AIDS does not only affect gay men, on #GMHAAD, we take this opportunity to honor the struggle and fear that mobilized and traumatized the gay community and their allies in the United States during the past 40 years.
Two documentary films we at Achieving Together find both informative and captivating about the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis are 5B about the group of nurses and caregivers who opened the first AIDS ward in the world at San Francisco General Hospital and How to Survive a Plague about the activism of ACT UP in the 1980s and 90s.
We give thanks to those brave men and women who cared for AIDS patients over the years and to the activists who put their bodies on the line to fight for better care, treatment, and prevention. Enormous strides in treatments were made over the past 40 years, and we can now celebrate that an HIV diagnosis no longer means a life cut short. Thanks to these life-saving medications, people living with HIV who are on treatment can achieve an “undetectable” status, meaning they can live with the confidence that they cannot sexually transmit HIV to their partners. In other words, undetectable = untransmissible or U=U. You can watch U=U activists share the hope this message brings to people living with HIV, particularly gay men who may have witnessed their friends and loved ones perish from the disease at any point in the previous 40 years on a recent segment from the TODAY show.
You can read more about the U=U movement in our previous post here.
In Texas, almost 60% of people living with HIV are gay/bi-sexual men and they made up almost 2/3 of new diagnoses in 2019.
One striking thing that we see in the visualization above is disparity that exists between White gay and bisexual men and their Black and Latinx counterparts. We see above that Black and Latinx gay/bi-sexual men represent 40% of people living with HIV in Texas and more than 50% of new diagnoses in 2019. We know that stigma and lack of equal access to prevention and treatment remain significant barriers for Black and Latinx gay/bisexual Texans. Therefore, we’d like to highlight just a few organizations in Texas who are trying to change that narrative and address the gaps that exist in providing HIV treatment and services to LGBTQ communities of color across our state (click on the links to learn more):