Saturday, September 30, 2006

Should Gays "Own" the HIV Virus?

Today's Los Angeles Times reports that a prominent local gay advocacy group has backed a controversial advertising campaign, suggesting that the most effective way to continue the battle against AIDS is for gays to embrace the disease as a gay thing:

For 20 years, gay men have vigorously fought the contention that HIV is a disease of homosexuals.

But now, one of Southern California's most influential gay institutions has embarked on a controversial ad campaign with this stark declaration: "HIV is a gay disease."

With that message and the tag line "Own It. End It" on billboards and in magazines, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center says it is trying to reach legions of gay men who have become complacent about HIV and AIDS.

The campaign is an abrupt departure from the years of hard politicking against the idea of AIDS as a gay plague, a characterization that many — including the Gay & Lesbian Center — had argued marginalized victims and made it hard to reach others who were at risk, including thousands of minority women who have become infected in recent years.

The ads have stunned some in the gay community and the AIDS services world, who recall the early years of the epidemic, when anti-gay clergy railed against the condition and little money was available for research or prevention.

Some AIDS counselors worry that the campaign could further stigmatize the disease, making women and heterosexual men less likely to come forward.

So much attention is being paid to minority women and others who are at risk that gay men — who still make up the majority of those infected in the United States and Western Europe — have developed a false sense of security, backers of the ads say.

The problem of AIDS apathy among gay and bisexual men is of particular concern on the West Coast, public health officials say, where the overwhelming majority of HIV transmission is among men engaging in sex with other men.
The Gay & Lesbian Center's campaign has polarized local activists and health officials. Apparently, the group's push for more gay ownership of AIDS comes at a time when "gay and bisexual men account for just 45% to 50% of recent HIV transmissions, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta."

The article reports that the trend among medical professionals has been to promote outreach among all groups, and the CDC came out last week with a proposal calling for HIV testing among all adolescents and adults.

This is an interesting discussion, addressing an area of health policy that might seem less urgent than was the case just a few years back.

The Washington Post ran
a 25-year anniversary special report on the AIDS crisis in June. For my earlier post on the gay marriage push, addressing how the effort to redefine marriage works to erode the historic legacy of the civil rights movement, click here.

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