(SAN JOSE, CALIF.) Greetings from San Jose. I am attending Netroots Nation, a convention of thousands of progressive bloggers from across the country. While the main events start today, Thursday, for me the programs began yesterday morning with the Netroots Connect LGBT event – put together by Mike Rogers of Washington DC and his team of incredibly dedicated folks.
I have attended four of these events now, and this was – by and far – the most effective session yet. I joined with Teddy Partridge of PolicyBear.com to conduct a conversation about HIV. The title of the group discussion was “AIDS is not Over.” Curiously, we started with no one at our table. Then had Gregory Varnum from Equality Michigan and WikiQueer join followed by Lisa Derrick, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez and Eyad “Eddie” Alkurabi. The conversation was wide ranging and focused.
And during the conversation we realized that we needed to do something to encourage HIV testing. June 27 is National HIV Testing Day (technically it is National Gay Men’s Testing Day, but who’s counting at this point?) and we decided it would be incredibly helpful to encourage folks to get tested for HIV. But not just get tested – to tweet, Facebook or blog about their test with a picture or two with the hashtag #TestMe.
Why? Because HIV remains a serious issue in the United States, one that is significantly underdiagnosed. There are an estimated 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, says the CDC, and 20 percent of those do not know they are infected. A person living with an undiagnosed HIV infection is 3.5 time MORE likely to transmit the virus. Getting diagnosed is the first step in preventing the transmission of the virus.
For men who have sex with men, the undiagnosed numbers are even more stunning. One in five men who have sex with men in 21 major cities in the U.S. is infected with HIV. Of those infected, 44 percent were unaware of their infection. And in the 20 year old cohort the numbers are more stunning. Right now, according to the Office of National AIDS Policy, 10 percent of all men who have sex with men in the 20 year old cohort is infected; and it’s 20 percent for black men who have sex with men. At current transmission trends, in 30 years half of all men who have sex with men will be infected, and 70 percent of all black men who have sex with men will be infected.
It is time to reignite the HIV knowledge base – but this time with facts about transmission risks, and risk reduction techniques that are scientifically proven. It also means an end to shaming of condomless sex, and an open embrace to more realistic conversation about the construction of male sexuality and intimacy. Conversations that sex positive, and affirming. Conversations that don’t create social expectations of good and bad queer sexuality – rather conversations that hold up the continuum of queer male sexuality in all its diversity.
But it all begins with knowledge of status. Let us begin on June 27, 2013. Get tested. Grab 10 other folks and have them get tested. Tweet your pictures, videos or stories. Blog about the experience, or send me an email and I will happily share your story on ViralApartheid.com.
Special Note to Ingham County Residents:
Ingham County remains the highest HIV prevalence rate in Michigan outside of Metro Detroit. Originally this was an artifact of the population loss and foreclosure crisis spurred by the economic collapse. But more than five year into it, this trend has not balanced out, and remains.
Special Note to Michigan Residents:
It is essential that you remember that the Michigan Department of Community Health is collecting information about you if you test confidentially. If you do not want the state to do this, you can demand and access anonymous testing. Both confidential AND anonymous testing are FREE from AIDS Service Organizations funded by the Michigan Department of Community Health and the local health departments (although that might change in some jurisdictions like Jackson where some proposals have encouraged fees for testing). The average test takes about 30 minutes (including counseling), but can run as long as an hour, depending on your questions and risk reduction counseling.
Please remember, if you do test positive, it is NOT the end of the world or your life. HIV infection has become for most people a chronic manageable disease with near normal life span expectations for those in care.