I was no exception. I’d been an AIDS activist since shortly after my HIV diagnosis in 1985 at the age of 24. In my mid-30s, I wanted to get as far away from AIDS as I could. Many of my friends had died, and as a survivor, I struggled to adjust to a future I never thought I’d have. I was eventually drawn back to activism by evidence of rising rates of infection. But I can understand why many gay activists and their allies pivoted — and never turned back.
After all, who wants to relive sadness while a happy story is in progress? Same-sex marriage is about love, acceptance and, recently, a stream of political victories, while AIDS is one of the biggest downers of our time.
I have to wonder if race plays a role, too. Is there more empathy within the white gay community for the (mostly white) gay couples we see on TV seeking marriage equality than there is for the young, gay black men who account for many of the new HIV infections?
Now, as the leading gay organizations and foundations regroup after the successes at the Supreme Court, it’s time to find our voice again against HIV and AIDS.
I’m not saying we should let up on same-sex marriage. It’s a worthy cause. I hardly imagined that I’d live to see the day when my partner of 19 years and I might enjoy not only the full rights and privileges of married straight couples but the incredible sense of social affirmation and inclusion that comes with that. Yet with gay marriage legal in only 12 states and the District of Columbia, the fight is far from over.
Given the strength of the marriage movement, though, surely the major gay rights organizations could reappropriate just 10 percent of their budgets to fighting HIV and AIDS.
Contrary to the prevailing skepticism, that battle is not a lost cause. Treating people with antivirals both keeps them alive and prevents them from infecting others. Massachusetts saw its HIV infection rates drop 45 percent between 2000 and 2009, largely because it expanded Medicaid to include people with HIV, not just AIDS; because its universal health-care system got more people onto treatment regimens; and because it launched targeted testing, prevention and treatment programs. With Obamacare, we have the potential to replicate those gains nationally, but only if there’s a concerted push.
On Wednesday morning, when the Supreme Court released its gay-marriage opinions, I was attending an HIV working group session at a hotel off Dupont Circle. We took a break to follow the coverage on SCOTUSblog: cheering for the majority opinions, cringing at Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent. And then it was back to work.
As we continue to see gay love enshrined in law, we shouldn’t forget the broader form of love — of our entire community — that has sustained us and brought us this far.
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