What’s behind the rising rates of HIV among gay communities of color? We dig into the unspoken HIV epidemic occurring right under our noses.
The rate of HIV infection in the U.S. remains alarmingly high among black and Latino gay men — and it’s rising. In a first of its kind study, the Center for Disease Control recently conducted a lifetime risk analysis, concluding that one in four gay Latino men and one in two gay black men will become infected with HIV over the course of their lifetime. Among gay white men, that rate of infection drops to one in eleven.
Statistics like these are a needed reminder that the HIV epidemic is not only still here, in the United States — but is getting worse for certain populations. Concerted efforts must be made to both reverse these patterns and ensure that those currently battling the disease are receiving the necessary care to decrease the risk of developing AIDS. But where to begin?
Understanding the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.
Systemic racism and resultant socioeconomic disparities have for decades prevented queer minorities from receiving proper HIV treatment and prevention education. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Deep South — a region that accounted for more than 54 percent of new HIV infections in the United States in 2014. Despite being home to 21 of the 25 metropolitan areas with the highest HIV prevalence among gay and bisexual men, in 2015 the region received $100 less in federal funding per person living with HIV than the nationwide average.
While wealthier, whiter states receive funding and resources to educate their populations and equip them with prophylactics, the southern states in question lack both the resources and the political impetus to establish programs that could prevent thousands of gay and bi men from contracting HIV, which could diminish the growing HIV epidemic significantly.
What About PrEP?
Realities like poverty, discrimination, and restricted access to affordable healthcare create major challenges for individuals seeking prescriptions for PrEP. Those Southern cities most susceptible to an HIV outbreak are also located in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, which covers the cost of PrEP after a small co-pay. Without insurance or Medicaid assistance, a one month supply of the drug might cost you upwards of $1,600! Talk about unaffordable.
Not to mention that — thanks to a widespread lack of prevention education — many low-income people may not have even heard of PrEP. And those who have heard of the drug often struggle to find a doctor who will prescribe it — either due to lack of expertise or the incorrect assumption that prescribing PrEP may lead to riskier sexual behavior. Compounding these socioeconomic factors is a hesitation among many people of color to disclose risky behavior or sexual orientation for fear of social stigma. Past healthcare discrimination can lead to gay men avoiding the doctor’s office, subsequently resulting in a later HIV diagnosis and an increased likelihood of developing AIDS.
With adequate funding to provide in-depth education about PrEP, prevention, and access to treatment for those already infected, the rate of contraction would undoubtedly slow among black and Latino men and come to mirror the lower rates of infection among other U.S. populations.
Reframe the Conversation About HIV
The contemporary political discourse surrounding AIDS is almost wholly dedicated to developing countries like those in sub-Saharan Africa — yet the equally significant crisis facing the U.S largely goes overlooked.
As Linda Villarosa of the New York Times notes, “Swaziland, a tiny African nation, has the world’s highest rate of H.I.V…[but] if gay and bisexual African-American men made up a country, its rate would surpass that of this impoverished African nation — and all other nations.” Such perspective is alarming, and begs the question: why haven’t we heard more about this?
In order to combat this HIV epidemic, it’s essential that we reframe the conversation around HIV to recognize its persistence within the U.S. With increased awareness comes an expanded dialogue — a vital component to spurring the political change and increased funding needed to support the black and Latino communities exposed to HIV.
Support Organizations That Provide LGBT Resources
For many HIV-positive black and Latino men in the U.S., government-funded programs and nonprofit organizations provide an invaluable lifeline. Organizations like My Brother’s Keeper, The Black Aids Institute, and The Latino Commission on AIDS focus not only on making resources and treatment available to those who are already living with HIV, but also work to promote prevention-oriented sex and drug education in the most at-risk communities.
As reduced government budgets limit supplies, outreach, and employees, these organizations need all the support they can get. Whether you choose to volunteer, to donate, or to simply lend your voice, the marginalized groups impacted by this crisis need your support.