You’ve heard it. You’ve condemned it. You think it’s anti-gay bigotry to say it. But, I’m going to say it again, as even former National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman has in the past:

HIV is a gay disease.

I didn’t stutter. I didn’t mumble. No, I’m not mistaken. Yes, I’m sober.

HIV is a gay disease.

No, no, no. I don’t mean that gay people are the only people who can contract the disease. Any thinking person knows that’s not the case. A quick look at the African continent quickly, overwhelmingly proves otherwise. But, what is absolutely and abundantly, fundamentally and unmistakably clear is that at least in the U.S., HIV is a gay disease.

HIV impacts gay men, bisexual men and men who have sex with men (MSM) more than any other demographic in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says MSM are about four percent of the population. Yet, in 2010, we accounted for 78 percent of new HIV infections among males and 63 percent of all new infections. In total, we represent 52 percent of all people living with HIV. And, year over year, the infection rate is rising — from 2008 through 2010, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of new HIV infections among MSM rose by 12 percent. New research released by the CDC at the International AIDS Conference in July show that all U.S. HIV infection rates have dropped by more than a third over the past decade. Declines were seen among men, women, whites, blacks, Latinos, straight folk, drug users and almost all age groups. The only glaring exception? Gay and bisexual men.

My colleague, Michigan-based journalist Todd Heywood, has been actively reporting and researching HIV/AIDS topics since 2007. He believes there is a growing crisis facing the gay community — one he thinks the LGBT community is unprepared, or worse, unwilling, to face head on.

“HIV is endemic in MSM. I think we need to be clear about that,” Heywood tells me. “The epidemic broke in MSM and it has stayed there. It was ignored in the early ‘80s without much effective control and that resulted in allowing the disease to really become embedded in our community.”

Government policies and funding priorities are largely to blame for continued increases in MSM HIV infection rates, Heywood says. But, the community and its leadership have a role to play, too — a responsibility he says leaders are shirking.

“It all goes back to 1990 and Jesse Helms and his ‘No Promo Homo’ constructs for HIV funding,” Heywood says. “The reality is that the federal government is never going to tell gay men, bisexual men, MSM and trans women how to have anal sex. It’s just not going to happen.”

Where the government will not and refuses to act, the community should step in, Heywood says. Currently, it’s a job we’re failing.

“When I do lectures at colleges, I am still stunned that I have to teach basic anatomy to college-aged MSM,” he says. “Our community has to take it upon itself to create its own educational programs. We have to start talking about HIV and prevention and sex to our selves. We’re not doing that.”

The most at-risk group for new infections remains young MSM under 30. An entire generation of young gay men, bisexual men and MSM are staring down a future in which the majority of them are HIV positive.

Projections and estimates released by the CDC show that as many as 10 percent of current college-aged MSM are HIV-positive. In 30 years, at current trends, as many as half of those men will be HIV-positive. For African-American college-aged MSM, the numbers rise staggeringly, mind-bogglingly higher; in 30 years, as many as 70 percent of them could be living with HIV.

Those numbers aren’t just theory. They are playing out everyday in the lives of real people. In Atlanta, as recently reported by The Washington Post, one researcher estimates that as many as 43 percent of black MSM are already HIV positive. That number is just 13 percent for white MSM.

It might be tempting for older gay men to stereotype their younger counterparts as uncaring and irresponsible. But, recent research from the MAC AIDS Fund says the gap is less about personal responsibility and more about a simple lack of basic sex education. Their recent survey found that 33 percent of teenagers ages 12-17 did not even know HIV was a sexually transmitted disease. Nearly 90 percent said they didn’t think they were at risk for HIV.

Heywood believes national community leaders have a responsibility to address HIV/AIDS with a renewed sense of urgency. It must be a priority, he says.

“I’d like to see [the Human Rights Campaign’s] Chad Griffin hold a press conference addressing HIV as a crisis in our community,” Heywood asserts.

Heywood takes issue with LGBT media, too. He says we haven’t done enough to report on Truvada, other prevention methods and the rising HIV rate. In many respects, that’s true — even here at qnotes. As editor, I’ll be making sure we change that.

And, ultimately, I agree with Heywood: It’s time to stop being afraid of the “HIV is a gay disease” framework. “We still too easily dismiss the far right when they say HIV is a gay disease,” Heywood says. “It is a problem in our community and we have not embraced that reality.”

Heywood says the community should embrace all forms of prevention, including the use of Truvada, a daily drug the FDA cleared for use as another tool in preventing HIV infection. Some groups, like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have come out against the drug. Its executive director has called it a “party drug” and the group has recently launched an advertising campaign in gay media outlets discouraging Truvada’s use. But, the FDA says daily use of Truvada can drastically reduce the chances of HIV transmission.

“At the end of the day, the MSM community is in the perfect position to end the HIV epidemic within a decade,” Heywood says. “The questions is will we do what we have to do to do that?” : :

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

5 replies on “Community leadership should make HIV a priority”

  1. Matt, thank you for putting into words what I am experiencing in the HIV/AIDS field. Trying to reduce misconceptions while enlightening gay and bisexual men about the increased incidence rates is a tight rope that is not easily attained. I want to share what you have written. Thank you.

    1. Annie, I am certainly not going to dispute your position. You are obviously working in the field of HIV/AIDS as I have done for the last 15-20 years. I most likely have a different perspective as well, as one who is HIV+, who spent the majority of the time I have been infected (although I was infected in NC in Fall 1988) in Southern California… I lived a sexually active life… in NC before moving to CA I was not aware of nor educated on Safer sex, in fact it was vaguely still referred to as Safe Sex in the 1990’s and I was fairly sexually active for the first few years after I moved to California. However, after I eventually reconciled my spirituality/faith with my homosexuality much of that when away as I got more involved in church activities, part-time work, PFLAG and Public Motivational Speaking and HIV Education. However, I do find it hard to believe that that gay and bisexual men are not aware of the HIV infection/incidence rate. I take you at your word… but I think the number of HIV positive guys even young guys is so common place now and has been on the increase after over a decade or more of decline–nationwide–that what I seem to be picking up from the guys I come in contact with online, and in person when I was still in Southern California up until 4 years ago… was more of a denial, deception or lack of concern for what an HIV infection means…From my last trainings and seminars and readings it seems that most of the data was suggesting that many–as high as 75% in some communities of MSM–of those infected individuals were not even aware that they were infected because they were not getting tested. On the other hand where there were those who simply just lied about it, and refused to accept it, or deal with it and basically just tried to stay in denial and not say anything to partners or hook-ups and lastly the youngest group… especially those who had sex with both men and women–high school and college age and even as young as junior high were living with a misinformed and chosen ignorance that if they had anal sex with a girl that was not sex, and or oral sex was not sex and that they could not pass or contract HIV in those ways so there was no need for condoms, or taking the other risk reductions, or getting tested, talking to partners about sexual histories, theirs and their own… SO I think regardless of what the Actual reasons for the misconceptions are, and what they are misinformed about or UNINFORMED about… THESE groups that we have been unsuccessful in reaching through traditional methods are DEFINTELY AT PERHAPS THE GREATEST RISKS OF INRECTION AND PASSING ON INFECTION AND EARLY PROGRESSION—AND THE SADDEST PART–AT a time when it is so unnecessary, GREATER Risk Reduction Techniques, with the Pre and Post Exposure Drugs that can be taken to prevent conversion to HIV INFECTION from HIV exposure… and OVER three and half decades of HIV Prevention Techniques and studies that follow through to see which ones are the most effective and the most likely to be adhered, and with all the support from medical, social services, public health, and even spiritual and faith communities to teach safer sex and responsible, healthy choices and assisting folks who do get infected with their many, many choices to stay healthy and to stay off the less toxic medications as long as possible. SO I applaud you for your work in the field… It is folks like you in the trenches that must have our support, love and appreciation… because so much of us who are infected who did the work in the early days and are still doing it (those of us who have been blessed to survived and who still have the energy to continue) when so many of the prevention and educators and our own communities’ most dedicated workers have died, and or lost all hope, or all energy… due to the apathy and because so many today think it is no big deal… even the drug companies, are guilty by showing ads and such that so it like it is no big deal… and yet we know it is a big deal… because we have witnessed and or lived the devastation… having lost friends, lover’s parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, etc., So Thank you Annie for your Work… I call on those who have the political voices… to make sure they are working with the organizations affiliated with AETC, Ryan White Foundation, AmFar, The California AIDS Clearing House, and So many of these orgs with a long history of tried and true techniques, that work with and identify, quantify and teach others which techniques work and with what groups and situations… to make sure we and YOU and the others in the trenches have the best tools and resources available to make your job as successful and rewarding as possible.

      1. I think you touched on so many important aspects of the reasons for the high rates of infection. Here in the south, I think people do not believe the rate is as high as other places. This belief alone creates higher incident rates. If you are not at risk, why would you need to protect yourself. Thanks for adding your experience and insight!

  2. If you haven’t read the book “Dry Bones Breathe” you should. Did anyone care to relate the incidence and percentages of HIV transmission via anal sex in both straights and gays? I thought not. Until our society will allow us to sensualize the condom for gay people little will happen. We should have big hung porn stars at the bars on weekends getting paid to let met put condoms on them. Our society is so repressed sexually when it come to gays that we don’t stand a chance in Hell. There is also the aspect of society that are “risk takers”. Both gay and straight….these are the folks who ski slopes they haven’t mastered, speed on highways in the rain and run red lights etc. You won’t find them putting on condoms. I worked for 2 agencies and found both to be so repressed that they constipated all efforts at reducing risk.


    I agree with both comments and with you Matt. HOWEVE as a older YOUNG adult male who has been living with HIV for nearly 27 years and who has been blessed do to my own personal research, my partnership–my refusal to not participate in my health care–with my health care providers; and to a Strong Spirituality, and taking care of my self, not to have to progressed to AIDS or had any serious illnesses related to HIV. I have worked as a GAY male HIV Prevention Specialist in OC California; served in several leadership roles with the OC Ryan White and Housing for Persons with HIV/AIDS programs as an executive, public speaker for PFLAG, and individually in Community Colleges, High Schools, Universities and Churches across Southern California talking about SAFER sex, HIV Prevention, the facts of How HIV is spread, and living with HIV, and acting responsibility with Alcohol, drugs and Sex to not become infected or to not infect others. And ONE POINT I want to stress is that IN areas where PREVENTION, Leadership, Activism, Care, Treatment, and Community Involvement was GREAT in the 80’s, 90’s and first decade of 2000 THESE places are now suffering tremendously with dramatic increases in new MSM infections… Largely due to several factors: Apathy, Death of many of the Early Activists who did not survive early treatments, and or found out they were infected too late to turn things around; and or absolute Exhaustion from lack of support from the Community especially in years of 2000 to present… as well as tremendous FEDERAL CUT BACKS TO THESE AREAS RYAN WHITE CARE AND PREVENTION FUNDING BECAUSE THEY SAY THE MONEY IS NEEDED IN THE SOUTH… EVEN THOUGH THESE AREAS LIKE CALIFORNIA, NEW YORK, AND OTHER LARGE METROPOLITAN AREAS did a tremendous job responding with MATCHING OR IN THE CASE OF MANY, LIKE CALIFORNIA EXCEEDING FEDERAL FUNDS, ESPECIALLY IN PREVENTION DOLLARS… and Now as the Funds are MUCH smaller but being diverted to southern states, like NC, my home state which I returned to a few years ago after 25 years in CA… MY offers to HELP to get involved, to go into the community and speak, to teach, to serve on councils and committees similar to the ones I served on successfully in California were met with Unwelcomed, un-encouraging, territorial, political, insecurities, instead of a UNITED, “SURE! we want and need anyone with experience, training and success and a desire to volunteer to HELP US reach our community..” to slow and eventually STOP the spread of HIV in the MSM community and eventually in the entire community of folks at risks–which also includes Women and other minority groups… especially African American women, and Latina’s whose boyfriends or husbands go in to jail and become infected in jail because of lack of condom distribution and safer sex education in jails/prisons and before discharge come out and spread it to their women… I am a free-lance writer and published over 80 articles regionally and nationally while living in Southern California. I was infected in NC, while living in Raleigh. But I moved to CA shortly thereafter… I received training all over the state from private, state and federally funded programs, non-profits and government Training Programs. I was Chairman of a the committee responsible for Housing HIV/AIDS monies, and I was Vice Chair of the Council and Chair of many of its Committees’ that over say over $5-7 million dollars annually just for HIV/AIDS health care and we also assisted with HIV prevention which received all state monies for the county… as I said, because of Maintenance of Effort… An area who has contributed local, state monies are required to continued to contribute that level of money in order to get an un-altered (lower) federal amount of monies, California’s budget crisis due largely to tax code changes that should have not been made, but were made as campaign promises to get the Terminator elected (in All fairness he was fairly good to funding HIV/AIDS) but those campaign promises left the state In a big deficit which is not allowed for states. NC is facing similar challenges as the Red and Tea Parties have taken over the state and wreaked havoc on its financial infrastructure–THERE ARE SEVERAL THINGS, However, that the GLBTQ community and HIV activists and supporters must do to get moving in the Right direction with or without the FUNDS… Like Matt mentioned as well as the two other commenters above… WE MUST HAVE BETTER HIV/SEX EDUATION… PREVENTION, AND UNDERSTANDING OF CAUSES, ways to prevent, reduce risks, understand whose at risks, and also AS Mentioned MAKE CONDOMS Sexy… and believe me that is A lot EASIER than one might think… I keep myself in condom shape by using Condoms when its just me… either when masturbating or using a dildo, I make that part of foreplay, making part of what gets me aroused and gets me hard… I make sure I follow the rules, only USA or Japanese made condoms, I use the right lubes with condoms, water based or silicone lubes– no petroleum based lubes with condoms, I try different kinds from time to time to see which might be the most fun to experiment with if and when I have a sexual partner… Trojan has a big variety pack at Sam’s Club… and they are MADE IN THE USA… I wished I could say Costco had USA made condoms, but unfortunately there’s are durex and they aren’t even made in Japan or the US, but Malaysia–Which brings another point… it is good when doing HIV prevention to always stay current on your facts… These condoms may be safe… I am not sure, and I need to check out Malaysia… I personally would not buy Chinese condoms regardless who said they were safe… I don’t put anything from China on or in my body… Also important to know the risks levels, and advise individuals and groups of these between different types of sex acts such as the differences between oral sex and anal sex, and how to reduce the risk even further with oral sex without a condom… some say they enjoy oral sex with a condom… I personally, don’t think I could ever get use to that… so no mouth sores, no vigorous teeth brushing before oral sex, etc., GET AETC the AIDS Education Training Center to come and train your organization or host classes for your volunteers so they can get certified to do HIV prevention workshops… Then you can get Doctors, Pharmacies, Drug Companies and other community businesses to pay for lunch, dinner, or even something as simple as pizza to entice folks to come for safer sex classes… Practicing Putting on Condoms is an Extremely important, Practical & Useful skill to teach–so that in a hurry or while out cruising they can do it correctly in in a hurry or still do it and not ruin the moment…

    Also and lastly BE very careful about rejecting or not encouraging folks that volunteer and offer to help or inquire about getting involved–as a resulted of several attempts to get involved and the lack of what I see as a caring, supportive community… unless you are into the political games, live in a certain area, go to a certain gym, etc., I decided The Greater Charlotte Area was not such a friendly place… Especially given how big the area is… and how many cities near the Greater Charlotte area are rural and very small and these folks, like me, are craving opportunities to connect with like-minded folks and get out in the community and feel useful and wanted. I have decided I will probably be better off moving back to Southern California and probably will in (best case 6-9 months; realistically 9-12 months); but also… WORK with PFLAG and other similar groups to start a SPEAKERS BUREAU… if they are already have one, get involved… if you are HIV+ you can always let it be known that you want to include HIV as part of your “story” when you go to schools, community groups, community colleges, colleges and universities; YOU will find the TEACHERS, HOST facility will very often single you out… ESPECIALLY if you know your facts, and can answer audience questions boldly, confidently and factually–Will very often ask you if you are available to come back and do a special presentation or being a participant on a panel or workshop or lecture on HIV, Sex ED, or for World AIDS DAY or something like that… NORTH CAROLINA YOUTH are not in a shell… they watch MTV, the Internet… they know about HIV… they might not know the facts, but they are curious… and they have questions… WE MUST WET THEIR APPETITES, and MAKE SURE THEY GET THE MESSAGES OF PREVENTION, CARE, TREATMENT, AND HOW TO PROTECT THEMSELVES AND LOVED ONES… AND TO HEAR THERE IS HOPE.. BUT ONLY IF THE ARE INFORMED AND ONLY IF THEY ARE BEING SAFE, AND ARE GETTING TESTED… and if the LEADERSHIP can’t or won’t get past their politics or fears and are not supportive of this–THEN it is DEFINITELY time to push them aside, go around them or otherwise just move forward with out them. The message must be shared! Thanks… You can find me at

    Blessings of love, joy, peace, and health–mentally, physically and spiritually

    PS: fyi: for my sexier fun side NSFW, I am on tumblr too!

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