Back to Life, Positively 2017 Index…

What a year this has been! Unless you have been living under a rock, or even worse, offline, you know that since the start of this year, a majority of our country has been under attack.

We have seen relentless attacks on Muslims, immigrants and undocumented individuals, women, communities of color, the NFL, Gold Star military families and the LGBTQ community, specifically the transgender and gender non-conforming communities, just to name a few.

People have been made aware that there is an orchestrated effort to pit Americans against each other, and most Americans are not having it.

In response to these vicious attacks, we have marched, rallied and protested in streets all across this state and country; either in solidarity or out of sheer self-preservation. It did not matter if the specific attack was against a small group or a large group. We, as a broader social justice movement and a country, came together and fought back. One brilliant example from this past year that demonstrated this is the recent fight to protect the Affordable Care Act.

In the seemingly continuous fight to save healthcare, the traditional method of pitting Americans against each other along ideological lines proved to be difficult because 1) healthcare impacts everybody, and 2) no one wants to die. When people were literally left to fight for their lives and the lives of their friends and family, they quickly realized that despite any differences that we may have, we all had a stake in this fight and we were all in this together.

When the pressure was on, advocates from every contingent of the social justice movement, in addition to ordinary everyday Americans, all rallied together and played a role in the fight to save healthcare as we know it. By calling and emailing legislators, writing to the local newspapers, and by going to protests and rallies, we collectively stood together as one and said no. We did not witness the resolve of one particular cause or movement, but the resolve of millions of Americans who came together to fight and save healthcare.

Now what would happen if we all came together and fought just as tirelessly and just as passionately to address HIV and AIDS like we did healthcare? Think of the strides that could be made in addressing the epidemic here in North Carolina and all over the world!

The South has the highest HIV diagnosis rate of any U.S. region, with almost half (49 percent) of all new HIV diagnoses occurring in the region. Right here in North Carolina, we currently have two cities, Charlotte and Greensboro, on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) list of the top 25 U.S. cities and metropolitan areas with the highest rates of new HIV transmissions. While it may be disheartening that our state and region bear a substantial burden of the epidemic in the United States, there have been historic strides in the worldwide effort to address HIV.

This year, the CDC joined hundreds of experts and HIV organizations in releasing a memo in support of the science behind “Undetectable = Untransmittable” (“U=U”) stating that people who are living with HIV and are virally suppressed, meaning their HIV treatment has reduced their viral load to an undetectable level, are not able to transmit HIV to another person.

The CDC’s release of this statement was a game-changer because it used science to dismantle the false public narrative that people living with HIV are “infectious” or “contagious,” which often leads to heightened stigma and limited access to HIV testing, treatment and services. Now, people living with HIV will be encouraged to get in treatment and become virally suppressed, knowing that they will be able to keep themselves, their partners and the general public healthy, which will be an instrumental tool in eradicating HIV and AIDS.

Every year, we designate World AIDS Day as a time to celebrate those who are living with HIV and to honor and remember the people who we have lost, but it is also an opportunity for people all over the world to be a part in the fight against HIV and AIDS. We must collectively do our part to accurately educate the people in our communities about HIV and AIDS, be more open about regularly getting tested for HIV and be vocal when we uplift and support the people who are living with HIV around us. Some people may know someone impacted by HIV or AIDS, while others may know no one at all, but we all have a stake in this fight and we can all play a role in ending HIV and AIDS.

Fight on!