This post is 2 of 4 in Women with a Vision’s series on HIV/AIDS in honor of the 21st annual AIDS Education Month, developed by Philadelphia FIGHT!
GRAPHIC FROM 2012
The relationship between HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQ+ community is a long and storied history, fraught with misconceptions and stereotypes starting when HIV/AIDS first hit the public consciousness about 35 years ago and was labeled as a “gay man’s disease”. 30 years later, there’s more knowledge about HIV/AIDS, but misconceptions in popular culture still abound about the disease and its relationship to the LGBTQ+ community.
When it comes to HIV transmission, the three biggest categories researchers look at when evaluating statistics are men who have sex with men (MSM), intravenous drug users (IDUs), and high risk heterosexuals (HRHs). The first is pretty self explanatory, IDUs refer to people who inject their drugs with syringes, and HRH refers to people having intercourse with people of another sex, but who may have multiple partners and/or do not use barrier protection like condoms.
Nationwide, sexual education (where it actually exists and is not abstinence-based) still neglects the unique needs of LGBTQ communities. If sexual education curriculums even mention non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgender folks, it’s generally in a negative light rooted in religion. Only about 5% of LGBTQ students reported being taught positive information about LGBTQ people and issues in health class. This presents a challenge for LGBTQ youth in schools who aren’t being allowed to fully explore their identities as it relates to sexual health, and statistics prove it. Decades after the recognition of HIV/AIDS, men who have sex with men are still the most at risk for contracting HIV, demonstrating a huge gap between what is being taught, what should be taught, and who it needs to be taught to. Even the language used to describe the risk categories shows how much work needs to be done in order to fully understand the needs of the LGBTQ+ community as it relates to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, since so much of it is reductionist and delegitimizing of trans, intersex, and nonbinary folks’ sexual identities. Conversations about sex and gender still conflate the two, and throwing sexuality into the mix complicates matters even further as evidenced by the term “men who have sex with men”. The implication is that cisgender men are transmitting HIV to other cisgender men through anal intercourse, but if that is the only way men are defined, then where do trans men fit into the statistics? Or people with penises that do not identify as men? In addition, healthcare and access (or lack there of) to testing and preventative services in safe and comfortable environments present a large barrier to care for LGBTQ communities. Accessing health services is difficult for low income folks regardless of the other identities, but to add to that multiple intersecting marginalized identities presents a challenge necessary for health policy makers to tackle as they move forward in the creation of policy and procedure.
For more information on topics covered in this post, check out the following sites and articles: