For World AIDS Day, A Troubling Report
I heard this report yesterday on the all-news radio station in my area, and it caught my attention. With World AIDS Day coming up on December 1st, some sobering statistics were announced that I think we need to take heed to. The first thing that grabbed my attention was this:
“More than half of young people infected with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. DON’T know they’re infected.”
Young people, between 13-24, account for more than 1/4 of all new infections. If there are 50,000 new infections per year, which is what they’re reporting, that means that roughly 12,500 of those new cases are young males between the ages of 13-24. That’s not a good statistic. That means that we’re failing in educating young people on HIV/AIDS prevention. How can that even be possible with a disease that has been around since the early 1980s?
According to Julie Steenhuysen, Health and Science Correspondent for Reuters, that figure of 1/4 being young males stems from high infection rates amongst LGBT young people, African-American, and, Latino males. What makes this problematic is that a lot of these young people report that they “Haven’t really learned much about how to protect [themselves] against infection.” And, again, the question, “how is this even possible?”, comes into play.
And, of course, there are some who report being subjected to a lot of shame because of their sexuality and the stigma attached to being LGBT. Now, the picture becomes a bit clearer. Shame and stigma. That goes back to a huge cultural problem we’re facing in today’s society as it pertains to the LGBT community. This is the year 2012. There is no way we should still be dealing with prejudices and bigotry when it comes to something as intrinsic to our being as our sexuality. Worse, here’s more evidence of the life-threatening harm that it’s causing.
When asked what she thought needed to be done to reverse this trend, Julie Steenhuysen added this:
Communicating to the community how important it is to support young people, no matter where they are [with their sexuality] so that they can at least stay safe. That could mean…to train leaders who are not LGBT, perhaps in the faith community and entertainers to be more sensitive to stigma, and help establish a healthy environment for these young men in which to grow and to learn about their own sexuality.
I was a young, gay man when the HIV/AIDS epidemic exploded on the scene back in the early 1980s. Worse, I lived in San Francisco during that time. “Worse” because a.) I literally watched a least one friend die from this epidemic on a daily basis; and, b.) it was easily the most frightening time of my life. Being a young, virile gay man, myself, at the time, of course I was sexually active as I searched for my Mr. Right. And, at one point, I even resigned myself to the “reality” of “well, if all of my friends are infected, I must obviously be infected as well.” By the grace of God, that was not the case. And, once I got myself tested and learned that I’d been spared of this devastating disease, I changed everything about how I lived my life. I educated myself. Educating oneself was very easy then, pre-Internet days; it’s much easier today because of the Internet. And, education is 100% effective.
Gone are the days when we can feel invincible and just do everything, sexually, we want to do. That half of these young people didn’t even know they were infected is all the proof you need. The only foolproof way of avoiding infection is protection. Yes, I know that there will be fundamentalists who will argue that abstinence is the only true foolproof way of avoiding infection. But, perhaps, being more in tune with the reality that these young people are going to have sex, protection is key. Education has to be a key component in protecting oneself from contracting HIV/AIDS. It’s that simple. It’s 2012. There’s no way there should be anyone, anyone!, who doesn’t have access to all of the education necessary to prevent numbers like this report reveals from happening.
December 1st, as we remember those who have already died from this epidemic, we must also re-energize our efforts to prevent it from continuing to spread. That’s going to take acceptance. That’s going to take communication. That’s going to take education.
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