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The following is a guest post by National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) Deputy Executive Director Daniel C. Montoya

Few things expose a society's inequities like a crisis. In America, periods of conflict, or social and economic upheaval, reveal the best and worst of our collective nature. From our founding document, which enshrined racial inequality into the Constitution, to Japanese internment camps during World War II, America's most celebrated moments are often blemished by our imperfections. The early years of the AIDS crisis were no different. We witnessed terrible displays of bigotry and fear, but also incredible examples of generosity and heroism. Like so many crises before it, the HIV/AIDS epidemic forced us to confront the impact of the inequities that had persisted since our founding, including our history of racism and marginalization of impoverished communities. But unlike previous crises in our country, this one forced America to confront its treatment of an often-invisible minority, the gay community.


While communicable diseases have no gender, race or sexual orientation, and hold none of the biases that so many people do, they will often impact specific populations differently according to various epidemiological processes, as well as social dynamics. In those first years, just as today, HIV was predominately focused in the LGBT community. And while the modern gay rights movement started 12 years earlier at a small inn and tavern in New York City, it wasn't truly set ablaze until the 1981 report of five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) among previously health young gay men in Los Angeles - the very first cases of AIDS ever published.

LGBT individuals have been present through the entirety of human history, helping to shape our world. But as a movement, ours is relatively new. While there have always been brave gay men and women who stood up against hatred and injustice, the larger movement for LGBT equality did not emerge until 1969 when a police raid of the Stonewall Inn sparked a riot and a battle for equality that has raged for 45 years. Activists like Bayard Rustin and Harvey Milk nurtured the nascent movement through the next decade, but when AIDS began ravaging gay centers from San Francisco to New York our struggle for fairness transformed into a battle for our lives.

As movements, the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities have always shared a common history, and so it should be no surprise that June, officially recognized as LGBT Pride month, is also quite important to the HIV movement. Friday, as it does every year on June 27, our nation marked National HIV Testing Day, an annual observance that coincides with the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which began this night in 1969 and lasted well into the next morning. On June 5, 1981, the first reported AIDS cases were published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. And just last year, on June 26, the Supreme Court struck a massive blow to those who oppose marriage equality by striking down Prop 8 and gutting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

We have made great progress in our fight for equality and an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Today, our movements are making major strides at a rate that our founders could never have imagined. In the year since the Supreme Court handed down its gay marriage decisions, courts in 20 states have ruled against gay marriage bans, with the most recent coming down this week in Utah. In January, the Affordable Care Act came into full effect, with total enrollment surpassing the White House's goal of 7 million by the end of March - despite widespread conservative obstruction. Last month, the CDC published official guidance to health providers on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). And just one week later, the CDC made history with the release of its new social marketing campaign "Start Talking. Stop HIV," the first federally funded HIV education campaign exclusively focused on gay men of various races and ages, and also the first to feature the prevention benefits of treatment.

As our nation marks National HIV Testing Day and the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, we must remember that just as our histories are closely intertwined, so too is our future. Despite our multitude of policy successes, we have failed to make any real progress in reducing HIV infections within our community. Gay and bisexual men are the only population facing increasing rates of infection, with young black gay men experiencing the most severe spike. We cannot truly achieve victory in our struggle for equality until we have also achieved LGBT health equity, including an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Our history has demonstrated our capacity to accomplish amazing things, and making this terrible disease history will be just such an achievement. But we cannot do it separately. As we close out another LGBT Pride month, lets commit to making this the closing chapter of our AIDS history.


Whose Culture Is It Anyway?

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NormalHeart_Bomer.jpgNormalHeart_Parsons.jpgNormalHeart_Ruffalo.jpg

Last week I had the privilege to watch Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart on HBO. This week, I saw Terrence McNally's latest Broadway play, Mothers and Sons. The first was about the early days in the epidemic and the later examines life after the epidemic's wrath. I cried, I laughed, I remembered. I hope they both sweep the awards season. However, I am concerned that this cannot be the only narrative of our movement's history. 


Both the movie and the play are about beautiful, rich, white, gay men who live in New York. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it's just that our story is so much bigger. Where are the stories about women and AIDS? Who's writing about black gay men? When will we get the definitive biography about the trans community and their struggle to end the epidemic. Why aren't there stories about injection drug users who lead the charge on needle exchange? What about all the gay men who don't live in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. 

Don't get me wrong, Matt Bomer in The Normal Heart was a revelation. Tyne Daley in Mothers and Sons reminded me of my mother, except with much better comedic timing. It's just that we all of us don't have homes in the Pines or apartments with views of Central Park (you will have to see the movie and the play to understand these references). I don't begrudge these talented writers, directors and actors. I am just concerned that their stories will define and limit our epidemic. I'm asking Hollywood and Broadway to do more. 

The HIV epidemic cannot only be defined by the Normal Heart, Mothers and Sons, Angles in America, Falsettoland, Philadelphia, Dallas Buyers Club, Longtime Companion, And the Band Played On, We Were Here, or How To Survive A Plague. Wouldn't you love to see a movie where Lupita Nyong'o plays a lesbian AIDS activist fighting to help her gay brother living with HIV? Making his big screen debut as the gay brother is Pharrell Williams! The score for the movie could be composed by Frank Ocean

Philadelphia was released in 1993 at the height of the epidemic. Tom Hanks gave the performance of his career. He opened a window to our fight. For some people, he was their first exposure to the epidemic, other than the often inaccurate and stigmatizing nightly news stories. He helped to translate the compassion, courage and strength it took to fight AIDS in those early years. The disease was no longer about "them." Mr. Hanks was a familiar face and a beloved actor. He made us human in a world that felt like it had lost its humanity. Twenty years later, it's time for some new heroes. All of us need to give voice to what it means to fight an epidemic. One day I hope to write my story, not that its special. I am not sure how to adequately capture the pain, loss and sorrow of the early years, I just know that our stories and our heroes need to be remembered in all of their diversity. 


Yours in the struggle,

PKawata Signature.jpg

Paul Kawata
Executive Director
National Minority AIDS Council

Remembering NAPWA

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fighting_forour_lives.jpgIn the early days, death from HIV was quick and very ugly. It seems unbelievable, but there was a time when funeral directors would not cremate our dead, hospital staff would not bring food into the room, even some of our friends would turn their backs on us because they feared infection. It is a testament and the legacy of the LGBT community that we rolled up our sleeves and developed whole new infrastructures to respond to the epidemic. The continuum of care model was developed by us to take care of our friends. 
This Monday, as the nation commemorates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama will also be sworn in for his second term as President of the United States. The historic significance of this event cannot be overstated, and for those of us who have dedicated our lives to realizing Dr. King's vision of not just racial equality, but social justice, Monday will mark the culmination of decades of struggle. But with each success, we are reminded that our nation's march toward equality is never complete. It is a constant evolution of hearts and minds, policy and tradition. Thanks to the work of Dr. King and so many others, our nation's made incredible progress, but substantial work remains. 

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We at the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) are in the final year of a project to develop an action plan to address the persistent and disproportionate impact HIV has on black gay and bisexual men. As part of the project, we are circulating a survey to better understand perspectives and perceptions among black gay, bisexual and same-gender loving men around modalities and structural barriers to prevention and care services. This survey will contribute to both the action plan and help us determine which resources to highlight on an online resource/educational application we are developing called RISE (Resources to Improve, Strengthen and Empower).

If you are a black gay, bisexual or same-gender loving man we hope that you will take a moment to complete the brief survey (30 questions) and share with your networks. If not, we ask that you please consider sharing with any colleagues, friends or loved ones who may be willing to participate and help us to shed light on the needs of this critical, but under-served, population.

To complete the survey, click here or copy and paste the survey's URL [https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RISE_2012] into your internet browser's address bar. 

Thank You!



Tomorrow, December 1, is the 25th annual World AIDS Day, a day for remembrance, reflection and action. The theme this year, "Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation," perfectly reflects the moment in which our movement finds itself.


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