Yes. I am. Positively Speaking.

By Timber

I have struggled with writing this blog for some time. I didn’t know when the right time was going to be to do it. There have been many factors influencing my decision. My partner, family, friends, work, theatre, etc. It’s been a bumpy ride and very challenging spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically. As I sit here in the middle of a snow storm next to my roaring fire in the comfort of my own home, I am mostly content. It feels safe here. The dogs are relaxing, the birds are quiet and I have the house to myself. I can almost feel like I am strong and nothing is changed. Nothing is different. Everything is going to be okay. But, four innocuous words, put together, could change that in an instant. You see, I have a secret. But I don’t like secrets. They cause way too much stress. No, it’s not that I’m gay. That’s no secret to anyone. I mean, HELLO!!! Do you know me? The secret is even larger than that. It is earth-shattering, in some aspects. It is a heavy burden to bear. And I’m finally at the point where I don’t know if I can, or should, keep it in the closet any longer. This is my secret. And, it is very scary for me to share it with you. I don’t know what it will do to my social standing or my friendships. There are select people in my life that already know. My partner, first and foremost, my family and some of my very close friends. And they have all been overwhelmingly supportive. I am hoping that there are more people like that out there. I’m sure that others already know because of the way that gossip spreads through the “grapevine,” but I want to be sure that people are hearing it from the horse’s mouth.

You see, the reason I am giving away my secret is because I am an activist (if you hadn’t already noticed. . .tee hee). I want to educate people and I want to make people aware that this still happens. Let me give you just a little bit of background and we will kind of take it from there. I sit here and think of vipers like Dave Agema, the Michigan National Committeeman. “Folks, they (gay people) want free medical because they’re dying (when they’re) between 30 and 44 years old,” the paper quotes Agema saying last week. Funny. . .I’m almost 40 and I’m not dead. And, Dear Mr. Agema, I pay for my own health insurance. I pay all of my co-pays and even the costs that my insurance doesn’t cover. One of the things that the Affordable Care Act has done for me is to ensure that I don’t have to shell out 5 figures per year (yes, that much) because an insurance company might not want to cover my “pre-existing condition.” Perhaps Davey-boy thinks that I got what I deserved because I’m gay. Perhaps, he secretly rejoices with each new diagnosis of HIV because that means there will be one less queer in the world. Think again, Dave. I did not become HIV positive because I was promiscuous or because I was an IV drug user. As a matter of fact, I found out completely by mistake. That story will be told later. But, what I CAN tell you is that I got this disease because I loved and trusted someone. I was in a long term relationship. However, that person did not have the same respect for me and completely and totally betrayed my trust. The person lied to me about his status and there was ample opportunity to tell the truth. It would not have changed the way I felt about him, but it might have changed some of my behavior. That is the thing that I have struggled with the most out of all of this. I loved someone. I became HIV positive. The sense of betrayal is overwhelming at times. A friend of mine said it to me the best: The measure of a man and his heart is not the love he gives simply to feel validated and “loved” in return. Your heart is unconditional. . . But a human being that loves, that really understands being a living breathing man, doesn’t take advantage of that – he protects it and cares for it and nurtures is like the precious thing it is. He stole that and abused it and bent that into something twisted just to steal what he could, out of fear, of other’s love and affection. He put you all in harm’s way to protect himself, and he used love as his weapon to do it. It is the most awful sin a person who claims to be human can commit.  (Thank you, Amber Meyer) I found out the results on February 13th, 2012. How’s that for an early Valentine’s Day present? When I talked with my partner (who is negative, thankfully), I asked him how this was going to affect our relationship. He said, “I don’t understand what you mean. This is “For Better or For Worse, In Sickness and In Health.” Isn’t that what we decided? I love you for who you are, not what you have or don’t have.” I cried. But don’t you dare EVER tell anyone that! I will deny it with my last breath! I have an image to maintain, here. . . But, for the record, I am healthy. I have been seeing a doctor since I found out. I am on one pill a day that keeps my viral load undetectable and my T cells have been steadily climbing since I started. I am back to a normal level. I am sick less often and my energy has started to come back. And now, I am ready to fight. I am ready to educate. I am ready for whatever the world has to throw at me. I am here. I am LIVING!! And I am not going to die anytime soon. My doctor told me to expect to live to a ripe old age (80+), that is, if I quit smoking. My thoughts are along the same lines, but that is unless I push an old woman out from in front of a bus and I bite the dust saving her life. Although, it would be my luck that she would sue my estate because she broke a hip. . . If you feel that this blog would help someone, please share it. If it moved you, please share it. And remember, as I have said before, we all know someone who is HIV positive. And now, you know me. And this is what living with HIV looks like:

Flathead Gay Men’s Group Starts September 19th

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Analysis: Most At-Risk For HIV Not Studied

 

New Analysis of World’s Premier AIDS Conference Finds Poor Coverage of Populations Most-at-Risk for HIV

Hundreds of Organizations Worldwide Call on Conference Organizers to Increase Meaningful Coverage of Gay Men, Transgender People, People Who Inject Drugs, and Sex Workers

A new report produced by a coalition of global advocacy organizations shows that the International AIDS Conference (IAC) program continues to lack meaningful coverage of populations most-at-risk for HIV, including men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people, people who inject drugs (PWID), and sex workers. Over 220 organizations from more than 70 countries around the world have called on the organizers of the IAC to take concrete measures to increase coverage of HIV-related issues concerning the health and human rights of these populations worldwide.

The report features a systematic quantitative audit and qualitative analysis of the topics and countries covered by abstracts on most-at-risk populations at the 2012 IAC, also known as AIDS 2012. These populations are also called “key populations,” because they are both key to the epidemic’s dynamics and key to the response. As an in-depth examination of research presented at the world’s premier AIDS conference, the report also offers a glimpse into the current state of research on these key populations globally.

The quantitative audit of the AIDS 2012 program showed that only 17% of all abstracts presented at the conference were exclusively focused on MSM, transgender people, PWID, or sex workers. Some key populations were better represented than others. The percent of all abstracts exclusively dedicated to each key population was 8% for MSM, less than 1% for transgender people, 5% for PWID, and 4% for sex workers.

The qualitative analysis of abstracts on these populations was even more revealing, indicating that more abstracts on key populations focused on individual risk factors (40%) than any other topic, including structural factors [e.g. policy, stigma, violence] (26%); primary prevention (19%); testing, care, and treatment (15%); and surveillance (10%). Only 29% of abstracts on key populations focused on describing interventions, while 71% described vulnerabilities without offering any detailed solutions.

“This meager level of coverage on issues concerning our communities at the International AIDS Conference is unacceptable,” said Dr. George Ayala, Executive Director of the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) and co-author of the report. “Not only was there a comparatively low number of abstracts on key populations at the conference, but the content of these abstracts was largely divorced from the most urgent needs of key populations as identified by members of the populations themselves.”

The report cites the body of abstracts at AIDS 2012 focused on MSM as an example of the gap between the kind of research prioritized by key population stakeholders and the kind of research ultimately presented at the conference. Ahead of AIDS 2012, the MSMGF conducted a global survey of nearly 300 MSM advocates and service providers around the world to identify the topics they felt would be most important to address at the conference. The top three themes were “Prevention,” “Stigma and Discrimination,” and “Law and Criminalization.” Of all abstracts presented at AIDS 2012, the percentage dedicated to these themes in relation to MSM was 1.6%, 0.5%, and 0.3%, respectively.

“After thirty years of AIDS, we know key populations are at much greater risk than the general population in nearly every country around the world,” said Allan Clear, Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition and co-author of the report. “Our communities deserve proper attention, and mounting evidence argues that addressing HIV among key populations is central to ending the global AIDS crisis. It is time for the IAC and the broader AIDS response to start addressing HIV among key populations in a more equitable, more appropriate, and ultimately more effective way.”

In addition to examining the number and focus topics of abstracts on key populations, the report also assessed geographic coverage. Of all abstracts on key populations, nearly 40% focused on North America and Western Europe. A country-level analysis revealed that nearly two-thirds of all key population abstracts were concentrated in 10 countries alone. Of the remaining 79 countries represented in these abstracts, 32 had only 1 abstract on 1 key population. Numerous regions and countries with concentrated epidemics among key populations were either underrepresented or entirely absent.

“The poor coverage of topics concerning key populations, especially from lower-income countries, may reflect inequitable global funding for research on key populations as much as it reflects the IAC’s processes that reinforce these inequities,” said JoAnne Keatley, Director of the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at the University of California, San Francisco and co-author of the report. “The IAC’s organizers must update the conference’s processes to ensure the event is as valuable as possible for addressing the urgent HIV epidemics among key populations. As the premier platform for sharing the latest research on HIV and AIDS, it must lead the global AIDS research field to do the same.”

“The IAC represents a unique and powerful opportunity to impact the global AIDS epidemic,” said Anastacia Ryan, Global Policy Officer on HIV and Sex Work at the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). “The conference offers unparalleled potential to shape the industry’s discourse, funding priorities, and locus of scientific inquiry, giving key affected populations the recognition they deserve as partners in fighting the epidemic. By updating its processes to increase meaningful engagement with and coverage of key populations, the IAC will not only support the development of more effective strategies to address the needs of key populations, it will bring the global AIDS response closer to developing the comprehensive solutions we need to end the epidemic.”

The report concluded with a set of 5 recommendations for measures that can be taken by conference organizers to increase meaningful coverage of key populations at future IACs. The recommendations include conducting community consultations, issuing targeted calls for abstracts, and advocating with large funders and research institutions for more appropriate funding and support for research on key populations. A total of 221 organizations from 73 countries endorsed the recommendations for action.

The full report, entitled “Coverage of Key Populations at the 2012 International AIDS Conference,” is available online at http://www.msmgf.org/files/msmgf//Advocacy/AIDS2012_KeyPopulations.pdf  The report was jointly produced by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF), Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE) , the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health (CoE), the Harm Reduction Coalition, the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD), Different Avenues, and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP).

The full list of recommendations and endorsements can be found online at http://www.msmgf.org/files/msmgf//Advocacy/Action_Alerts/AIDS2014_CCC_Signatures.pdf

 

CDC: HIV Cases Decline for Black Women, Increase for Gay Men

Some disturbing news. From Reuters:

The CDC reported that the number of new cases of HIV among black women declined 21 percent between 2008 and 2010, while the incidence of HIV among young gay and bisexual men rose by 22 percent in the same time frame. The rate of HIV infections among black women remains 20 times higher than the number of new cases in white women, and HIV-infected black women account for 70 percent of HIV incidence among all women. Men who have sex with men comprised almost two-thirds of all new HIV infections in 2010.

Joseph Prejean, chief of the Behavioral and Clinical Surveillance Branch in CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, attributed the decline in new HIV cases among black women to HIV testing and the success of HIV

Drugs

Drugs (Photo credit: Images_of_Money)

awareness campaigns. “Treatment advances” for AIDS may have caused young men to underestimate their risk and the health threat posed by HIV”, said Prejean. Although anti-retroviral treatment prolongs life, HIV-infected individuals can expect to take medicine for the rest of their lives, at an estimated lifetime cost of $400,000. (emphasis mine)

Young black men who have sex with men have the highest HIV incidence of any population group within the United States. An earlier CDC report stated that 26 percent of new HIV cases occurred among young people age 13 to 24. Half of HIV-infected young people do not know their HIV status, reported CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD.

Read the full article here.

Get your Tickets to “8”

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Call the Bozeman Public Library for free tickets: 406.582.2426

 

 

 

 

Hard Truths (About Gay Men & HIV)

From NAPWA’s Positive Voice Newsletter:

National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – NGMHAAD – is coming September 27, three months to the day after National HIV Testing Day, and hard on the heels of July’s landmark International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Washington, D.C. We have two messages this year: Be aware, know your risk, and, Let’s end this epidemic! Because we matter – and we can.

Speaker after speaker at IAC returned to this year’s good but challenging news: yes, we still need more science to stamp out HIV – more and better antivirals, an effective vaccine, and a functional cure – but we already have all the biomedical tools we need to make new HIV infections a thing of the past. The hard part is reaching “key populations” – groups with high rates of existing infections and new infections because they have been marginalized, stigmatized, denied civil rights, and excluded from health care.

NGMHAAD is for one of those “key populations:” this country’s men who have sex with men (MSM). NAPWA founded NGMHAAD in 2008 because we want them to know the epidemic isn’t over. We want them to know how high their HIV risk really is – because so many are already infected, and too many don’t know it. And we want them to know that we’ve come a long way since AIDS was first reported in 1981, and even further since Stonewall, but stigma is still driving this epidemic and gay men don’t have to take it anymore.

So let’s look at some numbers and see what that the gay men’s HIV epidemic looks like in the U.S.

The July 28 issue of The Lancet opened an admirable series of articles on HIV among gay men worldwide with a look at epidemiology, and reported that HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men in its North American region is a jaw-dropping 15.4% – almost one in six. The real prevalence may be a little lower - The Lancet assumes that only 3.7% of American men are MSM, a number we think is too low, and raising the estimated number of MSM would reduce the calculated prevalence a little – but it’s still clear that prevalence is breathtakingly higher among MSM than in the rest of the population.

Let’s calculate just how much higher.

About 251 million Americans are 15 or older. If 5 percent of the men are MSM, we have 6.3 million MSM and 245 million “others” 15-and-older in this country. We’re all familiar with the CDC’s estimates that 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, and 60% of them are MSM. That gives us 480,000 infections in 245 million “others,” for a prevalence of 0.2% – one in five hundred. It also gives us 720,000 infections in 6.3 million American MSM, for a prevalence of 11.5% – just shy of one in eight. HIV prevalence among American MSM is almost 60 times what it is in the rest of the population.

That means HIV-negative MSM who are active with partners whose status they don’t know are at much higher risk than many realize. So the first and most important message of National Gay Men’s Awareness Day is – simply – be aware. Know your status. Know your risk. If you aren’t absolutely sure you know your own and your partner’s status, keep your condoms handy.

In September 10’s Positive Voice, we’ll write about how we got to where we are and what’s needed to deal with the MSM epidemic on the ground. Why near-universal testing is so important when prevalence is already so high. The need to confront stigma and talk frankly about sex in communities where this is deeply uncomfortable. The need for pride and love. The need to have culturally competent and welcoming health care for MSM.

And in the September 24 issue, just three days before NGMHAAD, we’ll remember the quarter-million (at least) American MSM who have died of AIDS and examine our responsibility as their survivors to demand action to end this epidemic once and for all. Now that we can, we must.

HIV Gay/Bi Men’s Health Retreat

When:  September 14 – 16, 2012

Where:  Helena, MT

Cost:  FREE

Registration Deadline:  September 7, 2012

• Experienced facilitators and educators • Great workshops on accessing resources  • Safe and confidential space

To Register, CLICK HERE, or if you have Questions, call:

FDH & Associates ● 406.829.8075 Or email: fdh@mtgayhealth.org