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Why Are American Gay Men Ignoring the AIDS Crisis?

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If you are a gay male in America, one in five of your male friends has HIV.

And one in ten of your friends doesn’t even know that they have it.

USA TODAY reports that one in three of these new infections are diagnosed so late in the infection that full-blown AIDS hits in less than one year.

These staggering statistics have been searing a hole in my brain today, the day marking the mid-point of the AIDS/LifeCycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. As riders celebrate by hoisting their bicycles over their heads, many are equally somber about what they have come here for.

“It affects everyone,” says Thomas Gay, who was diagnosed with HIV over seven years ago. “Whether you know it or not, not everyone is forthcoming and able to let the world know about their status. So just because you don’t know somebody’s positive, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t.”

It all comes down to two things:

  1. If you don’t ask, you don’t care. It is your own individual responsibility – if you choose to be responsible for your own health – to find out the HIV/STD status of every single sexual partner.
  2. It only takes one time. Taking a risk “only this one time” basically throws all your previous prevention out of the window, because all it takes is one time to get infected. It’s like not wearing a seatbelt, or not wearing sunscreen – all it takes is one time.

Gay males are at the certain of this resurgence, and the fight is nastier than ever. We are catching the disease later, with ever more people being infected. There’s this general apathy towards the issue, with many folks thinking that AIDS is a treatable disease. That it’s no longer the death sentence that it once was. That you can live a healthy life with HIV/AIDS.

To be honest, I used to think that this was true. Until one of my best friends on this green earth was diagnosed with HIV after an unwanted sexual encounter. All of a sudden, his life was turned upside down. He had to take meds every day, and suffered mood swings, nausea and a plethora of other challenges. It was excruciating to watch him go through this, and I never told him how terrified it made me feel.

That could have been me.

My awareness, and passion, for this issue has been ignited by my experience so far on the AIDS/LifeCycle ride. I know that the rest of this week will stoke my fire even more. Watching riders hoist their bikes over their heads, hearing these incredibly touching stories, and living the passion of the hundreds of volunteers has opened my eyes to the unpleasant realities of the gay community’s current situation.

This is untenable. We should not  can not have another plague that decimates our community. Be safe, get tested, and ask. It only takes once – and in the end, we are all only blessed with one life.



  • Anonymous

    I got tested Sunday! HIV-Negative!  I’m waiting for my results for Chlamydia, Ghonorhea, Syphillis, and Herpes as well.  Ya know, we really have no excuse to not get tested when there are so many free clinics, and government clinics that will test/treat for FREE!  

    I do have to admit, though, that I have been with two guys in the past years who have had visible signs of STD’s(warts, lesions), and were not forthcoming with information about their status.  I am surprised that some people do not share this information when this act of deceitfulness can carry a felony/misdemeanor in many states.

  • So true it is just as important to get tested now than it ever was.

  • Ignorance is bliss, Don’t you know?

  • I appreciate your passion but you are factually incorrect.  The infection rate among gay men is 11.8%, not 20% (that was of urban club-going guys in certain large cities).  Further, infection is NOT homogeneous, such that “one in five of your friends” is infected.  Location, age, and especially race are huge determinants as to who is infected.  If you are a white 35 year old man in rural Iowa you may have no infected friends, unlike a 24 year old black man in Chicago.

    We must Must MUST be vigilant… but we must also be factual and accurate.  If we make claims that contradict a person’s life experience, we will only discredit our voice.

  • Is ”dont have sex” a good excuse ?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see anything wrong with putting some fear into the public about this topic.  Gay men need to wake up, and I feel that some fear might do “us” some good.

  • olen holm

    fear engenders phobias. don’t further stigmatize people with HIV by making every one more scared than they already are.

  • Anonymous

    HIV/AIDS is a human disease. To treat it otherwise continues the stigma. 

  • Anonymous

    Except that people are IGNORING a very debilitating disease.  Public service announcements obviously haven’t been working all that well.  I’m not sure where you’re from, but here in America, people tend to ignore advice until it hits them in the forehead like a speeding city bus.

  • The reason I oppose using fake scare-em numbers is that you quickly lose credibility.  Once your audience realizes that you are willing to lie to them, they no longer believe you, even when you are telling the truth.

    I think the stupidest thing that our community has done is to do the Big Scare on continuing HIV/AIDS issues and we are reaping the consequence with our youth. 

    We told them “oh, but oral sex is high risk” and it was a lie.  We told them “you should assume everyone has HIV” and it was a lie.  We told them “HIV is still a killer” (without explaining that for most folk, it no longer is) and it was a lie. 

    Guess what.  They caught on that we were lying.

    And when we said, “the treatment for this disease is extremely expensive, life long, inconvenient, and sometimes has bad side effects and furthermore if you get HIV people will not want to have sex with you” they weren’t listening anymore.  Because we had proven ourselves to be liars.

    The truth about HIV is bad enough.  Let’s stick to the truth.

  • Anonymous

    I think your reasoning is most compelling. Whereas most people who post on this site will simply rant and rave, and make personal attacks- you have provided legitimate arguments. In fact, it has made me change the way I think about AIDS education.  You are rhetorically gifted, my friend!

  • Americans don’t like to look at messy consequences. We’re an optimistic and entitled people.