Remember Your History. Know Your Status.
In the early 1980’s, cases of a mysterious and deadly new disease began popping up all over the country.
Though at first it seemed to only target gay men, it quickly spread to others through sexual contact, drug users sharing infected needles, and blood transfusions.
This disease came to be known as HIV/AIDS, and by the later part of the decade, hundreds of thousands were infected, and tens of thousands were dead or dying.
For years, the Reagan administration sat on its hands, pretending that HIV/AIDS didn’t exist, while people watched their friends, their families, their neighbors and co-workers succumb to the disease.
It wasn’t until the disease affected Reagan personally with the death of family friend and celebrity Rock Hudson, that the government began funding research for treatment and a cure. By that point, America and the world were deep in the throes of a pandemic; a plague.
Activists had to fill the void.
They formed groups like ACT UP, and opened free clinics. They educated themselves and others about safe sex and distributed condoms. They formed support groups for people who were sick, and people who knew someone who was. They took to the streets — they protested, they rioted, they got arrested — because the government was promoting anti-gay hysteria and letting people die needless deaths.
They did all of that so that today, gay men like me could have the chance to engage in safe sex; so that we could have access to regular testing and have peace of mind knowing our status. They did all of that so that LGBTQ people and straight, cisgender people alike could have access to preventive drugs like PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which negate the chance of transmission. They did all of that, so that we wouldn’t have to watch our loved ones struck down in the prime of their lives like they did, and at the hands of a silent government.
Today, I was tested, and I’m happy to report that I’m negative. That being said, we must be wary of the politics of our time, for I fear the Reagan era is not as distant as it might seem.
We know that the Trump administration shut down the White House Office on HIV/AIDS policy, and we know they want to significantly scale back American healthcare.
Before the Affordable Care Act, HIV/AIDS was considered a pre-existing condition. People would literally die because no health insurance company would cover them. The Affordable Care Act also made drugs like PrEP more accessible for many low-income Americans.
If the law is repealed, the reality many Americans will return to is one of uncertainty, poverty, sickness, and death.
So tonight, I’m asking all of you, whether LGBTQ or not:
Remember your history. Ask your partner’s status. Use protection every time. Get tested regularly and know your own status, too. Ask your local healthcare provider about PrEP. Your life, and the lives of others, depend on it.