Start Talking Stop HIV is a new educational campaign bringing together voices from gay and bisexual men from a spectrum of backgrounds and relationships to the Epidemic that the CDC is releasing on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. I’m incredibly proud to be a very small part of this conversation along with Ken Almanza, Charles Sanchez, AJ King, and many other artists, activists, and community leaders I greatly admire.
The campaign has two guiding principles in which I believe in whole heartedly: 1. That gay men have a responsibility to one another and 2. Frank, honest, informed conversations about risk and HIV among gay men are the best way to educate gay men about risk and HIV. So far there are videos about PrEP, condoms, what it means to be “undetectable,” and more.
Of course educating gay men in the art of protecting themselves and their community is a key component in the fight against HIV and AIDS, but it will never stop the Epidemic by itself. Frank and informed conversations—powerful and important as they are—will never bring an end AIDS on their own. Frank and informed conversations aren’t going to get new infections down to nearly nothing, for that you need applied governmental power and the political will to use it. We know applied state power can go a long way toward eliminating new infections, because they are doing it over there in San Francisco to great effect.
But with the current administration it’s pretty clear no such political will is going to be forthcoming. And the knowledge of that fact brings hot angry tears streaming down my face, if a state had all the tools to prevent cities from burning down (trucks, water, hoses, strapping calendar models in protective headgear, etc.) but didn’t use them—or only used them haphazardly, in some communities, some of the time—we would consider that state to be not only unjust but dangerously incompetent. Because the thing about fire is: left unchecked, fire spreads and fire grows. And left unchecked fire can render whole cities unrecognizable.
When it comes to HIV, we have all the tools required to end the Epidemic already at our disposal and yet the fire rages practically unchecked across much of the South. And of course Getting to Zero can’t be replicated exactly, everywhere in the country, but the program’s success is proof that America has the ability to apply a combination medical technological mastery and social science know-how to end AIDS… if it felt like it.
But America does not feel like it, and America will not feel like it anytime soon. We will not see a Manhattan Project to End AIDS in the next four to eight years. We’ll be lucky if there is any kind of Federal HIV policy at all. So grab a bucket, Mary. If we want this fire out before it destroys literally everything and everybody we love, we’re going to have to do most of the heavy lifting ourselves.