Generation HIV: Young Gay Men At Risk

There's one group that is seeing HIV rates accelerating: twentysomething gay men

The one thing all advocates agree on is throwing out federally mandated abstinence-only sex education in public school. As for queer-specific information, forget it. Sean Cahill, who directs public policy and community health at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, believes that “we’re now entering a period where science has replaced ideology among federal policy makers. There is a lot more support and willingness for science-based HIV and more broad sexual-health education.”

Some also argue that the gay rights movement has abandoned AIDS in favor of hot-button issues like serving openly in the military and marriage. When was the last time you heard about a large contingent of young queers taking part in street action about AIDS? “For them to talk about HIV as a gay disease or a disease that predominantly impacts the LGBT community sort of flies against the sort of narrative behind the marriage equality movement,” says activist Kenyon Farrow of the leaders of gay organizations. “They are situating gay people as ‘normal’ and middle-class and white, like they are just like everybody else.” Others, however, counter that existing marriage laws are part of a matrix of societal repressions that, over time, wear away gay men’s self-esteem. For them, equal rights—including marriage equality—are ultimately HIV prevention tools.

Considering that in 1983, GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan could state that AIDS represented the “awful retribution” of homosexuals’ “war with nature” and go largely unchallenged, gay men have weathered incredible resilience in the face of public scorn and official neglect. Out of the ashes of the height of the epidemic in the ’80s and early ’90s arose a newly empowered community that challenged the government and medical establishment—and radically changed both institutions. Now the next generation has to take a long collective look in the mirror and ask, “What am I doing to end AIDS?”

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