December 1st is World AIDS Day, a day to be reminded that HIV/AIDS is still with us. A day to remember that for many in the world and in the United States, AIDS is still a death sentence. Since 1988, HIV/AIDS activists have been reminding the world that the fight to end AIDS is very much active, as 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS and more than 1.1 million people are living with the virus today.
In September, I had the privilege of being confronted with the real life impact of HIV/AIDS at the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in Orlando, FL where thousands joined to celebrate the resilience, diversity, and eminent dangers impacting the lives of communities at risk. Organized by the National Minority AIDS Council, USCA is the nation’s largest gathering of HIV/AIDS workers, organizers, and activists who gather together with a particular focus on communities of color.
This year’s 21st USCA brought particular focus to the following five issues:
About ¼ (21% - 28%) of all transgender people are living with HIV and more than ½ (56%) of them are Black/African-American transgender women. For transgender people living with HIV, their status is the least of their worries due to the more urgent concerns of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and mental health concerns.
While HIV diagnoses among African-American heterosexual men is down by 16%, down 20% among African-American women, and down 29% among African Americans who inject drugs, HIV diagnoses among African-American gay and bisexual men is up by 30%. If current rates persist, it is estimated that 1 in 2 Black men will contract HIV in their lifetime.
7,000 people are still dying of AIDS in a America per year because of stigma, trauma, lack of nutrition, health care, and housing, most of whom suffer from the historical traumas of slavery, Jim Crow, indigenous extermination, homophobia and transphobia. AIDS will not end without an intersectional approach to dismantling white supremacy in all its forms.
51% of all people living with HIV have an undetectable viral load. Despite the "undetectable equals untransmittable" (U=U) movement, people with the support, with the information, and who accept the science are still dying due to psychosocial needs, spiritual harm, practical barriers issues, systemic oppressions. While U=U is essential to ending the virus, V≠V...as in, Viral Load does not define Value. All people living with HIV must be treated with dignity and respect.
Lots of people living with HIV, who have never had a history of drugs, are turning to crystal methamphetamine to feel good about themselves. The result is planned and unplanned non-adherence to antiretroviral treatment. Meth use among gay black men has doubled in the past 10 years and 20% of transwomen reported using the substance.
On this World AIDS Day 2018, as Unitarian Universalists who believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we must not allow these grim realities to be the end of the story. More than just a theological assertion, this truth must ground our faith and inform our actions. As such, I propose five actions that UU’s can take specifically in your congregation and community.
Ending HIV/AIDS among transgender people begins with supporting UU transgender ministers and religious educators. By supporting our UU trans religious professionals, we ensure that Unitarian Universalism is prepared to address the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of trans people living with HIV.
Preventing 1 in 4 black gay and bisexual men means applying an intersectional lens to your Welcome Congregations program. LGBTQ welcome cannot happen if black LGBTQ people do not feel welcomed in your congregation. As we celebrate 50 years of LGBTQ progress since Stonewall, remember to highlight the contributions of black queer activists and acknowledge the racism and homophobia that persists in Unitarian Universalism and other religious institutions.
Remember the 7000 people dying annually in America to HIV/AIDS by making the fight to end HIV/AIDS visible in your congregation. Invisibility and silence equals death. Making visible the need for all people to practice safer sex and to get tested often and get treated early. Invite your local public health professional to your congregation to learn how Unitarian Universalism can re-join the fight to End AIDS.
Learn what it means to be "undetectable," and what it means to have all the information and support and still feel lonely and invisible. Uplift the stories, needs, and aspirations of people with HIV by including them in the fight for universal health care, the dismantling of the prison industrial complex, and the right to safe and affordable housing. It’s impossible to adhere to medication without health care, while incarcerated, and/or without safe and affordable housing.
Learn about the crystal methamphetamine epidemic in your community. Make your congregation available for 12-step recovery and provide resources for harm reduction. For more information visit Crystal Meth Anonymous and Harm Reduction Coalition.
On this World AIDS Day 2018, as Unitarian Universalists, let us recommit to ending AIDS through our fight and action.
May it be so!