Sept. 27 is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and at times, it is good for me to briefly reflect on how HIV testing used to be back in the mid 1990s when I first got my test. It took slightly over a week to get results back. At 21, I remember setting up my HIV test right before finals, so I would have a good reason to study my heart out and not obsess about my results for that time.
At one point, I pondered not even getting my results, but a smarter head prevailed. I met with Christian my counselor. “Christian?” I thought. “What, is this a sign that if I had been a better Christian, I would not be in this situation?”
That was my pseudo-joke to my friend who basically held my hand in the lobby and wiped my tears, even after a very nerve-wracking length of time.
To have been living with HIV now for 13 years, and working in HIV for about 12, has been incredible to see the evolution of HIV prevention, education and testing efforts. We have so many more tools to #StopHIVTogether than we did when I was that 21-year-old scared baby queerling who knew that AZT was the only thing available — and it was pretty hard on folks that took it.
And yet, one of the most important tools at our disposal for HIV prevention is now facing a threat.
But first, testing.
Knowing your HIV status is one of the best ways to ensure your good health.
If you find out you are living with HIV, you can be connected to resources that will help your physical and behavior health as you transition into living with a chronic medical condition.
If you have a negative result, you can talk to your provider about PrEP and other ways to prevent HIV.
And if going into a doctor’s office or clinic is not optimal for you for reasons of safety or confidentiality, there is now at-home HIV testing.
I get that it can feel overwhelming to get tested, but knowing your status early on can help you take care of your health and the health of others you care about.
But all this progress is now available under the backdrop of threats to one of our best tools in HIV prevention.
On Sept. 7, a federal judge in Texas ruled in favor of a lawsuit opposing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring health insurance companies to cover PrEP, claiming that it violates the plaintiff’s religious rights.
This, on the heels of the recent dismantling of abortion rights, are attacks on bodily autonomy and choice. They set further in motion a slippery slope of denying treatment that is in fact lifesaving.
What’s next, not requiring employers to cover HIV medication? The basis of the argument of the case is that PrEP encourages gay sex, but that is dangerous messaging for several reasons. It misconstrues that HIV is an exclusively “gay condition” while the facts have long shown that to not be true. In 2019 in the United States, people reporting heterosexual contact accounted for 22% of the 34,800 estimated new HIV acquisitions, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
So, by now you’re probably wondering what you can do?
After you get tested, make sure you are registered to vote. Voting is a key part of HIV advocacy, and the midterm elections are just as important as presidential elections. With control of the Senate up for grabs this November, and the next presidential election not far away, we are in a fight to ensure our votes are counted and that the courts represent our rights to privacy, and our choices in healthcare so we can truly live that dream of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
We must be vigilant and intentional about voting, so the courts represent us and our constitutional views about our privacy, our health and our rights.