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Passing the Torch: Reflections for National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day

April 10th is National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day, it represents a call for young people to come together and take part in the continual fight against HIV/AIDS. But today, like many others, I find myself cooped up in my home following news of a different virus. Television these days seems to be on a nonstop cycle of Coronavirus coverage. Each and every day there are officials, journalists, doctors, and scientists analyzing the situation, covering both fact and opinion. One guy worth mentioning is Dr. Anthony Fauci. The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, he is seen by many as the leading authority viral epidemics in the United States. So, what does this guy know about epidemics? When I did a little more research into his background, I found that since the early 1980s, Dr. Fauci has spent the majority of his career in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Given this it is no surprise that during a television briefing, he made connections on how this virus highlights significant health disparities in our country much like HIV/AIDS once did for the LGBT community. He praised the community for “incredible courage and dignity and strength” as well as incredible activism in the face of extraordinary stigma (Reynolds, 2020).

And now if at any time, we have to reflect on how true his statement really is.

Throughout our history, the LGBTQ community has powered through periods of intense adversity, emerging with profound courage and resilience. In the early days of the AIDS crisis, the community banded together to cope with the seemingly insurmountable challenge that was erroneously dubbed by the media as the “Gay Cancer”. People turned to one another, forming close-knit chosen families, bonded by a shared experience and a desire for survival. But through this struggle, some of the greatest examples of activism were born. Organizations such as: The Gay Men’s Health Crisis; ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power); the NAMES Project, just to mention a few, rose up to address needs in the community and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. It can be argued that this epidemic led to the advancement of the Gay Rights Movement. With an estimated 700,000 deaths since discovery in the United States alone, it was an advancement that came at a great cost.

Today in the year 2020, things are very different. It has been almost 40 years since the discovery of HIV/AIDS. Many of the heroes and survivors of that era are now close to their 70s and 80s, and countless others are no longer with us. LGBT visibility has increased. Science has advanced significantly, and with antiretroviral therapy treatment, HIV patients live longer healthy lives. PrEP medication is becoming steadily becoming more available and estimated to have a 99% prevention rate. What was once a death sentence has now been classified by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a chronic condition.

So, where does this leave our current generation, especially young LGBTQ people, in the fight against HIV/AIDS?