How come HIV rates among young gays are staying stagnant — and not declining? Because this generation of tweeters and Uniqlones didn’t know what it was like to see all their friends die during the AIDS crisis, and they haven’t brushed up on their history.
Taking her state as a case study, Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham writes, “Since 2000, we’ve managed to halve the number of new HIV infections in Massachusetts, from 1,200 a year to under 600. But while infection rates have been slashed in other high-risk groups — injection drug users, for example — they haven’t budged among men who have sex with men, according to state figures. For eight years, new infections have been stuck in the mid-300s in the state’s gay community. That’s one every day.”
It’s partly lousy sex education, and public health policy that’s still unaccountably squeamish about condoms.
It’s partly that younger gay men didn’t see the most horrific stage of the epidemic, when legions died awful, visible deaths that scared others into better protecting themselves. And treatments over the last 15 years have made HIV seem more like a chronic disease than a deadly one. It’s also harder to reach gay men with prevention messages now that many socialize online rather than in the bars where condoms and counseling were plentiful.
So here’s a suggestion. Stop handing out gay cards to the boys until they’ve read Larry Kramer’s Reports from the Holocaust. Or even let them cheat, and hook them up with a DVD copy of AIDS In America: The Crisis Continues. Crystal meth was a cute excuse, circa never.
And if scare tactics actually work — at least so far as seeing your friends and lovers and siblings deteriorate and convulse and vomit and shrivel and die is a scare tactic — then how about we quit it with these cutesy ads that make safe sex into a cartoon we laugh at but don’t always attempt?