Fenton: Don’t forget HIV in fight for LGBT equality
ered and given information they need to know to stay safe, Fenton said.
Abstinence may be the best way to remain HIV negative, but school administrators are better serving their communities when they realize some teenagers are sexually active and take that into account when designing curriculum.
But it is also the role of gay organizations, particularly national gay organizations, to ensure HIV/AIDS prevention remains at the top of the list of priorities, he said.
“I think for many gay organizations, national ones, we have been necessarily focusing a lot on marriage equality and other big issues that I think are important to our community,” Fenton said.
Those issues remain important, but HIV/ AIDS cannot be forgotten in the fight for equality by those it impacts most, Fenton stressed.
“We have to take responsibility to protect our health,” he said.
Understanding all ‘drivers’ of HIV
Fenton said that he is proud the CDC is also taking a leading role in understanding that behavior is not the only reason some people, including gay men, take risks with their health and become HIV positive.
Poverty, racism, homophobia, high rates of incarceration, stigma, discrimination — all of these also can lead to increases in HIV infections.
“We’ve accelerated our efforts to focus on not just the individual behaviors ... but the social, cultural and contextual drivers of HIV,” he said.
During his last year at the CDC, Fenton traveled the country to hold town hall meetings about how to combat HIV, especially among young gay men. The message from local health departments and community organizations was clear.
“The consistency of the messaging we heard was heart wrenching — whether it was homophobia and racism, especially by black and Latino gay men, or issues related to rejection by family or church,” he said.
“To hear stories of young gay men kicked out of their homes because they came out to their parents and then were homeless and turned to drugs or sex and seroconverted in the first year — this really illustrates the depth of the work we need to do,” Fenton said.
Safer sex is no longer seen as something that should be practiced consistently and there is no sense of urgency in staying safe, he said.
“We have to focus on issues related to equity and social justice and ensuring lives of LGBT people are valued and supported by communities and families across the country,” he said.