In the Shadows of Stigma: National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
This Friday is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. As education and funding has improved in the U.S. over the past decade, HIV/AIDS (an immune deficiency) is now thought of by so many as a disease primarily affecting people in Sub-Saharan Africa, but we often overlook the cases of HIV/AIDS that still exist in the United States. In the U.S., more than 1.1 million people live with the HIV infection and approximately 18.1% are unaware that they even have HIV. The vast majority of those infected are gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM), particularly black/African American men between the ages of 13 and 24.
Due in part to the stigma associated with the infection, HIV/AIDS in the United States is truly a hidden epidemic. While medicine has advanced tremendously, extending the lives and increasing the wellbeing of HIV-positive people, there remains no cure and 50,000 new infections occur each year, 63% of them among MSM. The National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day draws attention to these facts so that HIV-positive men do not feel marginalized and subsequently, discriminated against.
Our daily liturgy includes the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, which speaks to our communal responsibility to ensure that those who are sick are not isolated. The spirit of bikkur cholim leads us to visit our loved ones when they are not well and provide compassionate care to people who have been rejected and abandoned. We must then, if not literally, spiritually and metaphorically stand by and not turn a blind eye to those among us who are HIV-infected or otherwise ailing.
Picture Courtesy of amfAR