If you are younger than thirty, you would be forgiven for thinking that AIDS is no longer a threat. After more than a decade of horror, the images associated with the disease gradually shifted.
Like the 90-pound weakling in old Charles Atlas ads, the LGBT community had seemingly emerged victorious. Gone were the gaunt, purple splotched patients and the angry activists throwing ashes on the White house lawn. A new definition of poz began appearing in glossies, smiling from ear to ear. Bareback porn promised a return to the unfettered carnality of the 70s. When the elegies faded, it became difficult to remember that people were still dying.
The World AIDS Day gives reason to remember. Tomorrow marks the second citywide observance with events extending into the following week, including a free legal clinic and an interfaith service. World AIDS day was established in 1988 to keep the epidemic on the radar. Although life expectancy has increased for HIV positive persons, the disease has not gone away. In June, The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department reported a sharp increase in teen infection rates. This week the CDC released a bulletin warning of growing levels of infection in young MSMs, especially those of color. More than half of those are not aware that they have the virus. Among those who are aware of their positive status, health maintenance is often prohibitively expensive and the drug cocktails are heavy with side effects.
Even with increased awareness, the need for action in Central Texas is more urgent than ever. A recent fundraising letter from AIDS Services of Austin projected a $150,000 budgetary shortfall for the agency in 2013. Earlier this year, United Way cut funding for several local ASO’s –including ASA's Jack Sansing Dental Clinic, the Care Communities and Project Transitions. This year also saw the Ms. Foundation deciding to not renew its grant to the Women’s Rising Project. The cuts not only directly affect the services these organizations are able to offer but also their ability to coordinate volunteers.
In a state ruled by an increasingly radical Republican party, action will have to come from queer communities and out allies. More than thirty years after the epidemic was first identified, the disease is still regarded by many as a gay disease. Truthfully, in many ways it is. Although the virus does not discriminate, the agencies that respond to the epidemic were built on LGBT grief. Stigma and still prevents testing and empowerment. During the height of the epidemic, our community was decimated. We lost heroes, friends, lovers – we seemed close to losing our future. Today the clouds are beginning to darken. This World AIDS Day gives us an opportunity to say "never again."
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