Over the past four years, I’ve been honored to be included in LGBT Connect, a conference of LGBT and Ally bloggers and activists organized by the amazing Michael Rogers. We met at a pre-conference the day before Netroots Nation started and worked on issues that are vital to the LGBT and Ally community. HIV is the elephant in the room; its looming presence casting a shadow over all over discussions. Todd Heywood writes:
I joined with Teddy Partridge of PolicyBear.com to conduct a conversation about HIV. The title of the group discussion was “AIDS is not Over.” Curiously, we started with no one at our table. Then had Gregory Varnum from Equality Michigan and WikiQueer join followed by Lisa Derrick, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez and Eyad “Eddie” Alkurabi. The conversation was wide ranging and focused.
And during the conversation we realized that we needed to do something to encourage HIV testing. June 27 is National HIV Testing Day (technically it is National Gay Men’s Testing Day, but who’s counting at this point?) and we decided it would be incredibly helpful to encourage folks to get tested for HIV. But not just get tested – to tweet, Facebook or blog about their test with a picture or two with the hashtag #TestMe.
HIV is still around, and more than that, it is a growing threat to the health and well-being a millions of Americans, gay, straight, and bi. The only way to end the escalating health emergency is to know your status and act accordingly. (The statistics on infection are staggering: The prediction from the Office of National AIDS Policy is that at current transmission trends, in 30 years half of all men who have sex with men will be infected with HIV, while 70 percent of all black men who have sex with men will be infected. According to the CDC, the estimated rate of new HIV infections for black women is 20 times as high as the rate for white women, and almost five times as high as that of Latinas.) A National Institutes of Health funded study has found that a person who is infected with HIV, but unaware of their infection, is 3.5 times more likely to transmit that infection.
Our LGBT Connect breakout group went for it: We have created Twitter feed @TestMeJune27, the Facebook group Testme, since it would be helpful to encourage folks to get tested for HIV–and not just get tested, to tweet, Facebook or blog about their test with a picture or two with the hashtag #TestMe. Nicole Sandler invited us on her live radio broadcast, we have been telling everyone from politicians (more on that later!) and labor groups to church folks and medical marijuana advocates about the initiative and testing day.
Being at Netroots Nation, we have been able to speak with activists from around the country and get them excited and involved. By encouraging everyone from the age of consent to age 93 to get tested (and the majority of states offer anonymous testing–contact your local health department or 1-800-CDC-INFO, 800-232-4636, to see if there are anonymous test sites in your area), we hope that early detection will help stop the spread of HIV–a 2010 study found that one in five gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in 21 U.S. cities was infected with HIV. Of those that were infected, 44 percent were unaware they were living with HIV.
Gregory Varnum, development director at Equality Michigan and one of the testing initiative organizers, said:
It is preposterous that for far too long our movement has neglected our responsibilities to lead by example and get tested The #TestMe initiative is a great example of a simple action LGBT and Ally leaders can take to show young people that we all need to know our status.
It has been so encouraging to have labor groups, activists, and just regular people embracing the idea of testing, posting on their Facebook pages, and getting the word out. Michael Rogers said:
The most important part of Netroots Nation Connect is the collaborations that develop at the event. The TestMe Hashtag project continues the year tradition of frontline leaders gathering and creating change throughout the country. I am particularly proud of this year’s collaboration.
Never been tested? GET TESTED! Haven’t been tested since your last relationship ended? GET TESTED! Dating? Make your second date at trip to your local testing center. On June 27, GET TESTED! Blog about it, tweet about it, #tell10 #bringafriend #testme #June 27. Spread the word!
Remember: Knowledge=Power. Silence=Death. And the majority of people who stand to be infected weren’t even born when those phrases were first used.