The handsome Mark Morton cuts a dashing figure in October’s Nashville Exposed. It’s admirable that Morton aspires to mentor his clients about image and some of his young gay friends about safer sex. It seems ironic, though, that while he’s “turned off” by the negative, demeaning format of some fashion broadcasts, he doesn’t get that perpetrating the very stigma that is at the core of many HIV-positive individuals’ hesitance to disclose and focusing on a demonizing stereotype about some of our HIV-positive brothers aren’t particularly helpful techniques.
Yes, HIV is very real here (2,391 gay and bi men are living with HIV/AIDS in the greater Nashville area) but Morton doesn’t mention that an estimated additional 21% are HIV positive but don’t know their status, are therefore unable to disclose, and are believed by many prevention experts to have a much more significant role in new infections. It’s regrettable that one of Morton’s friends contracted HIV and no one’s asking him to “sugar coat,” that, regardless of the circumstances.
Yet comments in the article come awfully close to reflecting both the external and internalized stereotyping and homophobia that has so damaged our community. If Morton truly wants to make a difference in the lives of his friends, evidence indicates that moving beyond simplistic and judgmental labels like “foolish and unnecessary” and engaging them in informed, thoughtful discussions about intimacy and risk, values and goals, shared responsibility and making good choices will prove more effective.
In August at the National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials presented preliminary analyses showing that gay and bi men have an HIV diagnosis rate 50 times higher than both other men and women. It’s time for us as gay and bi men of all ages and races, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative, to once again address this epidemic - not as a community segregated by HIV status - but as a committed, unified community embracing each other and the need for open, honest, and non-judgmental conversation about how we can protect and love each other.