There are times when a staged public event becomes much more than the event itself.
Such is the case with the 2012 AIDS Run & Walk Chicago.
Set to take place Sept. 30 at Soldier Field, the AIDS Run & Walk will be fun and exhilaratingthere's no question about it. But the event has meaning beyond the music, the sunshine and the celebration. It's also a unique opportunity for the LGBT community and its allies to come together and raise money to fight a disease that continues to have a devastating impact on gay/bisexual men.
In the 31 years since the crisis began, HIV/AIDS has come to affect virtually every part of Chicago and have a deadly impact in communities of color that bear the brunt of the disease. Heterosexual men and women are not immune. Nationally, African-American heterosexual women are the second most affected group after gay/bi men of all races and ethnicities.
Diverse population trends notwithstanding, one fact remains inescapable: gay/bi males remain the population most impacted by this still deadly disease. That was true 31 years ago and it's still true today.
Nearly one in five gay men is HIV-positive, according to a 2010 government study of 21 cities, including Chicago ( www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/Newsroom/ngmHAAD2010PressRelease.html ). About half of those HIV-positive gay men don't even know their status.
Young gay men are the only group with rising HIV infection rates, due in large part to the alarming 48 percent increase in new infections ( www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/HIVFactSheets/TodaysEpidemic-508.pdf&; for young African-American gay/bi in the last 4 years nationally.
Now is the time for the Chicago gay community to ramp up efforts to change that. One place to start: Embrace the AIDS Run & Walk Chicago because the lives of gay/bi men matter.
How forcefully we respond as a society to HIV/AIDS speaks volumes to our commitment to equal rights and gay rights. It will define what legacy we leave for future LGBT generations, and whether their lives will be marked by illness and stress or health and opportunity.
Let us first address the challenges, then we'll explain how the AIDS Run & Walk Chicago can help.
The unsettling disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on gay/bi men was highlighted at the recent International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.
One study ( www.springerlink.com/content/xn677m76k8363272/ ), presented by Dr. Ron Stall of the University of Pittsburgh, linked common facets of the gay experience, such as homophobia and related violence, to related psychosocial health problems, like depression, substance abuse and sexual risk-taking. In other words, the very stigma of being gay increases a gay man's chances of becoming infected with HIV.
Data presented by two researchers at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago took it a step further, demonstrating that homophobic trauma ( aidschicago.org/pdf/2012/trauma_poster.pdf&; and harassment ( aidschicago.org/pdf/2012/harassment_poster.pdf&; dog efforts in linking people to continuous care.
AIDS has always been an epidemic that affects gay/bi men more than other demographic groups. But perhaps even more troubling is the rapid increase in infections among gay/bi men of color.
By the age of 40, six in 10 Black gay men will be HIV-positive, according to HPTN 061 ( www.hptn.org/research_studies/hptn061.asp&, another study presented at the International AIDS Conference. The rate of new HIV transmission among African-American gay/bi men is 50 percent higher than their white counterparts. For young Black gay/bi men, the rate was three times the rate for white gay/bi men of the same age.
A crucial point to make: This doesn't mean that Black men are engaging in riskier behavior. In fact, the study found the disparity to be a result of social determinants, such as community viral load, poverty, education and access to health care.
We can talk about treatment as prevention as much as we want, but until we address the social roots of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we will not prevail in this fight.
So, what can the AIDS Run & Walk Chicago do about all of this?
Raise money, for starters. Whether you're an individual participating or an organized team, fundraising is an important part of this experience. The money benefits the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and HIV/AIDS organizations that are actively engaged in turning the tide of the epidemic here in Chicago.
Put in simpler terms, the AIDS Run & Walk Chicago raises thousands of dollars for lifesaving HIV prevention, care, housing and other supportive services for those living with or at risk for HIV in Chicago.
The event also sends a clear message: We, the LGBT community and our allies, will not stand for this anymore. Throngs of us will descend on Soldier Field Sept. 30 and lift our voices and walk our miles to save the lives of our brothers and sisters.
And it's a hell of a good time. If you've never heard the musical stylings of The Voice's Jamar Rogers, a young HIV-positive African-American man with an incredible story, you are in for a treat. Other celebrities include comedian Wanda Sykes and singer Michael Feinstein.
So, if you think it's wrong that an epidemic continues to disproportionately affect the lives of gay/bi men, particularly those of color, largely because of homophobia, violence, poverty and lack of education, then help us take a stand.
This is our city. This is our team.
Come walk with us.
David Ernesto Munar is the president/CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.