The futures of the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities: Leaders weigh in

Published: June 15, 2011

After looking at the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities’ pasts in last week’s issue, Windy City Times asked the leaders of various organizations about their views and hopes for the future of LGBT individuals as well as the local HIV/AIDS demographic. Here is what they had to say:

—Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois: "Our community has much to celebrate, including the recent enactment of civil unions. However, we still have a long way to go. From transgender inclusion to federal recognition to full marriage equality, we have a lot of work to do before we have full equality. And this work has to be done by every single supporter of LGBT equality. All the progress we’ve made recently has been because individuals reached out and shared their stories with co-workers, neighbors, families and friends. We have to keep building on that work."

—Toni Weaver, PFLAG’s Woodstock/McHenry County chapter: I am angered when I see HIV portrayed in magazines as a disease that can be easily and readily controlled with the right drug or combination of drugs. The men in the ads are strong, sexy, virile, and oh, so together. Fortunately, the college-age demographic with whom I work are taking HIV prevention seriously, lauding the fact that our campus (McHenry County College) now offers free HIV testing monthly, courtesy of Open Door Clinic in Elgin. I’m hopeful that we’ll see a cure for HIV/AIDS within 20 years. Until then, practice safe sex. Be smart. Don’t break your parents’ hearts.

—Modesto "Tico" Valle, CEO of Center on Halsted: "We have more adults over the age of 50 living with HIV than ever before, as more and more people are able to live decades longer than they used to with the help of medications. HIV can complicate the aging process, and we must adapt new ways to ensure the health and quality of life for our seniors.

"Additionally, we need to revamp our prevention efforts across the board, as HIV infection rates are rising in both older and younger people. Culturally competent and age appropriate safer sex education is necessary throughout the life span, and prevention efforts must be targeted, expanded, and fully funded in order to impact HIV transmission rates. It will take each one of us, working together with committed and passionate effort, to ensure that we do not see another 30 years of HIV/AIDS. We can and will end this pandemic for our brothers, sisters, friends, clients and ourselves—those living and those who we have so sorrowfully lost."

—Jamal Edwards, Howard Brown Health Center CEO/president: "Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) has been a pillar of the LGBTQ community for nearly 40 years as a community health center, research pioneer and human service provider. Even before the first confirmed HIV diagnosis and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, HBHC has been a leader in serving the unique health and wellness needs of the LGBTQ community, locally and nationally.

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"Over the past 30 years of collective service in the fight against HIV/AIDS, we have learned many things about healthcare, such as the important role culturally competent and compassionate primary care and research plays in preventing all types of disease and improving health outcomes. That’s why, as we look forward, HBHC will be taking strategic steps to increase its provision of comprehensive primary care (medical, behavioral and more) and wellness programs for all LGBTQ people, our allies and our families, and throughout the entire lifecyle—from birth through aging.

"As more and more of us are being united or married under law and creating families; as the colors, languages and religious views of our community become more diverse; and, as more of us are aging proudly and beautifully, HBHC is excited about what the future holds for the LGBTQ community and is proud to be of service as the LGBTQ community’s lifeline."

—The Rev. Stan Sloan, CEO of Chicago House: "Chicago House has had the great fortune of seeing HIV/AIDS medications move from being non-existent to being available and life-sustaining. We see the future of HIV/AIDS continuing along this same positive trajectory, and we are building programs that help to further its potential.

"Employment programs, programs that help people ‘graduate’ from entitlements and supports, and ‘self-care management’ need to be our emphasis now, creating spots in the HIV/AIDS systems for those newly diagnosed and most desperately in need of care and support. Also, of course, we still look forward to the day even those programs are not needed … when the cure is discovered and widely available.

—Liz Thomson, assistant director at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Gender & Sexuality Center: "At UIC, we’ve had monthly testing and sexual health education through the Gender & Sexuality Center. My hope is that in the future, students see being tested as normative as their annual dentist visit; that the fear and stigma is lessened. I also hope funding is increased for all levels—prevention education, testing services and post-testing care."

—David Ernesto Munar, AIDS Foundation of Chicago president: "After 30 years, the fight against HIV/AIDS has reached a critical juncture. We now have the essential tools and technical know-how to make unprecedented progress reducing new HIV infections and saving lives.

"The recent high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS at the United Nations resulted in the nations in the world agreeing to a declaration to increase HIV treatments to 15 million people with HIV/AIDS by 2015, and our own country’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy aims to reduce new infections by 25 percent and ensure that 90 percent of HIV-positive people receive needed testing, care, treatments and support by that same year. Reaching these targets is doable. Our actions in the period ahead will define our generation in the face of the worse epidemic in human history. This crisis has caused too much suffering and loss to relent until we have successfully changed the story of the pandemic."

—Andy Thayer, Gay Liberation Network co-founder: "Looking to the next 30 years, I believe that the most important factor affecting this country’s response to AIDS, and any reform struggle which demands significant resources from the public or private sector, is economics, and more specifically, class. The overall trends since the mid-1970s have not only been the United States’ economic decline relative to most other powers, but also a gradual decline in the rate of return on productive investment worldwide. Sure there will be expansions and contractions, speculative bubbles and busts, but the overall economic trend over the past four decades is downwards.

"And this affects AIDS and other issues how? Already we’ve seen the start of attacks on social service programs across Illinois; more direct attacks in places like Wisconsin and Ohio; and truly titantic struggles in places like Greece and Spain.

"With the U.S. government showing no signs of giving up its military domination of the world—spending as much on its military as the rest of the world combined—there is now a bipartisan consensus that says that it is "necessary" to begin direct attacks on nearly all social service programs, from Medicare to Social Security. We already live in a country where your life expectations and opportunities are increasingly governed by what class you are born into, and it looks likely that this will accentuate over the next few decades. If you are among the tiny minority of LGBTs who are well-to-do, this may not affect you much, but for the rest of us, it very much will.

"Finally, as history has repeatedly shown, economic crises have a nasty way of giving birth to nasty, scapegoating political movements. The most extreme example of this was the rise of the Nazis, which virtually obliterated the epicenter of the world’s first gay movement in Weimar Germany. I’m not saying that anything like this is on the horizon right now, but the scapegoating politics of the Tea Partiers, especially towards immigrants and public sector workers, shows that we can ill afford to be complacent.

"If we are going to ensure a scientific, compassionate response to AIDS, we must be vigilant in preventing these irrational elements from gaining the upper hand in U.S. politics. One necessary lesson we must learn from the history of all such previous scapegoating movements, is that ‘mainstream’ politicians of both parties will not do this for us. In fact, their behavior is often directly responsible for enabling the rise of these irrationalist elements."

—Julio Rodriguez, Association of Latino Men for Action board president: "As a 50-plus Latino gay man, when I think about the first time, I really learned about HIV/AIDS, when someone I knew, my friend Lau, found out he was positive in 1986. I just couldn’t help think that this horrible thing that was happening to my friends and my community, that people everywhere wouldn’t find it in their hearts to look pass their prejudices, ignorance and politics to do something to help; unfortunately, I was very wrong.

"Now years later, I still find myself asking the same questions. Why are people continuing to let prejudice, ignorance and political ideology guide the way they look at this disease and the people whose lives it still affects and the individuals who are impacted but invisible to society, like the undocumented or immigrants? With every new law that gets passed in this country that moves the gay-rights movement further towards true equality, I am concerned that some individuals have forgotten that we still have members of our community who are fighting every day to get access to vital medications, good basic healthcare.

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