Friday, September 27, 2013

National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day - HIV and Social Justice

Friday, September 27, 2014 - National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

It's been a little over three decades since HIV/AIDS was first discovered in the early 80s and we've come a long way on many fronts.

From the very start, blame for the virus was assigned to the gay community. Initially labeled Gay Related Immune Disease (GRID), many saw HIV as a sign of, or punishment for, what they considered immoral behavior. To a society characterized by explicit homophobia, the gaunt, drawn faces of AIDS victims were the gay community's scarlet letter, a public sign of their transgression. And for the gay community, watching their friends and loved ones fall before the feet of this great plague, HIV became a rallying cry for the LGBT movement.

Fast forward to 2014. Marriage equality passed in Maine by popular vote. The Defense of Marriage Act has been crippled. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in many states throughout the nation enjoy protections from many forms of discrimination. HIV has fallen from the spotlight in the wake of increasingly effective treatments.

While HIV is still frequently considered a 'gay disease', it does not often bear the physical stamp of a wasting disease that it once did. In part as a result of this, the disease has slipped from the public eye. Meanwhile efforts to shift the narrative have helped to defray the stigma that continues to surround the virus.

The 'medicalization' of HIV has increasingly helped move the public discourse around HIV from one of moral indecency to one of biological illness. This has the potential to reduce the malleable stigma that people living with HIV continue to face today. But it's important that while redefining HIV as a biomedical issue, we recognize that the disease, and the disproportionate toll it has taken on the gay community, is a symptom of something far deeper, something enmeshed in the very fabric of our society: marginalization. In short, HIV is not JUST a medical issue, it is a social justice issue as well.

To this day, HIV is felt most poignantly by the gay community, and gay men of color in particular. The disparate spread of the disease is a symptom of continued and historical stigma and discrimination, leveled against the gay community. Less explicit now, but present nonetheless. Present in loaded silences, judging looks, off hand remarks and subtle rejection. Present in the disproportionate incidence of bullying and harassment, of depression and suicive, and of HIV.

The epidemic of HIV within the gay community is stigma made flesh. Stigma etched into the very cells of the bodies that have borne its weight. And while those bodies may no longer waste from AIDS as they once did, their numbers continue to grow. They face a double stigma, both due to their sexual orientation as well as their HIV status. They face a lifetime of grueling treatment. They face rapid aging and cognitive decline.

The disproportionate spread of HIV within the gay community is a social injustice. One that requires the full weight of the LGBT movement and advocates for equality to redress. In honor of Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day ponder this, and pledge yourself to ending HIV. Join the Down East AIDS Network and many others in combatting stigma and discrimination; in fighting for social justice; in realizing the end of HIV.

Kenney Miller
Executive Director
Down East AIDS Network

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The right car for the right job...

For those unfamiliar with strategic planning a strong mission and vision are crucial to an organization's success. We can think of the strategic planning process as a road trip. On this trip:
  • vision represents your destination - where you're going, what you want to achieve
  • the plan is your road map - how you'll get there, exactly what you'll do to achieve your vision, what turns you'll take, how many miles you'll go
  • the mission is your vehicle - what will actually get you there, a broad statement of your reason for existing
Basically, you need to make sure that your car is up for your journey.
Since the Down East AIDS Network was founded in 1987 our mission has remained the same:

To support those affected by HIV and education and inform the public to prevent the spread of the disease.

To this day this mission remains at the core of what we do. Yet over the past 25 years times have changed. Battles have been fought and won, new medicines developed, new laws passed and new issues have emerged. Changing times require adaptation to continue to be a positive force, to continue to be relevant.

In light of the changing nature of funding for HIV services, advances in medicine, the Affordable Care Act and its effects, and ineffective prevention paradigms the Board and leadership of the Down East AIDS Network have been working to update DEAN's mission and lay out a vision for the world we want to create. This has involved a lot of review of what we do, discussion with experts and clients, and reflection on the path forward.

In this final phase of the visioning process we are seeking public input. Be a part of the new and shiny DEAN! Tell us your thoughts!

Potential themes from the new mission and vision may include:
  • realizing health and social equity, in effect addressing the uneven distribution of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and other health disparities
  • promoting health and wellbeing among and empowering those marginalized communities that have been most impacted by HIV and Hepatitis C
  • celebrating diversity and addressing stigma and discrimination, including the stigma leveled against people living with HIV and those communities most impacted by HIV
  • ending AIDS-related deaths and arresting the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other health disparities that predominantly affect those marginalized communities most impacted by HIV

Living this mission would involve working closely with those marginalized communities that have been hit hardest by HIV over the last 25 years including: people living with HIV; the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; people who inject drugs; youth; and racial and ethnic minorities such as the Native American tribes.

This mission further recognizes that health and public health outcomes are a combination of individual, community and social factors ranging from access to oppression, from poor choices to poor policies, and from risky behavior to mental health issues.  In recognizing this our work will adapt to reflect this understanding, working with communities at multiple levels to address the underpinnings of disproportionate rates of HIV, Hepatitis C, Substance Use and other health disparities. More often this will take the shape of providing community-level services, as opposed to one-on-one case management: facilitating collaboration education, advocacy and action to make a difference at the community level.

Moreover, we feel that this mission will enhance DEAN's sustainability. Where most AIDS Service Organizations have been absorbed into hospital networks or health centers, DEAN remains staunchly independent and focused on the needs of the community. In updating DEAN's mission we hope to be able to maintain that independent voice for a long time to come in order to continue to provide high quality, personalized services to people living with HIV and promote the health and wellbeing of those marginalized communities most impacted by the disease. By reframing our work the new mission may make us more attractive to financial supporters and further enable to submission of successful grant proposals to help make DEAN work.