Monday, March 30, 2009

Don't call us MSM's we're GAY!!!


Don’t Call us MSM’s..We’re GAY!


I recently attended the US Conference on AIDS in Ft. Lauderdale. This wonderful conference was sponsored by the United States Minority AIDS Council. Over 3,000 educators, doctors, social workers and people with AIDS attended. For three days I attended workshops, manned the Project Inform booth with a close friend, and spoke with dozens of new and old friends. Something was missing. The word GAY.


I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everyone from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and many federally funded AIDS Service Organizations (ASO’s) have recently removed the word “Gay” from their articles, charts and reports and replaced it with the more politically correct “MSM” (Men who have sex with Men.) This was done to reflect the growing population of men who do not identify themselves as gay but still by choice or fleeting profession, have sex with other men. Since J. L. King’s book, “On the Down Low”, there was a sudden awakening to the general public that many more men were having sex with other men.  Of course this came as no surprise to us in the gay community.  Many of us have heard sex partners, sometimes in the heat of gay sex, tell us they are not gay and we say to ourselves, “If you aren’t gay what are you doing with my penis in your mouth?”


On a more serious note we understand why this happened. Over the past few years more and more heterosexual men and women have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and what was once the “gay plague” had crossed the line into more mainstream America. We do understand that the message needs to be addressed to the heterosexual population, but we are different in our language, visual attractions and even sex acts. While ten years ago ads for prevention and condom use had scantily clad gay men, they are now presented in a watered down version that is as bland as seat belt or littering advertising. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.


To call gay men MSM’s is to define us by one thing only; with whom we have sex with. It denies us the connection to our rich history and heritage of civil rights advancements, acceptance, and religious awakening. "MSM" is a sex act, but "gay" refers to a
community. And HIV prevention takes a community. The Gay Community offers an incentive to stay free of HIV, a responsibility to the community to not spread HIV to others, and to keep our community healthy. “MSM” offers nothing like that, as it ignores and negates our sense of community, and relegates us to acts of sex. That is one of the aims of the right-wing in our country, and the term "MSM” plays right into that.


The statistics reflect the fact that slightly more than half of the new cases are now people of color and heterosexual women. Many of these heterosexual women have been infected by men on the “down low.” In our opinion this is part of the gay HIV disease.  Was it a shortcut that government agencies have substituted ‘MSM” for ‘gay”, or was it a concerted effort to make us invisible again? We believe it was the latter. MSM’s did not picket Ronald Regan’s inauguration. MSM’s did not chain themselves to the doors of the Food and Drug Administration demanding more research and faster access for HIV drugs. It was our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who knew that if they didn’t do it, no one else would. MSM’s who do not identify themselves as gay can serve in the military, get secret CIA and FBI clearance, adopt children, inherit tax free, and do not have to have the special arrangements we do to visit loved ones in the hospital. 


Our prevention programs were successful decades ago but have fallen flat in the gay male community lately with the largest increase in gay HIV cases being in young white men. In Broward County, American Red Cross HIV educators cannot use the word “gay” or “homosexual” during public school information sessions. According to statistics from the state health department twenty five percent of all new HIV cases in Florida are men under the age of 22.  When the target group is ignored, there is no way you can hit a home run or even score.


Put the “GAY” back in AIDS, and keep our heads high and fight together with MSM’s, PWA’s and others and be there for cure.

Have a peaceful week.


Nate Klarfeld

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