Washington Governor’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS Drafts ‘Blunt’ Open Letter to State’s Gay Men
In response to a "resurgence" of high-risk behaviors, the Washington state Governor's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS has drafted an open letter to the gay community challenging gay men to "take responsibility" to prevent the spread of HIV, the Seattle Times reports. The "blunt" letter, which the council aims to publish in gay newspapers across the state in June during Gay Pride Week, was written by the gay members on the council but is signed by and received "full support" from the entire 21-member council. "It's time to take responsibility again," the letter says, adding, "We were in the same position 20 years ago. Gay men took to the streets and demanded change and responsibility from each other. And it worked. Gay men changed their behaviors." The letter continues, "Don't put at risk all that has been accomplished. Don't fret away what many of our brothers have died for." The letter also pinpoints and responds to various "excuses" among gay men for not practicing safe sex, including the belief that HIV "is manageable." The letter says that HIV medications can have "harsh" side effects, medicines "are failing," drug-resistant HIV "is emerging and AIDS deaths are on the rise again."
Rising Rates 'Probable'
According to health officials, the number of HIV infections in the state is "probably" rising, due in part to a decreased fear of HIV/AIDS now that medications can keep HIV-positive people "healthy for many years." A recent anonymous survey conducted by Public Health-Seattle and King County indicated that "many" of the 1,000 gay men -- both HIV-negative and HIV-positive -- who were interviewed participated in unprotected and "anonymous" sex, were infected with a sexually transmitted disease or used drugs that "decrease inhibition." Council member Karl Swenson, who helped write the letter, said, "We're saying you can enjoy sex, but you have a responsibility not only to yourself, but to your partners to remember that HIV plays a role in your decision making." The council's executive committee is expected to edit the letter and give it final approval later this month. Swenson said the council expected a negative reaction from some gay men because "[p]eople don't like being told how to live their lives" and because some of the letter's signatories are not gay. The council also has written a separate letter, which focuses in part on how HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects African Americans, that will be distributed in minority communities to reach black gay men (King, Seattle Times, 5/15).