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By BTL Staff
A group of LGBT and ally bloggers, activists and community leaders announced June 20 that they were launching a new digital initiative to encourage HIV testing in the U.S. The project is titled “Test Me,” and will encourage every American to be tested on June 27 and to share their experience on social media with the hashtag “TestMe.”
“AIDS can be over, in our lifetimes. But it’s only getting bigger now, and we need to change its trajectory: together and right now,” said Teddy Partridge who runs the http://PolicyBear.com website. “Be a part of this conversation over the next nine days, won’t you? Help us make this happen, please.”
“It is preposterous that for far too long our movement has neglected our responsibilities to lead by example and get tested,” said Gregory Varnum, development director at Equality Michigan and one of the testing initiative organizers. “The #TestMe initiative is a great example of a simple action LGBT and Ally leaders can take to show young people that we all need to know our status.”
Nationwide, the CDC estimates that 1.1 million Americans are infected with HIV, and 20 percent of those infected are unaware they harbor the virus.
The issue of particular concern in the LGBT and ally community because of recently released prevalence studies and predictions which show the current cohort of 20-year-old men who have sex with men has an overall prevalence of 10 percent, and the African American sub-cohort of 20-year-old men who have sex with men at 20 percent prevalence.
The prediction from the Office of National AIDS Policy is that at current transmission trends, in 30 years, half of all men who have sex with men will be infected with HIV, while 70 percent of all black men who have sex with men will be infected.
Additionally, a 2010 study found that one in five gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in 21 U.S. cities was infected with HIV. Of those that were infected, 44 percent were unaware they were living with HIV.
A National Institutes of Health funded study has found that a person who is infected with HIV, but unaware of their infection, is 3.5 times more likely to transmit that infection.
“As part of a generation raised well after the HIV/AIDS crisis, I know that it’s easy to get the false impression that the LGBT community is past that time in our history,” said Adam Polaski, a NYC based writer and activist. “I’d like to see more organizations and media outlets prioritizing stories about HIV/AIDS and getting the facts out – one small part of that, maybe the first step toward this renewed community consciousness, is the #testme plan as part of National HIV Testing Day.”
“HIV has never gone away, yet a whole generation – gay, bi and straight – is unaware of the consequences of infection,” Lisa Derrick, a blogger with Firedoglake and the Huffington Post. “By participating in June 27th #TestMe National HIV Testing Day everyone, regardless of age or identification, can take the first step to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And in areas where HIV testing can carry a stigma, churches, labor unions and community groups getting tested can remove the stigma. Plus, let’s face it HIV can affect anyone–young, old, gay, straight or bi.”
“I’m 21,” says Eyad “Eddie” Alkurabi. “My generation should care about our health. Simple. Conversations about safer sex saves lives.”
“#TestMe is something everyone should ask their partner to do for each other. Knowledge is power,” says Seth Kaye, a Washington DC based activist.
The movement grew out of a conversation held during the Netroots Connect LGBT pre-convention. The event, now in its fifth year brings leading LGBT and Ally bloggers, journalists, activists and leaders of LGBT organizations together to discuss issues related to the community. In previous years, the event has given birth to other organizing movements like Scouts for Equality.
“The most important part of Netroots Nation Connect is the collaborations that develop at the event,” says Mike Rogers, director of the program as well as managing director of RawStory.com. “The TestMe Hashtag project continues the year tradition of frontline leaders gathering and creating change throughout the country. I am particularly proud of this year’s collaboration.”
Howard Dean, national organizations endorse #TestMe digital initiative
“We stand at a unique time in the history of the HIV epidemic,” said Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont and founder of Democracy for America. “We have the ability to stop the spread of this virus in its tracks, but the first step to doing that is getting people tested. I particularly encourage my friends who are gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, as well as transgender women, to get tested on June 27. Knowledge is power, but silence still equals death.”
The #TestMe initiation encourages people to get tested on June 27 and to share photos and observations about the testing on various social media platforms, using the #TestMe hashtag. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended since 2005 that all Americans ages 13-64 be tested at least annually. Those Americans at high risk, particularly gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men including transgender women, should be tested every three months.
“I don’t remember the early AIDS epidemic – I grew up in Kentucky, isolated from the genocide that was ravaging our community throughout the 80s and 90s,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL. “While many people think of that as ancient history, the epidemic is still killing our friends and neighbors at alarming rates. The #TestMe campaign is a great way for folks to play a simple but profound role in ending this epidemic once and for all – and I encourage everyone across the country to join in.”
“Nearly 1 in 5 people with HIV do not know they are infected,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “On National HIV Testing Day we encourage everyone to help raise awareness by spreading the word with #testme and getting tested yourself.”
“PFLAG National is proud to be a part of this broad coalition sharing the #TestMe National HIV Testing Day message on June 27,” said Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National. “Organizationally, our history is inextricably tied to the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the activism surrounding it. Individually, PFLAGers are committed to protecting the health and well-being of their LGBT loved ones; encouraging HIV testing is a part of that commitment.”
“Getting tested is the basic requirement to end this epidemic that has hurt our community in multiple ways, for far too long,” said Derek Geirson, founder of Equalize Youth. “To know my status is a responsibility not only to myself but also to my community. There’s no excuse. Test me!”
Equality Michigan, an LGBT rights organization in Detroit, has also endorsed the initiative.
Dean is not the only high profile individual who is supporting the initiative. Zach Wahls, an author and advocate for the LGBT community; as well as former Republican presidential candidate and openly gay man Fred Karger have endorsed the #TestMe project.
In addition, local politicians have also weighed in on the project. Chong-Anna Canfora, candidate for Lansing, Michigan’s City Council seat in the Fourth Ward, has also announced her support for the initiative.
“We know that Ingham County has the highest rates of HIV in Michigan — outside of metro Detroit,” said Canfora. “We have the ability to stop the march of this virus, and end the epidemic today; but it starts with everyone getting tested and knowing their HIV status. Early diagnosis leads to better health outcomes and less transmission of the virus. This is wise public health policy, and important personal health decisions. I am getting tested because I want to show the community that it’s easy, it’s free and, if you choose, it can be anonymous.”