By Jeff Berry
I recently attended the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s 25th National Convention in San Francisco. NLGJA’s first convention took place in the city by the bay in 1990, so this year’s conference was aptly called Coming Home. The four-day meeting was filled with workshops, plenaries and programs for LGBT journalists looking to sharpen their skills, network and meet up with old friends.
I’ve worked in the HIV field for over 23 years, and participate in dozens of meetings, conferences and activities throughout the year and around the country, but all of them are related to HIV. This conference is refreshing for me because it’s not HIV-specific, and it allows me to break out of my “HIV bubble” and gain a renewed perspective. When you’ve worked in the same field and organization for 23 years like I have, you can easily become siloed in your work and vision myopic. Everything is seen through the lens of HIV, and you stand in danger of suffering from what I call “viral fatigue.”
Those of us in the broader LGBT community can undergo viral fatigue as well. If you’ve made it this far in reading this column, whether you’re HIV-negative or not, congratulations. People often get tired of hearing or talking about HIV – I know I do! “Isn’t that manageable now?” I often hear. Or, “Is that really a big deal anymore?” In this age of successful treatment of HIV to an undetectable viral load (which nearly eliminates the chance of transmitting the virus to others), and now PrEP, a one-pill-a-day medication that prevents those who are negative from acquiring the virus, maybe it’s time for us to just move on?
It would be nice to think so, but sadly, no. New HIV infections are increasing at alarming rates in certain subgroups, including young, gay black men and trans women. And it’s not necessarily because they are taking more risks – a recent study showed that young, gay, black men actually took fewer risks than their white counterparts, but saw more infections, because the sexual networks they interacted with had more people who were HIV-positive, and they therefore had more exposure to the virus.
We have a unique opportunity in our community to change the narrative, and steer the conversation in a new direction. It’s no longer enough to say “use a condom every time.” By having candid, open and honest conversations with our partners, our healthcare providers, and most of all with others in our community, we can gain a fresh perspective and a new outlook. If we take the time to learn about new prevention modalities, and understand that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to preventing HIV, then maybe we’ll be a little less “judgy” about the choices of others.
I admit I get a little viral fatigue now and then. But I never get tired of learning new things, gaining insight or a new perspective, and helping someone to look at something in a new and different way.