I recently spoke at a community event, and I was surprised by some of the questions that I was greeted with. Men who had lived through the earliest days of HIV/AIDS seemed to be very uneducated about the true risks that they faced as sexually active gay men. In addition, younger gay men seemed relatively misinformed about the realities of HIV/AIDS having grown up in a time where the media portrays the virus as a “manageable condition” – often downplaying the true seriousness of the threat.
In an era that has been increasingly focused on HIV/AIDS and its risks, we’ve also lost sight of the real threat that other STD’s play in our community. We seldom hear of the rising syphilis rates in our community, or the impact that other STD’s have on our overall sexual health.
Indeed, many men seem to think that HIV is their only real risk or worry. All of this has reinforced to me the need for continuing education. The question, though, is how do you educate a community that already thinks it knows everything?
The work that I do at AID Atlanta is centered on educating gay/bisexual men to the realities of HIV/AIDS. I seek to have our community be informed of the serious threat that HIV poses, and the reality that we can turn that tide. Many in our community are surprised to learn that someone in the US is infected with HIV every 9.5 minutes. Others are surprised to learn that 1 in 5 people don’t know their HIV status. All are reminded that HIV/AIDS is a threat to anyone who is sexually active, and is a responsibility that we all bear.
Just as students are challenged with deciding who they want to be, our community faces the same challenge. Do we want to be one of the “cool kids” who are too busy worrying about their social agenda and outfit choices to pick up a book? Do we want to be one of the “honor roll students” who is always striving to know more and to do better? Will we be the “class clown” who offers up little more than a distraction to the others? Or will we take up our mantle as “student leaders” – setting the tone for what other students will follow?
We can influence our peers to be better educated and more involved, but it first requires that we take steps in that direction.
So, as the leaves begin to change and daylight shortens, I find myself eager to go back to school. I’m eager to continue to educate our community. I’m looking for new “students”. Are you willing to take up the challenge of education? Are you interested in how you can impact our community? Do you want to share information with your friends about HIV/AIDS? AID Atlanta is looking for some “star students” – is that you?
If you are interested, please contact me. Together we can educate ourselves and our community. Your willingness to take that first step is all that is involved in change. You’ll be surprised at how you can educate others simply by educating yourself.
Steven Igarashi is the Gay Men’s Outreach Program Coordinator for AID Atlanta. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.