The human immunodeficiency virus impacts many different communities throughout the nation and world – most prevalently the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Kevin Stilley is a Manhattan resident who tested positive for HIV in August 1985, after engaging in unprotected male-to-male sex.
Stilley said he remembered when the epidemic first hit the LGBT community in the early 1980s. He said HIV was in the back of the minds of some men during that time, but for the first three to four years of HIV being around, gay men didn’t know how it spread.
“We were scared,” Stilley said. “We originally thought it was ‘poppers,’ the anal nitrates we would snort. That was a huge part of the gay culture back then. Aside from the fear though, there was just general ignorance. We always asked why. Why were these things happening to us? What’s going on? Why were otherwise healthy young men dying so young?”
Once Stilley tested positive for HIV, he said his lifestyle didn’t really change. He said unlike most people who tested positive, he wasn’t sick. He didn’t exhibit pneumonia-like symptoms like many of the others.
He said he wishes he could say he started having safe sex immediately, but he didn’t. The only thing he did do immediately was tell his partners he was HIV positive.
“The HIV/AIDS epidemic devastated the LGBT community in the 1980s,” Brandon Haddock, coordinator for the K-State LGBT Resource Center and a gay male, said. “Thousands of gay men lost their lives because this was a seemingly new disease that many saw as only affecting the LGBT community. For the most part, after the first few cases were being reported, and even as deaths rose, the majority of Americans seemed indifferent because the illness was affecting the ‘other,’ those people that they would not or could not identify with. There was a lot of stigma and discrimination. People didn’t want to touch anyone out of fear of contracting the illness.”
Haddock said HIV has personally affected him, even though he is HIV negative. He said he grew up during the epidemic in the ‘80s and helped educate others about HIV.
“I have watched friends die,” Haddock said. “I have been there for friends who have found out that they are HIV positive. I was gay, so it made it so much more frightening. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, most people thought that if you were gay, you [had or] were going to contract HIV. It was this palpable fear and stigma. Perhaps one of my most dreaded memories is driving four hours in the middle of the night to get to a friend who had just received a positive HIV result. It really shakes you up.”
History of HIV in the LGBT community
In the 1980s and early into the late 1990s, HIV disproportionately affected the gay male population. One reality that remains is that gay men are affected more than others. A 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study titled “HIV Among Gay, Bisexual and Other Men Who Have Sex With Men,” states that “gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are more severely affected by HIV than any other group in the United States.”
From 2008 to 2010, men having sex with other men accounted for 63 percent of the estimated new HIV infections in the U.S. and 79 percent of the 38,825 new reported cases of newly infected men during those years.
According to the Human Rights Campaign from 2011, 1-5 gay and bisexual men in 21 major U.S. cities were infected with HIV and nearly half were unaware of their infection. The number of new infections among young black gay and bisexual men was two times greater than young white gay or bisexual men.
Bethany Knipp, Manhattan resident, president of the Flint Hills chapter of PFLAG and lesbian, said members of the LGBT community are often ones affiliated with HIV or AIDS, even though the community isn’t the only one affected by it.
“It’s a notion that has been perpetuated partly because people still have the notion that gay men are promiscuous, despite the fact that that’s a generalization,” Knipp said.
The LGBT community is not the only HIV positive community
According to the CDC Annual HIV Surveillance Report from 2012, the most recent surveillance report released from 2008 to 2011, there was an increase of newly infected Asian Americans. The rates for African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Native Hawaiians/other Pacific Islanders and persons of multiple races decreased. The general trend shows all races and nationalities are affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as all age groups, no matter their sexual orientation.
Additionally, the CDC report stated that the number of people infected with HIV or AIDS in the state of Kansas is between 5.2-9.9 people per 100,000 people. This is less than Missouri, which has 10-19.9 people per 100,000 people.
The rates of people infected who are more than 55 years old is decreasing, due to their body moving into Stage 3 HIV, known as AIDS. This older generation of people infected is often also immune to many of the HIV/AIDS drugs on the market.
HIV is s a virus spread through body fluids that affects specific cells of the immune system, called CD4 cells or T cells. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. When this happens, the HIV infection leads to AIDS and those infected contract common illnesses like pneumonia that can lead to death.
Stilley said he is immune to most HIV/AIDS medications, because he has taken almost everything that has been released. His body has become resistant to the medications.
“The effects of many of the HIV/AIDS medications are similar to oral or IV chemo[therapy],” Stilley said.
Lesbian women are not as disproportionately affected by HIV as gay men are. But in the 1980s, many lesbian women would come to the aid of the men who were infected. Now, medical advances have progressed and have allowed for medical and clinical centers and treatments to assist those living with HIV or AIDS.
Prevention of and resources for HIV and AIDS
Local resources offered depend on the need of the person. One place to start might be a medical professional’s office. For people who are regularly sexually active or those who use intravenous drugs, getting tested at least every six months is highly recommend. Also, getting tested when you begin sleeping with a different partner is also highly recommended. Lafene Health Center will test students for HIV/AIDS for less than $50. There is also free HIV testing around World AIDS Day, which is annually on Dec. 1.
“HIV tests are often free and it’s just a finger prick,” Knipp said. “One can know the results in minutes. It’s also important to get tested for other sexually transmitted diseases, the frequency depending on a [person’s] number of partners. Also, it’s as simple as communication. Communication before a sexual encounter about any STDs is imperative, despite being something that can be hard to do.”
Haddock agreed. He said all people should get tested and know their status. He said if people don’t talk about STDs and HIV with their partners, they can’t begin to understand how deeply STDs and HIV can affect them.
“One night of pleasure is not worth about 30 years of hassle – hassle putting it mildly,” Stilley said. “It’s just not worth it. Protect yourself. No one is going to look out for you but you. Evaluate your life and your choices and make a conscious choice to have a future.”