This Pride Season, ‘Undetectable = Untransmittable’ Needs to Be Your Mantra
Generation Y and Z, it’s your turn to be AIDS activists. It’s great to celebrate Pride, have ridiculous amounts of sex and celebrate your awesome queer family — and that’s exactly what you need to do. But in the midst of the revelry, don’t forget that queer people are still dying of AIDS in the United States — and more will die under President Trump.
Just recently, Trump released his proposed budget for 2019. The budget would cut millions of dollars from federal funds and organizations that are actively fighting HIV/AIDS in America and the rest of the world. The proposed budget slashes funds from the AIDS Education and Training Centers (AETCs) and Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS), which operate under the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.
Countless HIV-positive people without health insurance depend on Ryan White to access HIV medication and services — I did. These programs help serve populations most burdened by HIV: transgender women and men of color who have sex with men.
Trump proposed slashing $35 million from American HIV/AIDS research and prevention efforts by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Trump wants to cut funding for the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program, which helps low-income people living with HIV and AIDS find housing. Trump also wants to cut U.S. global HIV/AIDS programs by $1 billion, which experts say could result in an estimated 1 million AIDS deaths worldwide.
We saw how much Trump cared about the needs of queer people living with HIV on World AIDS Day last year. In Trump’s official White House statement, he did not once mention LGBTQ Americans — despite the fact that we are the population most burdened and affected by HIV and AIDS in the United States. That erasure from the highest office in the country harms us. Queer identity has always been part of HIV and AIDS in America. You cannot fight the virus without addressing the specific needs of our community and our culture.
Trump’s own VP, Mike Pence, wrote in 2002 that “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act,” and suggested those funds “be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” — in other words, so-called conversion therapy, which nearly every credible medical institution has renounced as harmful, dangerous and unscientific.
So what can you do? How can you fight? You can tell everyone — literally everyone — this message: Undetectable = Untransmittable. An individual with an undetectable viral load — achieved by successfully taking daily HIV medication — is unable to transmit HIV. They are non-infectious and pose no risk to their partners, regardless of condom use or PrEP, the once-daily pill that prevents HIV transmission.
There are many reasons why the Undetectable = Untransmittable message isn’t being sung from the rooftops, by HIV service providers or queer media. Stigma, lack of education, cultural bias and the trauma of AIDS allow the risk of today’s HIV-positive folks on meds to go greatly exaggerated. Some organizations have said the meds “greatly reduce risk,” or that risk is “effectively zero.”
It’s zero. HIV-positive folks taking meds are unable to infect others.
In 2008, the Swiss Statement, authored by Dr. Pietro Vernazza and published by the Swiss Federal Commission for Sexual Health, was the first release of data confirming Undetectable = Untransmittable. Although the release was attacked by various agencies, its findings were affirmed by various studies including the PARTNER study, the most widely known to date. All these studies have been attacked with industry bias, politics and myths — but the evidence is real.
Yes, PrEP is a massive breakthrough. A pill that prevents HIV was unthinkable 20 years ago. But the current drug approved for PrEP, Truvada (more drugs are on the way), is a costly medication that many people most at risk of HIV — Black, Brown and undocumented queer people and transgender women without health insurance and low income — are unable to access. For this reason, Undetectable = Untransmittable is the biggest breakthrough since the start of the epidemic.
This Pride, spread the word: Undetectable = Untransmittable. U = U. If your local health department, HIV clinic or LGBTQ resource center has not released a statement about this breakthrough or does not have literature readily available about it, ask them why — and, if you need to, refer them to the Prevention Access website. Access Prevention has compiled a list of countries and organizations that have affirmed U = U — a list which now includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Getting this info out there is the next major task for HIV activists all over the world. I’m proud to take it on.