Show A Little Love

In her “Don’t Forget MSM” blog yesterday, Margaret Dadian writes “Where human rights suffer, so does public health.”  She writes beautifully, drawing the link between human rights for men who have sex with men (MSM) worldwide and the right to healthy living.

Today is December 10, Human Rights Day.  There are any number of human rights issues that can be written about, talked about, fought for. Why should everyone care about MSM? For me personally, it comes from the basic belief that all people have the right to live fully: without fear, without hiding, with support and love, and yes: with a right to sexual pleasure. And to live in health. Why should it matter who you love, who you choose to be intimate with?  It amazes me that people get so irate and uncomfortable with the idea of chosen, loving intimacy between two men.  If you want to be outraged, do so at the fact that children are being orphaned by HIV/AIDS, that girls barely in their teens are sold into sexual slavery, that women are beaten and killed by their husbands and boyfriends every day.

On days when I look through rose colored glasses, I see that my children are growing up in a changing time; they are in the loving presence of their many “aunts and uncles”, close friends of ours who are same-sex parent couples, mothers and fathers to my kids’ classmates.

From a professional standpoint, as someone working in public health, it just makes sense to care.  But the reality is different from the comfortable world my kids live in.  Sure, there is more legal protection for MSM here in the United States, possibly more awareness and acceptance in some parts of the country, and arguably better access and openness within the medical community in the U.S. for at-risk populations (compared to many other countries, where consensual sex between men is illegal). Among the many individuals and organizations working to improve MSM’s access to quality care are my colleagues at JSI, who are providing capacity building assistance (CBA) to community-based organizations to help improve the delivery and effectiveness of HIV prevention services for high-risk populations; who have studied HIV prevalence among MSM in Massachusetts; and who have developed practical recommendations for HIV prevention and care for MSM communities from Maine to Minnesota. Read more about JSI’s work with MSM here.

Yet, now at the close of 2010 we still have a long way to go, and the need for action is urgent, both around prevention and care/treatment. According to a September 2010 CDC Fact Sheet, men who have sex with men is “the only risk group in the U.S. in which the annual number of new HIV infections is increasing….the rate of new HIV diagnoses among MSM in the U.S is more than 44 times that of other men”.

The challenges are manifold: a combination of high prevalence, complacency, fear and discrimination conspire to threaten the lives of the many MSM who don’t know they are living with HIV, or are afraid to seek out services. Young MSM of color are disproportionately infected and affected.  CDC’s factsheet says “Start talking”. Really that’s the least we can do. But it’s so essential. So stand up for yourself and for others, start talking, and keep working for everyone’s right to live freely and in health. To health — A la santé!