The following post comes to us via Ava Budavari-Glenn, a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
It was the 1980s. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, thousands and thousands of people were dying from an illness that had never been seen before. The diagnosis was a death sentence. As soon as you had it, you would die painfully and quickly. The disease was AIDS, caused by a virus called HIV.
In the United States, this disease ravaged the LGBTQ community; gay and bisexual men were the hardest hit. The Reagan administration failed to acknowledge the disease, until Ronald Reagan’s press secretary laughed about it and called it the “gay plague.” Tired of the government’s inaction, the people decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the grassroots organization ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987.
With modern medical treatment, people with HIV can live pretty normal lives.
They protested, made targeted demands, and created poster campaigns. They formed a network of community organizers in cities across the country, and employed radical protest strategies, such as the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which covered the National Mall with names of people who had died from the disease. They focused their targeted efforts on specific politicians, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They did such an extensive amount of research that the activists essentially became scientists themselves. They were able to lower drug prices and get the FDA to approve experimental drugs for HIV at a quicker pace. They educated, diminished social stigma, and perhaps most important, supported medical advances that reduced AIDS-related deaths.
And finally, in 1996, scientists discovered the treatment that turned HIV from a death sentence to a chronic illness. Finally, after 15 years of tragic deaths, obsessive scientific research, and fiery activism, patients could live long and happy lives with a drug “cocktail” that could suppress the virus.
People died for our ability to have access to lifesaving HIV treatment. People fought for us to have the right to know our status and get help, to live long lives with the treatment that has been discovered. As shown in history, without treatment, the disease is fatal. Now that we have access to the treatment that so many people before us who lost their lives didn’t have, it is so, so important to get tested.
June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, a time to remember the importance of knowing your status, and an opportunity to make an appointment to get tested — especially if you’ve been putting it off. HIV tests are pretty fast and completely painless, with just a swab of the inside of your cheek or sometimes a blood sample.
And if you are HIV positive — that’s totally OK! With modern medical treatment, patients can live pretty normal lives. If you know your status, you can also prevent transmitting the virus to any potential partners. Condoms are essential in both protecting yourself from the virus and potentially spreading it to partners. There is a pill that can prevent HIV if you are at high risk, and another one to help prevent HIV if taken soon after potential exposure. Science is so cool!
Learn more here about living with HIV. Millions of others have it — you are definitely not alone. Getting the diagnosis can be upsetting for some people, but know that it does not reflect on who you are as a person, and there is treatment out there for you to live a longer, healthier life. We have come a long way since the 1980s in terms of our attitude toward — and treatment of — HIV. Empower yourself and get tested!
Any Planned Parenthood health center can help you reduce risk of transmitting or acquiring HIV. We offer condoms, HIV screening, education, and preventive medication, and can connect you to treatment if you test positive for the virus. More information on how and where to get tested can be found here.