By, George L. Askew, MD, FAAP, Chief Medical Officer, and Kevin Powell, Health Policy Intern, Office of the Chief Medical Officer
“During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains.”
-President Barack Obama
Did you know that June is not only National Men’s Health Month, but also Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month? On May 30, the White House issued a proclamation by President Obama, declaring June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, saying his administration “stands alongside all those who fight for LGBT rights.”
The President has issued the Pride Month proclamation every year since taking office in 2009. People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are members of every community. They are diverse, come from all walks of life, and include people of all races and ethnicities, all ages, all socioeconomic statuses, and live in diverse geographic locations in the United States.
The perspectives and needs of LGBT people should be routinely considered in public health efforts to improve the overall health of every person and eliminate health disparities. Men’s health is an important matter when it comes to the LGBT community. More than thirty years after the first diagnosis of AIDS in the United States, gay and bisexual men of all races continue to be most severely affected by HIV nationwide.
In fact, more than half (57 percent) of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States are gay or bisexual men, including those who inject drugs. Many of the men who have been infected do not have any symptoms for years. There is no better time than now, to celebrate the gay and bisexual men in our lives—our fathers, brothers, friends, sons, partners, husbands, and co-workers--and to raise awareness of this important health issue.
During LGBT Pride Month, events are held throughout the nation in cities big and small. Members of the LGBT community and their allies gather at festivals and parades to celebrate the progress that has been made, but also to remember that there is more work to be done. Homophobia, stigma, and discrimination can affect physical and mental health, as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people seek to obtain quality health services.
Such social barriers to health need to be addressed in multiple venues including health care settings, work places, and schools in order to increase opportunities for improving the health of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The ACA expands Medicaid to permit low-income individuals earlier access to treatment for HIV and eliminates preexisting condition limitations which have prevented many HIV-positive individuals from accessing private insurance.
As a result, in many states, a person living with HIV will no longer have to wait for an AIDS diagnosis in order to become eligible for Medicaid.
In harmony with Pride Month, the purpose of Men’s Health Month is to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 51 men will receive a diagnosis of HIV infection at some point in their lifetimes. Over the course of their lifetimes:
For all men, but especially men who have sex with men or men who are injection drug users, getting HIV tests, knowing their HIV status, and encouraging friends, family, and community to do the same are important steps in preventing the spread of HIV.
The CDC recommends that anyone at high risk for HIV from sexual activity or injection drug use should be tested at least once a year. Sexually active gay men may benefit from more frequent testing, such as every 3 to 6 months. HIV testing has never been easier. Today rapid tests are offered in clinics and at many other settings—like Pride events or in community service organizations and neighborhood clinics —with results in as little as 20 minutes. Two home testing kits are also available online or from drugstores; one is a rapid test. Too many gay and bisexual men with HIV—more than one-third—are HIV positive and don't know it. Knowing one's status and getting linked to treatment if positive are critical to protecting one's own health and that of one's sexual partner(s).
This month gives health care providers, public policy makers, the media, and individuals an opportunity to encourage men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury. CDC’s Let's Stop HIV Together campaign raises awareness about HIV and its impact on the lives of all Americans and fights stigma. Let’s Stop HIV Together is a part of the CDC’s 5-year Act Against AIDS campaign, which was launched in 2009 by the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services and CDC. The campaign highlights the fact that HIV touches every corner of American society and that people with the infection are part of the fabric of our families and valued members of our communities. Please take this opportunity to learn more and get involved. Talk with your friends and family about getting tested and protecting themselves.