Every year since 1988, Dec. 1 has been the designated day to raise awareness for AIDS prevention and remember those we’ve lost to the illness. HIV/AIDS has long been stigmatized, particularly in the black and gay communities. The disease has plagued many underserved communities because of self-righteous stigmas, lack of resources and unresponsiveness. Former President Ronald Reagan took years to address the plague that was wiping out young men and women around the world, and when he finally did, connected the disease to a failure in morality.    

“But let’s be honest with ourselves. AIDS information cannot be what some call ‘value neutral.’ After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don’t medicine and morality teach the same lessons?”

While Reagan was chastised years later for his comments, that same self-righteous sentiment is still in the minds of many. As we recognize this World AIDS Day, it’s important to recognize the lingering stigmas and make positive strides in the right direction. People that have a lot of sex are somehow considered deserving of a terminal disease. Religious devotees use the disease as a reason to attack the LGBT community and community arenas that could be a source of peace and hope for many become a place of fear and isolation.   

Currently, black Americans are still largely carrying the burden of HIV/AIDS. According to the CDC, in 2010 African Americans accounted for roughly 44 percent of all new HIV infections amongst adults and adolescents. Considering we make up about 12 percent of the population, these numbers are staggering. The number for African American women has decreased from 2008 to 2010. Black women made up about 29 percent (6,100) of estimated new HIV infections in 2010, a 21 percent decrease from 2008. About 87 percent of those infections were from heterosexual contact. Black gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 72 percent of all new infections amongst African American men in 2010, and more new HIV infections affected the young (13-24) black gay and bisexual subgroup than any other subgroup of gay and bisexual men.     

Although the statistics are certainly alarming, there’s no doubt that many positive strides have been made in the black community. Magic Johnson has spent 23 years living with the disease, serving as a symbol of hope for thousands that are living with the HIV/AIDS, using his platform to raise awareness across the world. As acceptance for the LGBT community has grown within the black community over the past few years, so has HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. PrEP is a prevention strategy that’s become popular amongst gay and bisexual men of color. HIV-negative people take HIV antiretrovirals — drugs that are usually used to treat HIV infections — on a daily basis to reduce the risk of an HIV infection. Former Moesha star Sheryl Lee Ralph announced her partnership with OraQuick, an in-home HIV testing product, and will issue 10,000 kits to several historically black colleges and across communities in the South.      

Our community has a long battle ahead, but through compassion, understanding and the ability to correct those that try to shame others, we have to power to continue making positive changes.