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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Guest Blog: HIV/AIDS Prevention Efforts Must Continue in New Mexico

This is a guest blog by Marshall Martinez, who is 27 years old and lives in Albuquerque, NM. He has been an activist in community organizing around many topics for over fifteen years, beginning with HIV/AIDS Prevention work when he was 12 years old.

Prevention is everywhere. To prevent DWIs, call a designated driver. To prevent lung cancer, stop smoking. We are up to our ears in prevention messages—all serious, and necessary. But in my world, something very important and deadly isn’t being talked about the way it used to be. And the efforts are not there to stop it. Recently one of the most effective programs for HIV/AIDS prevention, MPower, was shut down, with no legitimate explanation given to the community it serves.

HIV/AIDS is completely and totally avoidable today; so why isn’t anyone telling people how to do so anymore?

Well that’s not entirely true, there are the occasional teachers who have conversations with students during health class, or biology, about how to protect yourself from HIV/AIDS. But in the community of gay and bisexual men, 18-35, there isn’t anyone doing that work anymore. I have seen this declining for years here in Albuquerque. Why aren’t there people going to where these men are to explain safer sex methods to them? To simply remind them that HIV/AIDS is not simply a condition one can live with? Why don’t we have people going to the gay bars in ABQ to hand out condoms and tell these men that they can have fun while still ensuring their health and happiness?

Men account for as many as 3 of every 4 HIV/AIDs cases. Even though this disease affects women as well, the population most in need of this outreach, arguably, is still men who have sex with men. Have we given up on the message of protection? This has been on my mind for a while now, and recent events have only served to disappoint me even more.

The community outreach and prevention program at New Mexico AIDS Services (NMAS) has lost two staff members. This department previously tasked only five people with reaching gay and bisexual men, homeless populations, women, intravenous drugs users and Spanish-speaking communities. It now expects positive outcomes from stretching three people thin. Recently a pledge was unveiled; that by the 2015 we would have an entire generation without HIV. After this rallying cry, we’re cutting back on programs rather than stepping it up?

We cannot give up on this. The only way to end this horrific disease is to stop people from getting it. We have to care for those living with it, daily, with compassion. We have to ensure they have access to healthy food, decent housing, and health care whenever needed. But we cannot lose sight of the most important piece of this war: stopping people from contracting the virus to begin with.

One of the most successful methods of prevention that we know of has been the NMAS MPower Project that created a safe space for gay and bisexual men 18-30 to gather and build bonds of friendship. Through structured prevention programs and talks, with the added benefit of peer relationships, this program has created generations of men who take safe sex seriously. Men who care not only about their own health but about the health of their friends, and in turn help keep each other focused on living healthier lifestyles -- in a way that only the bonds of friendship plus education can.

So if this program is so successful, why then was it shut down?

Why are the brilliant and brightly lit faces of these young men stuck scrambling for places to gather in order to maintain their own bonds? It is beyond my understanding that there could be any legitimate reason for shutting down such a program. Every day is a pivotal day in the life of a young man who is gay or bisexual. HIV transmission hasn’t taken a day off in more than 20 years, so why would our prevention programs?

This community, the LGBT community, and Albuquerque as a whole -- for these are your sons and brothers, your cousins and nephews -- needs to step up and ask for, no, demand more responsible actions. The organizations tasked with the goal of reducing HIV/AIDS transmission are publicly funded as well as privately, and like any non-profit that purports to represent a community interest, are accountable to the community as a whole.

The only way we will ever overcome this terrible disease that maims and kills, that tears apart families and causes suffering, is to prevent people from contracting it to begin with. The activist in me wants to put on an ACT UP T-shirt and scream at the top of my lungs, but I’m not sure that is the solution.

Instead, I simply pose these question: After watching people die slowly of this awful disease for over twenty years, shouldn’t we try harder to stop them from getting it? Shouldn’t we be able to look to the organizations charged by the state, New Mexico AIDS Services, and others, to make this happen? IF they won’t, then shouldn’t we stand up as a community and make it happen for ourselves? It is our brothers who are dying, after all.

This is a guest blog by Marshall Martinez, who has served on the boards of multiple non-profit organizations including Equality New Mexico, NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, The Albuquerque Social Club and PFLAG Albuquerque, as well as having years of involvement in the Democratic Party.

Marshall has an alter-ego for the past few years, LaRhya Daniels, as he has recently taken a new direction and approach with activism, performing in Drag Shows to raise money and awareness about the issues he has always been passionate about. LaRhya Daniels is the current Miss New Mexico Gay Pride 2011, and can be contacted via the ABQpride.com website to reach either "side" of Marshall for upcoming events as a speaker or performer.

If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

February 9, 2011 at 06:32 PM in GLBT Rights, Guest Blogger, Healthcare, Youth | Permalink

Comments

I heard that Socorro Mental Health is closing down. We have a Republican Governor and it is that cruel ideology that dictates how we live now.

Posted by: qofdisks | Feb 9, 2011 9:06:47 PM

Thank you Marshall for this great post reminding me about this horrible disease. Not being out and about as much as in the past, I have gotten used to the assumption these matters to protect others from HIV/AIDs is still fully funded, wrong assumption. I think it is perfect you wrote this piece the week of Reagan's birthday. He is getting much praise by our democratic president and it disgusts me, basically he has many deaths on his soul for ignoring the HIV/AIDS in the initial days. Be well Marshall! Be safe. Be full of love.

Posted by: mary ellen | Feb 9, 2011 10:46:34 PM

This is DEADLY!

Posted by: Pruitt | Feb 10, 2011 1:48:40 AM

I ahve known Marshall since he was in high school in Alamogordo,need I say more. Excellent piece Marshall. Educating the public about prevention and protection is foremost. but HIV/Aids always seem to not be taken seriously. As we educate the public on breast cancer and all cancers. HIV should have the same treatment in making sure we, the public have the correct information. Thanks Marshall, good job as always.

Posted by: Stephanie DuBois | Feb 10, 2011 8:32:29 AM