World AIDS Day • December 1, 2021  

Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission Honors Those Who Have Died  from HIV/AIDS, Elevates the Dignity of Persons Living With HIV, and  Joins The Call To End The AIDS Epidemic By 2030 

Forty years ago, in June 1981, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published an article  describing five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in previously healthy young men in  Los Angeles. All five were gay. Two had died. The report was the first article describing what  soon would be called AIDS. Two years later, a retrovirus was identified as the cause. In 1990,  350,000 people died from AIDS. In 2005 and 2006, AIDS killed 1.95 million people each year. 

Nearly 80 million people worldwide have become infected with HIV since the start of the  epidemic, and more than 36 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses, including  680,000 people in 2020. 

On the 33rd World AIDS Day, December 1, 2021, the City of Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+  Commission joins all people of goodwill in remembering those who have lost their lives to  HIV/AIDS, honors those who are living with HIV, and joins the call to end the persistent  inequities that are slowing the progress towards the end of AIDS. 

Governments, policy-makers, and science have the tools needed to end the AIDS epidemic.  There is no cure for AIDS and there is no vaccine, but there are highly effective anti-retroviral  therapies that make the virus undetectable in a person with HIV and untransmittable to others.  However, there is not universal access to these life-saving medicines and the barriers continue  to be driven by discrimination, HIV-stigma and criminalization, homophobia, transphobia, and  sexism. 

Seventy-one (71) countries criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity, and 11  countries have a death penalty for the same. Fifteen countries criminalize gender identity  and/or expression of transgender people. Anti-LGBTQIA+ prejudice and the disempowerment  of women and girls are among greatest barriers to ending the AIDS crisis by preventing many  persons living with HIV from revealing who they are or otherwise seeking testing and/or  treatment. 

Thirty-five (35) states in the U.S. have HIV criminalization laws, including Pennsylvania, where  an HIV+ sex worker who “loiters in or within view of any public place for the purpose of being  hired to engage in sexual activity” can be convicted of a felony, but a sex worker who does not  have HIV would not face a felony charge. Pennsylvania’s prostitution law defines sexual  activity as “Includes homosexual and other deviate sexual relations.” 

In 2020, approximately 1.5 million (down from 3 million in 1997) people became infected with  HIV worldwide, 50% of who are women and girls. According to the Joint United Nations  Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), key populations are at far greater risk of becoming  infected with HIV. UNAIDS reports that the risk of acquiring HIV is 35 times higher among  people who inject drugs, 34 times higher for transgender women, 26 times higher for sex  workers, and 25 times higher among gay men and other men who have sex with men. These  key populations and their sexual partners account for 65% of HIV infections worldwide. 

Globally, 73% of persons living with HIV have access to anti-retroviral therapies, but only half  of all children with HIV have access to these life-saving medicines. 

The AIDS epidemic does not look the same in different regions and countries. According to  UNAIDS, in sub-Saharan Africa young women aged 15–24 years are twice as likely to be living  with HIV than men, and approximately 4,200 adolescent girls and young women aged 15–24  years became infected with HIV every week in 2020.  

In 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly 37,000  people became infected with HIV in the United States. Today, there are an estimated  1,200,000 people living with HIV in the U.S., 13% of whom do not know that they are infected.  Male-to-male sexual contact accounts for 65% of new infections. Among all new HIV  diagnoses, African-American and Hispanic/Latino people are disproportionately affected. 

In Allegheny County, there are approximately 3,000 persons living with HIV, and the number of  newly reported cases of HIV has trended downward in recent years — less than 100/year  since 2017. 

On this World AIDS Day, the Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission applauds Mayor Peduto for  adding Pittsburgh to the 300+ Fast-Track Cities world-wide that are committed to ending the  AIDS, tuberculosis, and viral hepatitis epidemics by 2030. And, we honor our region’s  caretakers, community activists and organizations, HIV/AIDS researchers and healthcare  providers, and all those who are committed to ending the AIDS epidemic.  

The AIDS epidemic can end if we are dedicated to the human rights of all people, ending HIV  stigma and criminalization, ending discrimination against key populations including LGBTQIA+ people—in particular people of color in the U.S., and empowering women and girls, such that  testing for HIV, the accessibility of anti-retroviral medicines, and the prevention of new  infections is not impeded by ignorance, prejudice, greed, or indifference. 

When there still are persons with HIV who don’t know they are infected or don’t have access to  life-saving and life-extending medicines and care, then 2021 is not much different than 1981.  We know what lies ahead for them. We have come too far to continue to let that happen. 

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Kathi Boyle • Nekia Burton Tucker • Denise Desimone • Jam Hammond • Billy Hileman • Sue Kerr • Bruce Kraus Britton Mauk • Lenny Orbovich • Richard Parsakian • Chauntey Porter • Christopher Robinson • Marcus Robinson Sarah Rosso • Luca Salerno • Tiffini Simoneaux • Rev. Deryck Tines • Guillermo Velazquez