GLAAD’s mission to ensure accurate and inclusive LGBTQ representation across media has never been more urgent, especially in the story that has dominated all of our lives these last two and a half years, the COVID-19 pandemic. LGBTQ people and queer people of color are disproportionately affected in the pandemic, yet data collection didn’t begin for months to help guide responses and resources, and our voices were vastly underreported across the media. These are painful parallels to the early days of HIV/AIDS, when GLAAD was formed to fight inaccuracy and invisibility. Combined with systemic intolerance and indifference, it led to incalculable loss.
Racism, discrimination and lack of access and resources remain challenges that undermine health and safety, evidenced again this year as monkeypox virus surfaced, with early data showing a threat to gay, bisexual and queer men of color. Stigma about illness and identity, inequity, and lack of visibility, are comorbidities across epidemics and generations.
Remarkably this is the first report to examine academic data, and deliver personal stories about the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the HIV epidemic in the United States. Through our qualitative work, we heard from people living with HIV who say they felt even more forgotten as the world focused on COVID-19; how messages that can save lives, including information about prevention tools like PrEP, were swamped by COVID-19 coverage. People living with HIV and providers describe astonishment at the rapid development of COVID vaccines and boosters, advances that have yet to be achieved for HIV more than 40 years after the first cases.
On the plus side, clients and providers tell us in their own words how they survived disruption in care, coped with isolation, and discovered new ways to connect. Advocates pivoted to new approaches to improve access to care. Their creativity and resiliency in the face of unprecedented challenges must be rewarded with more resources to continue to innovate for patient care and all public health. This research offers a clear path forward: media must uplift stories of people living with HIV, who need to be seen and heard in the healthcare system and the world at large, for HIV to be understood as preventable, treatable and untransmittable. Communities, industries and government must continue to innovate together to create and implement solutions, to better prepare for all challenges to health and safety.
Above all, this research reinforces GLAAD’s core work to accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people, and for people living with HIV. It centers key voices and elevates understanding. We must remove all barriers to end the HIV epidemic, and prepare for new crises, so all can live the life they love.