At the GLAAD Media Awards in New York City on May 6, the award for Outstanding TV Journalism News Segment was presented to the Today Show for the June 2021 reported piece, “HIV/AIDS: 40 Years Later.” Accepting the award was NBC News correspondent Joe Fryer.
The story tracked the changes in treatment and the battle to reduce stigma since the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s when a positive diagnosis typically meant a death sentence, to the recent development of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill that’s 99% effective in preventing HIV, and the U=U campaign. The campaign was born out of the scientific breakthrough that found that effective treatment of HIV suppressed the virus to the point of being undetectable, and that being undetectable meant the virus could not be transmitted. Activist and founder of the Prevention Access Network Bruce Richman coined the development “U=U” and the message and movement took off, targeting the social stigma still affecting people living with HIV/AIDS,
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) May 7, 2022
Presented by Amber Tamblyn and Nyle DiMarco, Fryer accepted his award with the four men he profiled in his piece: Bruce Richman, Jesse Milan, Deondre B. Moore and Raif Derrazi, all gay men of different generations living with HIV.
“Above all, I am grateful for the four guys standing behind me, who so bravely, candidly, passionately told their stories,” Fryer said. Fryer also recognized producers Robert Powell and Lauren Specter.
There are “35,000 new transmissions every year—and most of them look like me. But I’m also aging with HIV. This year is my 40th year living with HIV,” said Milan, who was diagnosed in the 1980s, to applause from the audience. He continued, “But not enough of us are achieving viral suppression so that they can live long and healthy lives. So we have a lot of work to do in this community to end the HIV epidemic.”
Derazzi said, “This Sunday is my birthday and it also is exactly 10 years to the day that I was diagnosed with AIDS. I thought it was going to be dead in two years. I was clearly wrong. It was clearly the beginning of my life’s purpose. My partner of three years, Bo is here. He’s negative and we never have to worry about HIV transmission because I’m undetectable. And it means I’m untransmittable. U = U.”
Moore is director of U.S. partnerships and community engagement at the Prevention Access Campaign, a grantee of the Gilead COMPASS Initiative® (COMmitment to Partnership in Addressing HIV/AIDS in the Southern States), a ten-year, more than $100 million collaborative commitment across the South. Moore told a story about a young man in Southeast Texas. Moore described a young man “who was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 19, and when he was diagnosed, he wanted to die. He was so ashamed because of the stigma… His mama kept saying, ‘Baby, I taught you one thing, and that was to share your story.…’ Shortly after that, he found out about a movement called U = U, where he learned that people living with HIV who had an undetectable viral load could not sexually transmit HIV with their partners. And he knew he had to share that information. That young man is me and because of the support of my Mama who’s here escorting me tonight and because of movements like U = U movement which has just changed lives all over this world…. The young man is walking off this stage tonight a GLAAD Media Award winner.”
Bruce Richman spoke of the urgent need for more people to hear about U=U.
“U=U is the most important message that people living with HIV and our community need to hear,” Richman said. “The fact that someone living with HIV who has an undetectable viral load can’t pass it onto our partners is revolutionary. So many of us never imagined we could love, we could have sex, we could conceive children withour fear. But most people outside this room don’t know U=U. That’s why we’re so grateful to the Today Show and to GLAAD for this visibility… we’re very sure that there are many in this room whose lives have been changed because of U=U. Please join us in sharing the message that changes what it means to live and to love with HIV. U=U.”
Here are some facts about U=U and people living with HIV/AIDS:
- People living with HIV today, when on effective treatment, lead long and healthy lives and cannot sexually transmit HIV. Treatment can suppress the virus to a point where it is no longer detected in a person’s body. When it is undetected, it is untransmittable, the key message of the U=U campaign.
- Approximately 1.2 million people in the U.S. have HIV. 13% of them don’t know it, reinforcing the need for HIV testing and to end stigma around HIV testing.
- People most vulnerable to HIV are those with limited access to transportation, housing, healthcare, and social support. We should focus on advocating for resources in our community rather than stigmatizing women and LGBTQ people.
- Black Americans account for more HIV diagnoses (43%), people living with HIV (42%), and the most deaths among people with HIV (44%) than any other racial and ethnic group in the U.S.
- The CDC states the U.S. South experiences the greatest rates of HIV and lags behind in providing quality HIV prevention services and care. According to AIDSVu, a program from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and the Center for AIDS Research at Emory University, 31,864 people are living with HIV in North Carolina, where you were raised.
- Medications like PrEP protect people who do not have HIV from contracting it. The CDC states that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken as prescribed.