DETROIT – A new digital initiative launched by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally advocates and bloggers to encourage HIV testing on June 27 has been unveiled. The #TestMe initiative has support and endorsements from Equality Michigan and people like Howard Dean, former Democratic candidate for President, and several national organizations.
“Equality Michigan sees the impact of HIV on our community everyday,” said Emily Dievendorf, managing director of Equality Michigan. “The epidemic is not over, and we can no longer afford to live in denial. If things do not change, we are faced with a terrifying future where 50% of today’s young gay men become infected with HIV by 2040. That is unacceptable and Equality Michigan is committed to spreading the word that we all must get tested and raise awareness of the modern HIV epidemic. Our movement cannot afford to lose another generation to this vicious killer. Working together, we can make sure the 2040’s won’t feel like the 1980’s.”
“We stand at a unique time in the history of the HIV epidemic,” said Dean, the former governor of Vermont and founder of Democracy for America. “We have the ability to stop the spread of this virus in its tracks, but the first step to doing that is getting people tested. Right now, 20 percent of people living with HIV are unaware of their infection and that makes them much more likely to transmit their infection, get sick or die. Sadly, the epidemic is exploding again in the men who have sex with men risk category, so I particularly encourage my friends who are gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, as well as transgender women, to get tested on June 27. Knowledge is power, but silence still equals death.”
The #TestMe initiative encourages people to get tested on June 27 and to share photos and observations about the testing on various social media platforms, using the #TestMe hashtag. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended since 2005 that all Americans ages 13-64 be tested at least annually. Those Americans at high risk, particularly gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men including transgender women, should be tested every three months. Other hashtags to use for the project are: #bringafriend, #tell10, and #June27.
Various national, state, and local organizations have also joined the initiative.
“I don’t remember the early AIDS epidemic — I grew up in Kentucky, isolated from the genocide that was ravaging our community throughout the 80s and 90s,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL. “While many people think of that as ancient history, the epidemic is still killing our friends and neighbors at alarming rates. The #TestMe campaign is a great way for folks to play a simple but profound role in ending this epidemic once and for all — and I encourage everyone across the country to join in.”
“Nearly 1 in 5 people with HIV do not know they are infected,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “On National HIV Testing Day we encourage everyone to help raise awareness by spreading the word with #testme and getting tested yourself.”
“PFLAG National is proud to be a part of this broad coalition sharing the #TestMe National HIV Testing Day message on June 27,” said Jody M. Huckaby, executive director of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National. “Organizationally, our history is inextricably tied to the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the activism surrounding it. Individually, PFLAGers are committed to protecting the health and well-being of their LGBT loved ones; encouraging HIV testing is a part of that commitment.”
“Getting tested is the basic requirement to end this epidemic that has hurt our community in multiple ways, for far too long,” said Derek Gerson, founder of Equalize Youth. “To know my status is a responsibility not only to myself, but also to my community. There’s no excuse. Test me!”
Dean is not the only high profile individual who is supporting the initiative. Zach Wahls, an author and advocate for the LGBT community; as well as former Republican presidential candidate and openly gay man Fred Karger have endorsed the #TestMe project.
In addition, local politicians have also weighed in on the project. Chong-Anna Canfora, candidate for Lansing, Michigan’s City Council seat in the Fourth Ward, has also announced her support for the initiative.
“We know that Ingham County has the highest rates of HIV in Michigan — outside of metro Detroit,” said Canfora. “We have the ability to stop the march of this virus, and end the epidemic today; but it starts with everyone getting tested and knowing their HIV status. Early diagnosis leads to better health outcomes and less transmission of the virus. This is wise public health policy, and important personal health decisions. I am getting tested because I want to show the community that it’s easy, it’s free and, if you choose, it can be anonymous.”