Here’s A Rundown On What HIV Means Today, According To An Expert

Women's Health

There are two types of discussions about HIV that take place in the gen-pop of Black communities. One, how Magic Johnson holds the cure or about the type of person who contracts this virus. Two is the rhetoric that this is a disease one contracts when dealing with a gay man or when gay. Neither dialogues are helpful in educating communities on HIV.

You'll hear many experts and advocates say that HIV is no longer a death sentence and while this is true, I imagine that none of us are flying a Goodyear blimp in the blue skies that says "come for me." No one asks for HIV. No one. Which makes it all the more important that we stay educated on the topic in a way that is sex positive.


Because despite the 14 million people who had to die due to the government's ignorance and bias throughout the 80s and well into the 90s, there always seems to be a new headline about an influx of HIV diagnosis in one black-ish community or another and part of me feels that has a lot to do with the way we've continuously stigmatized it. This can be easy to do when there isn't proper sex education within many communities. We're having too many of the wrong discussions and not enough of the right ones.

But I've never been one to sit around demanding change while refusing to be part of the solution, so let's chat! Let's debunk what you believe to be true about HIV and get the 411 on preventative measures, plus what a diagnosis means.

Human immunodeficiency virus is what those three often bolded letters stand for in the acronym HIV. According to Dr. Cedrina Calder, it hurts the immune system "by attacking specific cells. The virus affects the body's natural ability to fight infection." She warns, "If the virus is left untreated, the illness can progress to a condition called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS."

HIV can be detected by your gynecologist or urologist using one of the three methods: Nucleic Acid Test, Antigen test, or an Antibody test. Rapid and home tests are normally antibody tests that can be conducted with an oral swab or a blood sample. For those with a healthy suspicion of home test, like myself, Dr. Calder says they are 92 percent sensitive. In other words, it will be effective for about 92 percent of those who use it. The nucleic acid test is a more thorough test that doctors may opt for if you test positive.

Is There A Cure For HIV?

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The origin of HIV has been a mystery for the most part. While the CDC suggests that it may have been present in Africa since the late 1800s, it didn't knowingly make its way to the United States until the late 1970s. When it first ravaged communities, it was thought to only be a disease that affected the gay community -- the name given to it during that time was Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID).

It took thousands of people dying annually and a decade of activism from groups such as ACT UP for the Government to intervene and pass policy for FDA approved medications for the infection.

As it stands there is no cure for HIV, there are only treatments. These treatments have become increasingly more effective, increased life expectancy, and decreased the likelihood of HIV progressing to AIDS. As previously mentioned, these treatments make it possible to live a healthy life with an equally healthy sex life after being infected through consistency and maintaining a low detectability rate, making it more difficult to transmit the virus.

Exposure to HIV

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It can't be stressed enough how important it is to be tested regularly for HIV. Your annual visit can suffice unless you engage in "risky" sexual behaviors, and then it is recommended that you get tested more frequently.

Risky sexual behavior doesn't necessarily mean engaging in sex with multiple partners but can simply mean you engage in anal sex regularly. According to Dr. Calder, those who participate in anal sex or are the proclaimed "bottom" are at greater risk due to how easy it is for the infection to pass through rectal tissue. This has to do with the lack of lubrication provided in the area, as well as the fact that the tissue there has a lot of blood vessels.

It's worth noting that HIV cannot be detected immediately after exposure and while it often takes anywhere from least three to 12 weeks, there are some cases where the antibodies take longer to detect.

That said, should you be exposed to HIV unknowingly (this might occur in the case of sexual assault), you have a 72-hour window to get to your doctor for PEP or Post-exposure Prophylaxis. If this occurs over a weekend or any given day where you cannot be seen by your physician, it is critical that you get to the ER to begin treatment.

Living with HIV is more than possible with technological advances, but it does require a shift in your lifestyle. In fact, Dr. Calder reminds us that although there is no guarantee that HIV won't develop into AIDs, with early and proper treatment along with a healthy lifestyle you can "significantly decrease the chance of the infection progressing into AIDs." She further elaborated that this healthy lifestyle might look like limiting alcohol and drug intake, fitness, and a generally clean diet.

HIV Today: Proactive PrEParation

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If you are HIV-negative but currently engage or plan on engaging in sex with an HIV-positive partner, then Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (or PrEP) is a pill regimented daily that helps to prevent the transmission of HIV. For those engaging in vaginal sex, the pill takes up to three weeks to work.

PrEP solely protects against HIV and it's not recommended that couples stop using condoms or other forms of birth control in lieu of taking PrEP. Furthermore, we know that there is no form of contraception that's 100 percent effective outside a laboratory but it can be 90 percent effective at reducing the risk of transmission through sex.

According to PrEP, the pill is also viable option for women who wish to become pregnant with their partner who is positive.

The Ryan White Care Act AIDS Drug Assistance Program has been around since 1990 and helps low-income people afford medications. And now, with the inclusion of Obama Care and the Affordable Care Act, these medications are more accessible than ever. At this juncture, Medicaid and most insurances cover the cost of the PrEP pill, but if you don't have access to those programs, there are organizations you can reach out to for financial assistance.

However, as Dr. Calder points out, it's these type of socioeconomic disparities that have continuously made HIV an epidemic amongst those who identify at the intersection of black, gay, and male.

It must be said that by perpetuating stereotypes, the groups impacted by any disease only become pushed further into the margins, making it more difficult to take preventative measures. Thus, why it's so important for us to have these discussions and create a safe space for people to address genuine concerns, correct misinformation, and further expound upon the dialogue.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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