Every year thousands of members of our community come together to celebrate the Mardi Gras through the festival, parade and parties. Hundreds of thousands come to watch the parade and it is a fantastic spectacle that gives us an unparalleled opportunity to talk to each other about life, politics, love, equality and health.
This is why we have chosen this time of the year to launch this campaign. Ending HIV is going to be an ongoing engagement with the gay community but it is here and now when we come together like no other time we have the best chance of making the commitments needed to end this epidemic.
The Parade and after party are often seen as the main events, however this period provides many opportunities to showcase the diversity of our community. From the Fair Day Launch, to the art exhibitions, the plays and performances, the underwear parties, leather parties, bear parties and more we can see that we are not a homogeneous group, we all have our own aspirations, beliefs, crusades and loves.
It is into this maelstrom of colour, love and sex that Ending HIV needs to make an impact. But what do we mean by Ending HIV? What we are talking about is the virtual elimination of new cases of HIV by preventing future transmission. Unfortunately we don’t have a cure despite significant efforts occurring around the world. However, ending HIV transmission in NSW is possible. Limiting the impact of HIV on the lives of people living with it is possible. These are not meaningless political aspirations or motivational goals that no one expects to achieve. This can actually happen. But all of us have a role to play. Whether it is getting tested, encouraging our friends to do so, considering starting treatment, confronting our attitudes about HIV, using condoms or engaging in risk reduction or just by talking about this issue and how it affects our community, we can all help to make Ending HIV a reality.
This is a time when we both acknowledge our communities past and look to the future that we wish to create. The theme for Mardi Gras this year is Generations of Love and this is also reflective of the HIV epidemic. We now have a generation of gay men in their twenties and early thirties that haven’t seen their friends dying and this is something to celebrate and be grateful for. We also have generations of gay men who will never be able to forget the way HIV fell upon them and their peers. We must never forget what has happened but we must also work towards a community that is not only AIDS free, but where no more men contract HIV.
We know that different subpopulations of gay men have been affected by HIV to different extents. But in the end we have a lot of strength in our shared identity and struggles. While individuals need to take actions to reduce their risk of contracting or passing on HIV, it is as a community we are going to win this fight.