The Chicago Public Health Department's alarming report, released Friday, that suggests the HIV infection rate among gay men in Chicago is nearly 20% has drawn varied responses from Chicago's gay and lesbian community.
ChicagoPride.com surveyed a number of gay men on a busy Saturday night in Boystown.
From Waveland to Buckingham, the responses were varied with one common undertone that gay men no longer think HIV is a death sentence. And despite extensive media coverage on the recently release report, many were unaware of the report and its contents.
"I'm not at all surprised by these statistics." Said thirty-something Al joined by Jared and Jamie outside of the Center on Halsted
. "The fact that a lot of our own community members are not aware of their status is probably because of their fear of knowing."
"We are very closeted in the U.S. regarding educating our youth," added Jaime.
Some of the people responding questioned the numbers and conclusions published in the report.
"You can work the numbers however you want," said Matthew a bartender at Buck's.
"I think they're wrong," said Dakota of Charlie's
. "Watching bareback videos does not make you go out and do it," he added in response to International Mr. Leather's new ban on vendors that promote products that involve unsafe sex.
Many interviewed questioned the timing of the reports release with the IML policy change announced last week.
"Our young people want a career and education and I don't think they're going to compromise that with foolish behavior," commented Barry at Circuit Nightclub.
On Halsted, Nick observed that too many people think they're invincible, and that "they don't think it is lethal" and fear syphilis and herpes more. John, bartending at Halsted's, also reiterated the mentality of many that it's "not a death sentence anymore".
"This new data, which unfortunately is not a surprise to those of us who work in this area, reminds us again of how frightening it can be even to take an HIV test, "said Ann Fisher, Executive Director of the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago. "Prejudice and discrimination against people with HIV are real."
Fisher urged people at risk for HIV to remember that they have the right to take an anonymous HIV test—where they never even have to give their name—and that Illinois has strong laws protecting the confidentiality of HIV test results.
"We see it in the city as well as in the suburbs, in white communities as well as in communities of color, and yes, even in gay as well as straight communities, "added Fisher.
"The news sends across a grave message that we are failing to get everyone tested and treated," said Daniel Berger, MD, an HIV specialist of Northstar Medical Center and also a Clinical Associate Professor at the College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago. He noted there is a "marked reduction" in transmission rate from HIV+ patients who are treated.
Berger said while the community is well informed, getting them to practice that education is a difficult challenge. He also believes the numbers produced by the report are more likely deflated than inflated.
"My practice has seen an increase in newly positive patients over previous years," said Dr. Tom Klarquist who practices primarily in the gay community. " In addition, other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and Chlamydia continue to be significant problems among Chicago's gay population."
People with questions about HIV testing, confidentiality, or discrimination are urged to call the AIDS Legal Council at 312-427-8990.