Here in the U.S., AIDS can feel like yesterday's news, and many funders long ago moved on to other issues, including many LGBT funders who've been focused on rights issues.
In fact, though, the rate of new HIV infections remains very high, and is rising. But you'd never know that judging by the complacency of the media or, unfortunately, of many gay men. Which is why the Elton John Foundation's latest grantmaking includes funding to raise awareness of the persistent threat of HIV.
First some grim facts:
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, while gay men make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 66 percent of new HIV infections, they comprise the majority, 56 percent, of people living with HIV, and more than half (55 percent) of all AIDS deaths. Over 15,000 people with AIDS died in 2010.
The foundation also estimates that between 12 to 13 percent of gay and bisexual men in the U.S. are HIV-positive, including one in five in many major U.S. cities. And when you look at HIV/AIDS infections among African-American gay and bisexual men, the numbers are nearly doubled.
In short, AIDS is hardly a plague of the past in the gay community. But it's seen as such, and the Kaiser study found that few gay men said they discuss HIV with friends or sexual partners and thirty percent had never been tested for HIV. Only a third knew that HIV infections are rising. A majority said they were "not concerned" about HIV.
It's frightening findings like these that has the Elton John AIDS Foundation, one of the nation’s largest funders fighting HIV/AIDS, sounding the alarm more loudly and looking for ways to challenge rising complacency about AIDS in the LGBT community.
Recently, the foundation partnered up with the largest LGBT organization in the country, Human Rights Campaign, to increase awareness of HIV prevention, treatment, and care among LGBT people—with a specific focus on young gay and bisexual men and transgender women. With the $300,000 grant for the partnership, the foundation also hopes the two can also increase awareness and access to care for low-income individuals.
And just yesterday, EJAF announced a $1.5 million round of grants, including funding for a new program to reduce the stigma confronting HIV-positive people.
Sir Elton John himself remains as dedicated to this issue as ever. And deeply worried, too, about issues that he wants more widely shared. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, he wrote:
... as engaged as the gay community and civil rights activists have been in the fight for marriage equality, we have lost ground on the fight that so intensely galvanized the gay community to begin with: H.I.V. and AIDS... we are failing to maintain the kind of basic awareness and education that is needed to save lives.
With the marriage equality fight winding down, and LGBT funders wondering what's next, Elton John's op-ed came at a timely moment.
We hear a lot about how faddish foundations are, with herds of funders tending to stampede off to the next hot issue while leaving important work undone.
The AIDS epidemic is certainly such an example. But EJAF's persistence in this area also illustrates a point we make often at IP: Not all funders follow the fads or flake out. Many stick with issues for decades, guided less by what's hot than what's right.