RECENT figures putting AIDS as the No. 1 killer of men in Baltimore between the ages of 25 and 44 stand out as a warning to members of the gay community that AIDS is still an active danger in their lives.
I feel like a snitch for writing this, but the fact is that gay men are often tempted to engage in risky behavior. Because of this, they need to be told the consequences they face when seeking a proper partner.
This problem is aggravated by the fact that our long-awaited access to the corridors of power, the Mayor's Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Issues, has avoided discussing AIDS. The task force comprises the most visible public figures in Baltimore working on gay rights, but they contend that there is no connection between gay rights and AIDS. This has given rise to an air of distrust, confusion and suspicion regarding the relationship between gay issues and the presence of AIDS.
It is dangerous to be gay in the '90s, and we may very well be our own worst enemies. Members of the mayor's task force have told me that they consciously decided to "uncouple" AIDS from the gay community in their report. One task force member described his relief at being involved in something gay that didn't have anything to do with AIDS. This strikes me as luxurious self-indulgence, an example of the manner in which AIDS awareness in the community of gay men has begun to collapse.
"I've just found out my new boyfriend is HIV-positive. He's 23. His parents don't want to know anything about it."
"I've just come from another AIDS funeral. He was 27."
"I can't be HIV-positive. I only went to bed with guys under 25."
While many look forward to the day when AIDS is a chronic, manageable illness much like diabetes, it must be said that that day is far in the future. While the solution to AIDS may be in the pipeline, there is absolutely nothing available today that serves any purpose but the creation of an unpredictable short-term hiatus before the onslaught of infections -- and then death. In short, AIDS is a fatal condition, and there is nothing to indicate that this fact is going to change in the near future.
This means that gay men, especially ill-informed young gay men, are in a time of great danger. It is necessary to point out that while we gay men don't "own" AIDS, we certainly are the major stockholders. This means that a young gay man coming up into the local gay community will face a very great risk of contracting AIDS unless he is made aware of the dangers he faces. When gay men ignore AIDS, gay men die of AIDS.
This awareness must spread to the mayor's office, the City Council and the city Health Department. Our community needs to be told that our concerns are a part of the larger picture of life in Baltimore. If the mayor and City Council members cannot elucidate our problems as part of the fabric of life in our town, either through their own work or the work of the Mayor's Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Issues, then the gays and lesbians of Baltimore will have to consider voting for someone who can.
Jack Garman is a gay activist living in Baltimore and manager of Lambda Rising Bookstore.