On September 27, 2012 my home city of Philadelphia participated in Bar AIDS, which its publicity described as “One part night-on-the-town, two parts fundraiser - and a splash of HIV/AIDS awareness - this annual event is part of a national movement that began in Chicago seven years ago and now takes places in several cities around the U.S. In each city, participating coffee houses and bars donate a portion of their proceeds to local non-profit organizations.”[i] The money from Bar AIDS Philadelphia went to “four local organizations that together provide services for thousands of men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS each year.”[ii]
Is Bar AIDS (and similar fund-raising events) sending conflicting messages to the LGBT community?
A 2010 edition of the Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism examined the complications surrounding alcohol use and HIV/AIDS and concluded it has no positive and protective role in HIV prevention and treatment.[iii] As summarized in one article, “Alcohol use has negative effects on HIV disease progression through several mechanisms, including transmission, viral replication, host immunity, and treatment efficacy.”[iv]
It is well established that alcohol impairs judgment and leads to engagement in high-risk sexual behaviors. Equally well known is the finding that alcohol-abusing individuals are less likely to comply with HIV treatment protocols. The journal however spotlighted some lesser know findings, including:
- The majority of people receiving care for HIV infection report current alcohol consumption
- Alcohol use makes it less likely that a person diagnosed with HIV will link with appropriate care and show up for regular appointments
- Alcohol magnifies tissue damage and leads to more rapid disease progression
Based on the above research, professionals working in the substance abuse and/or HIV treatment systems have every reason to hesitate before supporting fundraisers such as Bar AIDS. For example, in its Prevention Policy Statement, The National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies (NALGAP) states, “Education, prevention, intervention and treatment efforts for LGBTs are complicated by the LGBT community’s dependence upon alcohol and tobacco funding sources to support basic community services and cultural activities...[including] a great many HIV/AIDS organizations and AIDS awareness-raising projects in which members of this culture are likely to participate.”[v]