The caliber of public discussion about AIDS has greatly improved since 1988 when there were 863 people recorded as living with AIDS in Oregon.
The Cascade AIDS Project
was only five years old, and about to embark on an AIDS awareness ad campaign that was to appear on the side of TriMet vehicles, and in The Oregonian
. TriMet lasted a few days before pulling the tame picture of two fully clothed men, arms around each other, and the line underneath, “We Can Live. Together.” The Oregonian
never went through with it. Then-Associate Editor David Reinhard said this about the campaign ad, “It should appear no where in public, save some gay publications. The poster is less about AIDS protection than gay promotion. The poster is tasteless and offensive.”
Today there are 7,000 people living with AIDS in Oregon, and the need for public discussion and awareness is as great as ever. on Friday, CAP's executive director, Michael Kaplan, spoke at City Club of Portland's weekly forum, this one titled, "Confronting AIDS in Portland."
In The Governor Hotel's Heritage ballroom, under the terracotta angels and ornate filigree, Club members and guests engaged in the anachronism that is a formal luncheon, silverware clinking, while Kaplan unleashed a string of AIDS statistics. After a few minutes, his command of the material and stage became undeniable, and most of the forks were dropped. Maybe it was when Kaplan said he tested positive in 1992.
“I was the prom king in high school, but did I know I was gay?," he said. "I was that guy dating some of your daughters but sneaking out after dark, to the places and with the people who were ready to show you what it means to be gay."
Kaplan's point is that focusing education and prevention efforts only on those who identify as gay misses the entire population of people who would never take on that identity, yet engage in risky sexual behaviors. Nationally, 20 percent of those infected, don't know they are. Another 20 percent figure: how much less is spent nationally on prevention, as compared to 2002.
Among the most alarming statistics are those about population segments most vulnerable to the disease. In Oregon, African-Americans are three times more likely to contract AIDS than the rest of the population. And 75 percent of infections are contracted by gay men. Over 80 percent of all infections in Oregon are in Portland. And despite incredible advances in life prolonging medicines-- Kaplan himself has not progressed to AIDS after 13 years of living with HIV—39 percent of those who test positive for HIV in Oregon develop AIDS in 12 months.
And so the point Kaplan conveyed was to know your status, and have the conversations.
“There are commercials for Viagra, but god forgive there be discussions about condoms in schools,” he said.
To learn more about the services that Cascade AIDS Project offers, like testing counseling and housing, visit its website