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Back Out With Benny: Let's end HIV in our lifetimes

The first column I ever wrote for an LGBT newspaper was published on June 29, 2005 — nearly a decade ago. It was called “Out with Benny” and published in the now defunct San Diego Update newspaper, which had been one of the San Diego LGBT community’s leading LGBT news outlets from 1979 until its closure in 2006.

I’ve written for most of the other publications in the local LGBT community that have existed since then, and what I’ve learned is that I love sharing information with my community. From the old Yahoo! Groups email list I managed for the LGBT community at San Diego State University, to news reporting, to my networks on social media, I have been given many opportunities to connect people through my writing, other media work and my jobs.

I now have a great career as the director of community outreach at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, where a big part of my job is doing what I love to do — connecting and informing people.

When Gay San Diego reached out to me about the possibility of writing a regular column for this paper, I knew that it would be the perfect way for me to mesh my love of sharing information with the community, and my passion for the work we do at The Center every day.

In each edition of this column, I’ll highlight some of the great things we’re working on at The Center, as well as other cool events and happenings around town, and maybe throw in fun personal updates.

While today’s column is intended to be a shorter introduction, I assure you that there will be a lot of great reading ahead.

I do, however, want to introduce you to The Center’s #BeTheGeneration campaign, which launched late last year. Through this campaign and the strategies associated with it, we have a goal of ending new HIV cases in San Diego by 2024. It’s bold and ambitious, but it’s completely doable.

The big question I get every time I mention that goal is “How?”

So many people are unaware of the game-changing advances in HIV prevention and care, mostly because of the shame and stigma that still surrounds the disease. As I’ve written before, I, too, feared HIV/AIDS for most of my adult life and it has only been recently, with newly gained education, that I no longer believe that HIV is an inevitable part of my future — or the future of my community.

Below, I’ve outlined six things we are doing in the campaign to work toward the end of new cases of HIV.

- Stop the fear and stigma too often associated with being HIV-positive, which prevents people from testing and seeking treatment.

- Educate all San Diegans about the full range of medical treatment options now available to prevent HIV infection, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) medications.

- Educate medical providers to make routine opt-out HIV testing more available.

- Help those living with HIV to receive the medical care and medicines needed to keep their viral loads down, so they are able to live long, healthy lives — and are less likely to transmit the virus.

- Advocate for public policies that give those at risk for HIV full access to medical options to prevent and treat HIV.

- Strengthen HIV prevention and education efforts, including routine and easier access to PrEP and condoms, so that people can manage their sexual health without fear or shame.

You’ll hear a lot more about this campaign in the future, but in the meantime, visit events.thecentersd.org/btg to learn more. And if you’ve been wondering where to get the great #BeTheGeneration T-shirts you’re seeing around town, there are still a few left. Just head HERE, make a minimum donation of $15 to the campaign and get a T-shirt of your own.

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(Editor's note: Benny Cartwright is the director of community outreach at The San Diego LGBT Community Center. He can be reached at 619-692-2077 ext. 106 or outreach@thecentersd.org. This column was originally published on SDGLN media partner Gay San Diego.)