Remember Corey Johnson?
He made headlines in 1999 as a starting linebacker for Masconomet High School when he came out as gay. The husky football player, who also wrestled and played lacrosse and baseball, defied stereotype. So much so that the New York Times wrote about his journey out of the closet and put the story on the front page.
On a Sunday.
So much has changed since then.
Professional jocks have taken a page from the Hollywood celeb playbook and are out about their support for LGBT rights—mostly by expressing the belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry. This group includes Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings; former Baltimore Ravens players Donte Stallworth and Brendon Ayanbadejo (who is also the son of two lesbian moms); Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist; Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux; and Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, and Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins.
When former Boston Celtics center Jason Collins recently came out he got a ton of Twitter love from the likes of Kobe Bryant; teammates Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafur, and Jan Vesely; and First Lady Michelle Obama.
It is hard to imagine today that the New York Times would find the coming out of another high school jock like Johnson newsworthy.
But here’s what will still make the news: Johnson recently came out a second time in the Times—as HIV positive.
Johnson, now 31, learned that he was HIV positive nine years ago. He is running for City Council in New York and, as a result, decided to come out about living with HIV. Until then, he had not even told his family.
With considerable understatement, Johnson told the Times: “There’s still so much stigma [about HIV] and people don’t realize it.”
HIV is still very much a disease that impacts our community greatly. It is heartbreaking that Johnson became positive years after science had taught us how to stay negative. Yet, for whatever reason, gay and bisexual men and transgender women remain uniquely vulnerable to this disease. Gay men make up, at most, five percent of the US population yet they account for more than 50 percent of all new HIV infections. Here in Massachusetts, more than half of all new HIV diagnoses occur among gay and bisexual men. Meanwhile, at least 10 percent of all new diagnoses are among people under age 24, as Johnson was, when he acquired the virus.
AIDS is still very much a crisis in our community. And AIDS Action is doing something about it. The agency does targeted outreach to gay and bisexual men through its MALE Center, located in the South End. Through its program TransCEND, it reaches out to transgender women, about one in four of whom are estimated to be HIV positive, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. It also reaches out to communities of color, who are also disproportionately impacted by HIV.
AIDS Action is doing this work with fewer resources than ever before. In the last decade, state funding for HIV-related services has been cut by about 40 percent. Over the same period, the number of people living with HIV in Massachusetts has increased 44 percent. When you do the math it does not add up. And those who are being shortchanged are from our community.
Make a difference by making a contribution.
This year’s AIDS Walk Boston and 5K Run takes place this Sunday, June 2. You can participate by going to the DCR Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade in Boston. Registration and check-in begins at 7:30 a.m.; the Walk begins at 10 a.m. Or simply make an online donation.