By Ian Howley, CEO GMFA | @ianhowley

It’s been nearly 35 years since the first case of AIDS was reported in the UK.  For those of you who can remember, this was a devastating time for the LGBT community. Many saw their friends and loved ones die within a matter of days. Many of those who lost loved ones also lost their own lives to AIDS.

Initial HIV and AIDS prevention campaigns were aimed at the general population. Many of the gay men involved within the groups running these campaigns felt that not enough was being done to speak directly to gay men. They felt that more direct campaigns, with images and language that spoke to gay men, was needed.

In 1992, a group of gay men got together and decided, that if they wanted to see this type of work, they were going to have to do it themselves. And so they did. On the 31 of March 1992, these men formed a charity called ‘Gay Men Fighting AIDS’ or as you have come to know it, GMFA – the gay men’s health charity.

It was all so very different back in the early 1990s. There was no internet, no apps, and no social media. The campaigns involved going into pubs and clubs and handing out condoms and lube. They involved old school poster campaigns that would be published in magazines and put up in clubs. They would involve volunteers standing in the middle of Hampstead Heath handing out condoms to gay men.

Did those men think what they were doing was making a difference? Did they know that the work they were doing was saving lives? Did they know that the organisation they set up would still be needed 25 years later? Fast-forward to 2017 and where are we at in the world of HIV prevention?

  • There is still no cure for HIV and gay men make up for more than half of all new diagnosis
  • Gay men living with HIV can now lead a normal life due to successful treatment
  • Gay men living with HIV, who are undetectable, cannot pass on HIV
  • However, because of a lack of education, there’s still stigma towards those living with HIV
  • We now have a tool called PrEP, which if taken daily, can stop HIV-negative men from becoming positive. Initial reports are showing PrEP works
  • However, we are seeing an increase of STIs such as gonorrhoea, syphilis and hep C among gay men.

There are also several issues that we couldn’t have foreseen back in 1992.

In 2017 we are seeing more and more gay men get into chemsex on a regular basis. Some of these men are going into this blindsided. They are overdosing and putting their health and lives at risk, as they are not able to handle the drugs involved. In fact, according to reports, there is an increase of gay men dying because of chems. In 2017, this is not acceptable.

Another issue in the world of HIV prevention is our relationship with mental health. No matter how much information you give someone, if they do not care about their health, why would they care about remaining HIV negative? And this is an issue that we need to address. Too many gay men have self-esteem and self-worth issues. This can be due to issues outside of HIV such as the break down of a relationship, the inability to make friends in a large city or the old issue of struggling to accept your sexuality. These issues, and many more, are having an impact on HIV prevention.

Self-esteem, self worth, depression and the taboo subject of suicide in the gay community are still a major issue for gay men. But we rarely acknowledge this. And this is where we are at in 2017.

GMFA was created 25 years ago because we felt there was not enough being done for gay men and we still believe this. GMFA works and we know this because:

  • GMFA reaches over 1.5 million people a year through our websites alone
  • Our HIV campaigns have a social reach of over four million
  • Our FS magazine continues to lead the way in highlighting issues gay men face including safer sex, relationships, mental health, HIV stigma and racism in the gay community
  • Our peer-led groupwork projects help gay men on a one-to-one level
  • We also bring the community together with our annual Gay Sports Day.

The future of GMFA is uncertain, but we believe that we are the best in this sector to help gay men take control of their own lives.  And we do this as five men sitting in an office with the help and support of our volunteers and donors.

GMFA wants to stop HIV. GMFA wants to stop HIV stigma. GMFA wants to make sure chemsex does not ruin lives. GMFA wants to improve the mental health of gay men. And GMFA wants to stop gay men from feeling like suicide is the best option for them.

And we can only do this with your support. This is why for GMFA25 we are asking you to invest in us.  GMFA relies on your donations to survive and deliver the work that you have come to love and expect.

GMFA is the biggest gay men’s health charity this country knows. Please don’t let the history of GMFA die. Let us survive, thrive and let’s work together to create a better future for you, your partners, friends and for any young boy sitting in his room wondering if he is gay. Make sure he grows up in a world where being gay is not a health inequality but grows up to become a happy and healthy gay man.

Your GMFA team,

Ian, Liam, Nick, Michael and Massimo.