Each year, September 18th is honored as National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, a time to recognize the struggles and triumphs of HIV-positive elders, and highlight the challenges they still face. The LGBT Health Resource Center has created a place for these individuals to share their stories and draw strength from each other with its new LGBTQ 50-plus HIV Group. We asked the group’s coordinator, Monte Ephraim, LCSW-C, to share more about this important day.

What are some of the key challenges confronting HIV-positive elders?

The diseases that typically impact HIV-negative individuals in their 60s and 70s may occur in people with HIV in their 40s and 50s, as well as potentially cause chronic inflammation throughout the body. Older adults with HIV have an average of three other health conditions. With good, consistent medical care and oversight, these health concerns can be minimized, and appropriate interventions can be implemented. HIV-positive elders may also struggle with increased isolation related to their aging and the loss of previous sources of social support and friends.

Why is it important to recognize this community each year?

More than half of all people living with HIV in the US are 50 years old or older. Our longtime survivors are not just surviving– a large majority are thriving. They were on the front lines of an unknown threat, and were frequently ridiculed, stigmatized and shunned. Our HIV-positive elders are true pillars of courage: born out of fear, with strength realized out of necessity and resilience initiated by trauma. They are caregivers, family members, neighbors, friends and survivors.

What has surprised you the most about the stories and participants in Chase Brexton’s group?

I’ve been most surprised by similarities the participants share, despite their differences. Each member’s age of diagnosis and treatment regimen varies, but their bond is evident. Each of their experiences was familiar, and there is a recognition of a community many once feared belonging to. Members found solace in the support of the group, and the ability to feel without concern and verbalize their thoughts without censoring or hesitation.

What can HIV-positive elders teach us?

We need to know and remember that our HIV-positive elders are more than their viral loads and statistics. They can teach and confirm the power of support, human contact and kindness. That’s what they have reinforced for me.

The LGBT Health Resource Center’s LGBTQ 50-plus HIV Group meets at Chase Brexton’s Mount Vernon Center on Wednesdays from 3:30 to 5:00 pm. Initial assessments are needed to join the group. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 410-837-2050 x1119.

To learn more about The LGBT Health Resource Center’s groups and programs, visit ChaseBrexton.org/LGBTQSupport.