This letter, by James I. Martin on behalf of the Caucus of LGBT Faculty and Students in Social Work, reflects on the importance of understanding both the successes and gaps of social workers in their efforts to address the HIV epidemic in the United States. He posits that although social workers are heavily involved in research, there is a dearth of social work involvement in prevention and leadership. Martin believes that the gay male community is being marginalized by agencies like UNAIDS and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) who use the term “Men who have sex with men (MSM)” instead of gay men. He argues that using MSM ignores the social networks and supports afforded by same-gender relationships. Additionally, he cites additional research that has found that using MSM “collapses multiple sexual cultures with vastly different sexual subjectivities into a single epidemiological category,” which warps the view of the pandemic and the populations most affected. Conducting his own research review, Martin expresses deep concerns about the lack of involvement of social workers around preventive work with gay men, and advocates for greater effort devoted to learning from the experiences of self-identified gay men in order to better understand why rates of HIV continue to rise within this population.
It should be noted that both the International Federation of Social Workers and the US-based National Association of Social Workers both have initiatives that target the HIV pandemic.
For further reading on the debate around the use of the term MSM, please refer to Shivananda Khan and Omar Khan’s “Letter – The Trouble with MSM,” the HIV Policy Resource Bank.