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United in HIV!

By Rae Lewis-Thornton

June 1, 2011

From Noah's Arc, LOGO TV.

From Noah's Arc, LOGO TV.

This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.

Black gay men are our brothers, uncles, fathers, grandfathers, cousins and sons. And for some they are our BFF's. No matter the label, for sure they are a vital part of our village. And I, for one, am fed the hell up with all the blaming that goes on in our community around the infection rate of black women from men on the Down Low.

Yep, I'm going there. The Centers for Disease Control has said over and over again the statistics just don't add up. Down Low brothers have not single handed caused the HIV infection rate among black women. They don't people! About half of the women infected with HIV in the United States are from the use of a dirty needle during IV drug use. And furthermore, we still have a large portion of men infected from IV drug use and those men do have sex with women.

Now, don't misunderstand me, YES there are men who have sex with men, and then turn around and have sex with women. They are out there, I have heard countless stories over the years. I have even dated one. Yep, I dated a brotha that was on the Down Low. It was a long time ago, about a year after discovering that I was HIV infected. He knew that I was infected with HIV and was purely comfortable with my status. On his death bed at age 29, I discovered that he had been living a double life. He did not infected me, remember, I was already infected when I met him. But I was angry as hell that all this time he knew my status, but never told me his. Thank God for common sense and condoms or he would have re-infected me.

He was one fine ass, like I mean fine ass brotha and he had lived this double life because people expected him to date women, cause a brotha that fine needed a sista. I will admit it took years for me to get over it, but when I had that Aha moment, I got it! He had been living this double life, with self-hatred, until the day he died. I got it! If the Black community had created space for him to be who he believed he truly was, he would have never lived this double life.

I accepted my culpability as a member of the Black community and I stopped playing into this covert homophobia that has infested the Black community. Even when we have a family member that is openly gay, we don't create space in our families for them to live and breath freely. Do we ask them if they have a partner? If they are lonely? If they are happy? Do we support them in their personal life the way they support us? This don't ask, don't tell policy in our community is unhealthy and it is killing our brothas.

Like how do you show love and concern for one family member's dating life and not the other and do it in their face. Like gee, you have no concern for their happiness? Your silence speaks a lot louder than your words. And don't tell me that your disapproval of their lifestyle is that thing that blocks you from loving them unconditionally. Who the hell died and made you God? This double standard I see is crazy. The shit we let straight men get away with in our community. For Real! I learned the other day that a prominent, prominent minister got his assistant pregnant and divorced his wife and never took any time away from the pulpit to get his act together and that was ok... Huh? Yep, double standard!

When you don't feel loved, you go searching for it. This alienation of Black gay men in our community helps to fuel their low-self esteem and leads to unhealthy behavior and is a factor in their increased rate of HIV infection. So I'm going on record. I love Black gay men and ain't a damn thing you can do about it.

Yes, there are brothers that live a double life and yes, the Down Low is a factor in the rate of HIV infection for black women, but it's NOT the only one. In addition to drug use, there are brothas out there that sling their penis from woman to woman. Yep, they have sex with one woman and then turn around and have sex with another woman. Like the minister I was just talking about.

Yep! That's why I tell women to take control and responsibility of their own freaking body! You have no idea if the penis is with Bob or Barbara when it ain't with you, so why are you out there having sex without a latex condom? *confused look* #forReal. And then blaming everyone but yourself. *blank stare*

So anyway, I'm taking a stand! I cannot be concerned about the HIV infection rate within the African-American community and not be concerned about our brothers. The Centers For Disease Control estimates that one in two Black gay men have HIV. We cannot throw our brothers away because we don't approve of their lifestyles. Shoot, if I took a looking glass into your life, I probably will not approve of everything that I see. For real! So don't go Holy on me. Please... Let me say it like this, DO NOT come at me with the Bible because I will come back at you with the same Bible and then tell you to stay the hell off my blog!

United in HIV!

With that said, I'm so excited about my next RLT Event, #UnitedinHIV Tweet-up. Lip service is over for me when it comes to supporting our brothers, uncles, cousins, sons, fathers and BFFs who happen to be gay. I am very proud to be partnering with the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus and the one and only Cyon Flare. Together we are taking control through unity and advocacy! United in HIV Tweet-Up is in honor of National HIV Testing Day.

National HIV testing day is this month and it's true, the earlier you know your status the longer you live. And if you know your status the chances are slim that you will infect someone else. We will be offering HIV testing that evening because we want to stop this cycle in the Black community. We don't get tested so we die sooner than our white counterparts and when we don't know we are infected we infect others. About 38% of newly diagnosed cases are people infected by people that didn't know they were infected.

So join me and my friends as we Tweet about HIV and have a blast doing it. It's gonna be fun. The one and only Lora Branch (Director of HIV/AIDS division of the Chicago Dept. of Public Health) will be the guest DJ... This should be fun! And I will be raffling off RLT Bracelets and yes, some tea items from my tea partners.

The Tweet-up is June 14th at the best gay bar in the city of Chicago, Side Track, 3349 North Halsted Street, from 7-9 P.M. And it's FREE... But a $10 donation will get you a free drink and all the money will go to RLT (me) and the CBGMC, half-straight down the middle...

Please RSVP... Here!!! I'm excited to be partnering with my brothas on this vital issue that has deeply affected our entire community. Be there or be square. But I'm #UnitedinHIV.

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See Also's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
More on HIV and the "Down Low"

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Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.

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