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Homophobia and HIV Risk: What's Family Got to Do With It? Part One

June 9, 2011

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Familial Homophobia and HIV Risk: Connecting the Dots

As far as the relationship between familial homophobia and HIV infection: It's interesting because, over the years, there have been different moments when HIV incidence rates have been higher and lower, and there have been a multitude of prevention strategies over time. But there's always been a significant portion of the community that is immune to prevention strategy, for whom those strategies have never been successful. Everyone is asking themselves, "Why?" and, "How do we get through this?" and, "What is the obstacle?"

I really have come to believe that, as long as this society tells young queer men that their lives are not equal to straight people's lives, or that their lives are not valued, that they are not cherished, that they are not respected, we are not going to have successful prevention strategies. Right now the psychology of prevention is that each person is supposed to bootstrap themselves, and that prevention is their private problem, while they're living in a culture that's profoundly racist, profoundly homophobic, and in which gay people don't even have equal legal rights.

And yet the prevention industry has not been able to politicize and point to these factors of the emotional oppression that people experience, as endangering them to HIV.

Darnell Moore: I think you're right. It's also important to note the fact that prevention strategies are typically situated outside of one of the most important systems that they need to engage, and that's the family system. A lot of dollars are expended toward programs that are developed within the domain of community-based organizations. But as you're talking, I'm thinking I don't know if we've ever clearly thought out how we could direct dollars toward programs that are looking to institute preventive strategies in the home.

If we're first socialized within our home space, why should we not also be encouraged to learn about our bodies, about others' bodies, about sex and sexuality, in this home space? Some work would certainly have to happen in order to get folks to do that type of work. But we need to put dollars there, to think about how we can get that type of work happening in this neglected system: the family system.

Another thing: I was that black, young, queer man, brought up in an urban space. Family is the space where safety is paramount -- where despite everything else, you're supposed to feel safe, right? But as it related to who I was developing into as far as my sexual self, I did not feel that I had that safety. It may have been more my fear than an actual reality -- but because of the lack of discussion in the home, not only around issues of sexuality related to identity, but about sex overall, I created spaces outside of the home. Many of those spaces were danger zones.

So for me, a budding young man, growing up, it was really easy for me to be on the streets of Philadelphia, on 13th Street, standing next to sex workers and feeling perfectly fine, because this is the person that I felt myself to be. During that period I was put in some dire predicaments that could have had a negative impact on my social and physical health.

"If that affirmation came from other spaces, young men would not have to go to parks after dark and hide. They wouldn't have to be on train tracks, on street corners, without access to condoms, without access to things that could keep them healthy, if they had spaces that could fortify them otherwise."
-- Darnell Moore

All that is to say that, if I had had the space developed within my family system, I wouldn't have been standing on 13th Street, looking for affirmation, and looking to be held, and looking for someone to look at me and tell me that I'm human, or beautiful, or I'm worthwhile to live. If that affirmation came from other spaces, young men would not have to go to parks after dark and hide. They wouldn't have to be on train tracks, on street corners, without access to condoms, without access to things that could keep them healthy, if they had spaces that could fortify them otherwise.

Sarah Schulman: In other words, we're saying, next Mother's Day, let's have a prevention campaign saying: "For this Mother's Day, tell your gay son that you love and accept him, and you want him to live. So welcome his lover into the house for Mother's Day celebrations." This sort of thing?

Darnell Moore: Let's do it!

Read part two of this discussion, in which we'll hash out potential strategies for interrupting homophobia within families.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Olivia Ford is the community manager for and

This article originally appeared in's Pride 2011 special section.

Copyright © 2011 The HealthCentral Network, Inc. All rights reserved.

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