The Rev. Charles Straight, pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in south suburban Dolton, gave the invocation at the opening of the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington. Though long an advocate of communicating HIV prevention to congregants, what differentiates Straight is that he is a black minister who is openly gay and HIV-positive.
"Whatever your theology, I'm not going to try to change your beliefs about what you think the Bible says [about homosexuality]," said Straight. "Or, I'm not trying to change how you may feel about IV drug use. But God's invitation to the world is to come to him because he loves us, and his command to us is to do as he did. And if you believe that, then let's get on the same page to extend that invitation to everybody and keep them as healthy as possible."
Straight believes HIV is disproportionately impacting the black community for a number of reasons. "We have high unemployment and incarceration rates, low graduation rates, low self-esteem, low access to health care, and homophobia," he said. "We don't engage in any more sex than any other group of people. But we have a perfect brew in our community that allows us to be more susceptible to HIV."
Straight said his love of church and missionary work came early, despite being taught that homosexuality was a sin. "The entire time I knew I had a relationship with God and that he loved me," he said.
Straight started his first HIV-prevention ministry in 1985, and two years later learned he was HIV-positive. "We saw our church open up and become a loving Christian community that helped 22 people die with dignity," he said. "Now we as pastors have to help people live -- with dignity."