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Press Release

The Counter Narrative Project Statement on National HIV Testing Day

June 26, 2014

If we believe our lives are priceless, we cannot be conquered.

-- Essex Hemphill

On this National HIV Testing Day, we, the members of The Counter Narrative Project, affirm the strength, courage, resilience, and power that black gay men demonstrate everyday. We support the goals of this national day of action and are invested in it's outcomes. We also see this day as an opportunity to set forth a new approach in HIV prevention efforts, specifically an approach embedding cultural interventions that promote organic, collective responses into outreach initiatives for black gay men.The Counter Narrative Project is committed to realizing this vision. We seek to disrupt the dominant and oppressive narratives surrounding black gay men through media engagement, technical assistance, advocacy, storytelling, and collective memory.

New Directions in Engaging Black Gay Men

We believe that the use of culture and cultural production -- such as film, storytelling, oral history, poetry, fiction, dance, and other forms of expression -- must be incorporated as indispensable components of HIV prevention efforts, including HIV testing strategies. We must be bold and innovative, if we are going to truly inspire resilience and impact the lives of black gay men. We must post Audre Lorde poems on the walls of HIV testing offices, organize film screenings on National HIV Testing Day including such works as Tongues Untied and Looking for Langston, curate art exhibits with community members grappling with what it means to be black and gay in the tradition of Rotimi Fani-Kayode, take groups of young black gay men to see Tarell Alvin McCraney's play Choir Boy, or even host writing workshops in the tradition of Black Ink and Other Countries.

We recognize the power of our words and images, they provide us with important tools, to inspire dialogue, promote civic engagement, and facilitate social change. The work of artists such as James Baldwin, Joseph Beam, Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, Essex Hemphill, Donald Woods, and Craig Harris, embedded in our collective memories, are a part of this tradition. Black gay men are not outside of a community, a culture, and a history, and we insist that we imprint our culture into the HIV prevention conversation. Never has this need been more urgent.

Testing Makes Us Stronger. Testing Makes Us Vulnerable

HIV testing is a dialogue and opportunity that extends beyond the moment of the test. We seek to rethink what HIV testing means for us now, to imagine the various meanings we ascribe and inscribe to HIV testing, and to create a different conversation around the test. This includes how we think about and position black gay men that are reluctant to get tested, a choice that could also suggest a resistance to entering the HIV medical surveillance system.

Your penis, your vagina, your testicles, your womb, your anus, your orgasm, these belong to the State.

-- Essex Hemphill

Prevention strategies must first and foremost be rooted in human dignity, respect for persons, and our right to sovereign and autonomous control over our own bodies. We caution against strategies that pressure, coerce, or force men to test. Testing also makes us vulnerable. Standing in that vulnerability is an act of faith and courage that commands respect.

A Call to Action for Black Gay Men

Today we call on black gay men to tell their stories about the many tests they have experienced, endured, survived, and prevailed. We call on black gay men to speak their truths, share their experiences, and name their desires. We call on black gay men to reclaim their voices in HIV testing, and draw upon our rich culture and history to facilitate that process. The use of culture not only teaches and inspires, it reminds us of the all-too-unheralded power of black gay men today.

We take care of our own kind when the night grows cold and silent. These days the nights are cold-blooded and the silence echoes with complicity.

-- Joseph Beam

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This article was provided by The Counter Narrative Project.
See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
U.S. National HIV Testing Day

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