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Black Congresswoman Calls for More Open Dialogue on Homosexuality and HIV
Q+A with U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Democrat of California

Rep. Barbara Lee

About Representative Lee

What is the most critical AIDS issue facing the African-American community?

There are a number of very important issues: the ongoing stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS, the need for an honest and open dialogue about sex and sexuality, and the role of incarceration in the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other diseases. While each of these is critical in and of itself, more than anything we must recognize that HIV/AIDS is connected to a larger challenge of addressing the systemic factors that contribute to the health disparities that impact our community. As African Americans, we are often overlooked and ignored by our government and the public health sector.

How would you best address that?

We have to fight to get a seat at the table, to get clinics and hospitals in our communities, to get doctors and nurses that look like us and speak like us, and to get AIDS funding like the Minority AIDS Initiative [$156 million in emergency funds for HIV in communities of color that the Congressional Black Caucus secured from the Clinton Administration in 1998]. Unless we stand up and demand our fair share, we will not be heard. We have to take initiative and speak up for ourselves, instead of relying on someone else to speak up for us. That is our challenge.

What are the top myths about HIV that you encounter?

There are many myths and rumors within our community about HIV, where it came from, how it is being spread, and even about a cure. We cannot let these myths detract from the facts, and the facts are: We know how HIV is spread. We know how to stop it from spreading, and we know how to treat it. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a cure, so as a community, it is important that we do not let the myths about HIV get in the way of efforts to stop its spread.

Can you recommend one action that we all should take to end the epidemic?

Every African-American has a responsibility to talk openly and honestly about HIV. While we must fight at the federal and state level to get access to health care, within our community, we can fight to break the silence about this issue. That means men and women have to talk to each other about HIV and about the need to use protection.

We've got to encourage an open dialogue within the church, so that pastors can have an honest discussion with their congregations, and we've got to have an open and honest discussion about homosexuality within the African-American community.

What message would you like to send to the many thousands of people with HIV who use The Body?

We stand with you. While your burden is great, by sharing your story you can help others within our community to better understand this disease and strengthen our fight against it.

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