8. Homophobia: "Yo, Stop It Fam!"
Since the start of the epidemic, homophobia has prevented people from confronting HIV in a rational way. The black community is no exception.
Homophobia victimizes everyone. It fuels denial, encouraging heterosexual people to dismiss AIDS as a "gay disease" and ignore the very real dangers they may face, while discouraging people who fear they may be infected even from getting tested. "The African-American community is so homophobic that heterosexuals still don't believe they are at risk," says Gary Bell, executive director of Philadelphia-based Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health (BEBASHI).
When you combine society's ingrained fear of homosexuals with its historically terrible treatment of African Americans, the problem becomes even more clear. Harvard University's Dr. Alvin Poussaint says, "Some of the resistance to protected sex is a kind of risk-taking attitude. Black life has been so devalued in America for centuries that a lot of black people, I feel, devalue their own life -- and then they're going to devalue their health. Black life is not worth as much." The same can be said for gay life, and nothing speaks more dramatically of the human costs of racism and homophobia than the fact that black gay men have the nation's highest rate of HIV.
Internalized homophobia may also help explain why direct action -- or, as Mario Cooper says, a "black ACT UP" -- has yet to develop among African Americans with HIV, despite the gravity of the health crisis.
"I've been a proponent of more action-oriented, in-the-street stuff, to highlight issues," says Kenyon Farrow, the communications and public education coordinator at New York State Black Gay Network. "But people have real fears about being publicly in the streets as black queer folks, and inviting levels of violence and hostility."
Most advocates agree that the black church, with its roots in evangelical Christianity, has played a key role in stoking the flames of hatred of gays and people with HIV.
Rev. Alberta Ware
What you can do: If you're gay, HIV positive or both, consider coming out: The best way to overcome the fear and ignorance of a homophobe is with a loud and proud show of numbers.
If you're straight (but not narrow), consider showing up with your gay comrades at a local Gay Pride Parade and/or speaking up for gay rights whenever the subject arises.
Hip-hop artist Kanye West made headlines when he called out homophobia close to home. "Everybody in hip-hop discriminates against gay people," the Chicago rapper told MTV, equating hip-hop's anti-gay lyrics with discrimination against blacks. "Yo, stop it fam," he said -- providing a perfect anti-homophobia slogan for the African-American community.