What Is the Most Critical HIV/AIDS Issue Facing the African-American Community?
Communications and Public Education Coordinator, New York State Black Gay Network, New York, N.Y.
We are launching a campaign focused in New York City, based on the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]'s five-city survey showing that black men who have sex with men [MSM] have an HIV prevalence rate of 46 percent. That in and of itself is critical, just those numbers.
Where black MSM are concerned, it's critical to reduce the terrible rates of HIV and the real concrete relationship that black homophobia has to those rates. I think the best way to address that is, one, most of our black AIDS organizations are primarily funded to do counseling, testing, referral stuff via the CDC or other government funding, and while testing is important, it's not prevention. What we really need are prevention methods that include community-organizing efforts and social-marketing campaigns that deal with stigma but also address issues of the value of black gay men's lives in black communities.
Another huge issue here in New York City is related to just physical violence against black gay men. There were four murders last year, and several beatings, and also two murders of two female-to-male transgender people -- and little response from black communities and the gay community. The issue of violence, and where those attacks are coming from, and the impact of homophobia from some small but very vocal black churches, has a large impact.
Where is the most progress being made in combating the epidemic in the black community?
Issues of homophobia were a more visible presence in the media, largely due to the work we've done. I do feel the tide turning, even as last year was full of a lot of tear-shedding for most of us. We did an event at Riverside Church with several organizations -- Gay Men of African Descent, Unity Fellowship Church, and the Empire State Pride Agenda. We did an event called "Revival: Victory Over Spiritual Violence Through Grace," which was like a church service and an advocacy tool to deal with homophobia from the black clergy. That had a huge impact: 400-plus people attended, and AP did a wire story that was picked up by 70 different outlets across the U.S. The New York Times ended up doing a huge piece in September on Unity Fellowship Church.
The National Black Justice Coalition is now having a national presence. Kanye West's statement on homophobia in hip-hop on MTV certainly was a huge turning point. Then Al Sharpton deciding to focus on homophobia as a critical issue in the black community. All of this is leading us to a healthier place.
I would also add Noah's Arc being on TV. I had a friend who just came out to her grandmother in Chicago, and the first thing her grandmother said -- her grandmother was very religious, and conservative, and she wasn't really sure how she was going to deal with it -- was, "Oh OK, I know what that is. I get the LOGO channel, and I've seen Noah's Arc!" It's kind of silly, but, I mean, having specific people on TV that look like you and who are identified as lesbian, gay, bi or trans has a very different impact for black communities than white images do.
This is just a part of our interview with Kenyon Farrow. Read the Full Interview >>
Associate Editor, Test Positive Aware Network, Chicago, Ill.
The stigma! The stigma about HIV, the stigma around sexuality, stigma, stigma, stigma.
What HIV risk factors are of special concern to African Americans?
Again, the stigma. Because if we don't address the stigma, people are not going to feel comfortable about their sexuality or about disclosing their HIV status, and we just keep this never-ending cycle going of "don't ask, don't tell" and new infections.
This is just a part of our interview with Keith Green. Read the Full Interview >>
Singer, Actor, Producer and Playwright, Founder of "Divas Simply Singing" annual benefit, Los Angeles, Calif.
Ignorance and stigma. Every time I perform Sometimes I Cry, you would be amazed at what people do not know about this disease. Sometimes I think, "How could they not know?" But the more we concentrate on prevention, the more we're starting to see bits and bits of change, which is a good thing.
What I experience now is the same sort of silence that I heard 20 years ago, when guys were dying on Broadway. It's the same silence. The same unwillingness to talk openly about this disease. It was not until gay people came together and found union as a group that things started to change. They marched on Washington in numbers that people didn't want to believe, just like the Million Man March -- people didn't want to believe that those numbers could come together and speak up and out for change. But that change actually took place.
Do you see that same kind of coming together taking place among African Americans?
Little by little. It is slow, let me tell you. I've just written a piece called Sometimes I Cry, which is stories of women infected and affected by HIV. And in this day, at this time, the response I get from people each and every time I perform it -- you would believe they never knew, they never heard of it, because their stories have not been told and their voices have not been used to speak up and out about their own experience. And that's hard.
This is just a part of our interview with Sheryl Lee Ralph. Read the Full Interview >>
Former Director of Technical Assistance, Training and Treatment, National Minority AIDS Council, Washington, D.C.
Confusion about who is really at risk for HIV, with the result that HIV prevention and education are being focused in the wrong direction.
If you look at the HIV statistics for African Americans, something like 40 percent among men are men who have sex with men [MSM], another 40 percent are injection-drug users [IDUs], and then there is a percentage of heterosexual men. But what those statistics don't tell us is the risk of transmission for those men identified as heterosexual. Those men became infected with HIV from having sex with women. So it's important to recognize the risk of getting HIV from women as well as from men.
But the question is, who are the women infecting the men? The answer is, at least in part, women who are drug users, women who are the sex partners of men who inject drugs, women who are sex workers. But the statistics don't really reflect this reality.
How would you best address that?
That's a tough one. Recognizing the reality of who is at risk requires all sorts of discussion that, as a community, African Americans haven't had. Then, you don't see 40 percent of the prevention and education activities in the African-American community being devoted to the 40 percent of the MSMs who need them. The same with injection drug users, sex-industry workers, and so on.
People want to do prevention and education for young African-Americans teens who are still living at home with their parents, going to school, going to church. I'm like, "OK, they may engage in sex, but is that population at as high a risk as the women who are in the crack houses, having multiple sex partners, unprotected?" All interventions are important, but we should direct our attention to the most at-risk populations.
This is just a part of our interview with Carlos Velez. Read the Full Interview >>
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