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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

HIV/AIDS and the Black Church

A Video Blog

By Justin B. Terry-Smith

December 2, 2009

I've always wondered why my community of gay black men has been hit the hardest by HIV/AIDS, especially in the D.C. area. Then I thought, there are a number of reasons why this is the case.

When HIV/AIDS first came out in the public eye, a lot of people of color automatically stigmatized HIV as a gay white disease. So they went around with this notion in their heads that they couldn't possibly contract HIV.

As time went on, that notion was proven wrong. In the black community, HIV/AIDS grew and grew and grew. And now we are living in a modern epidemic in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C. It is sad to say that as of early 2009, 3 percent of Washington, D.C.'s residents are living with HIV or AIDS. According to health officials, the 1 percent threshold constitutes a "generalized and severe" epidemic.

Black male D.C. residents between the ages of 40 and 49 make up most of the residents that are infected, with nearly a 7 percent rate of infection. Why are we not getting the message to protect ourselves and each other?

Let's try to start from the beginning. Back in the days of slavery, the church was a place of salvation for black people, because it was the only place we as black people could make the rules of our own place of worship. It was a place of sanctity for black people to let loose life's stresses and the stresses of working in the fields or homes of their owners.

Even years after slavery has ended, that place of worship still has remained a place to call home, a place to let go of life's burdens and feel love and acceptance. But being gay quickly changes that love into hatred and that acceptance into rejection in the black church. Today many black gay men don't feel that the black church provides that love and acceptance they so long to have.

If a black gay person is born and raised in a church and that church rejects him or her, there may be damage that has to be repaired. There may be some self-esteem issues that the individual needs to deal with.

Think about it: The one institution that you held near and dear to your heart, mind and spirit has left you in the cold to suffer and die (spiritually). When that happens, sometimes people like to get their pleasures from other things like drinking, drugs or sex. Having your self-esteem diminished by an institution that you've trusted for so long can have powerful consequences -- it can obliterate you from the inside out.

Unfortunately homophobic black churches abound. An example is a church in my area, in D.C., that is run by Reverend Willie Wilson. His church, Union Temple Baptist Church, even reportedly receives funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and even had initial involvement in the Million Man March movement. Yet, Rev. Wilson has said some nasty things about gay people.

In a speech of his a few years ago (2005), he said,

"...Any time somebody got to slap some grease on your behind, and stick something in you, it's something wrong with that. Your butt ain't made for that. [In the background, the church audience voices its approval.] You got blood vessels and membranes in your behind. And if you put something unnatural in there, it breaks them all up. ...Lesbianism is about to take over our community. ...We live in a time when our brothers have been so put down, can't get a job, lot of the sisters making more money than brothers. And it's creating problems in families. That's one of the reasons our families' breaking up. And that's one of the reasons many of our women are becoming lesbians ..."

Here is the link to Rev. Willie Wilson's speech.

What I want to know is how can a church like this receive HIV/AIDS prevention funding? After all living in a homophobic environment is a risk factor for HIV! What sort of attempt is this at HIV prevention if homophobia is the norm in this church?

Why, in 2009, with such high rates of HIV, can there still be men of faith like this who are openly and proudly homophobic?

Unfortunately Rev. Wilson is not the only homophobic man of faith in Washington, D.C. Bishop Alfred Owens is also in the heart of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in D.C. His church is a large one known as the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church. In his Palm Sunday sermon in 2006, he said:

"It takes a real man to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. I'm not talking about no faggot or no sissy. Wait a minute! Let all the real men come on down here and take a bow ... All the real men -- I'm talking about the straight men. You ain't funny and you ain't cranky, but you're straight. Come on down here and walk around and praise God that you are straight. Thank him, that you're straight. All the straight men that's proud to be a Christian. That's proud to be a man of God."

You can listen to Bishop Alfred Owens' full speech here.

Instead of spouting this sort of ugly hatred of gay people, what these churches need to do is help gay black men stand up and say, "I love myself too much to hurt myself or anyone else."

This is my plea to these churches -- please help my community help themselves!

But all is not lost. There are gay-friendly churches that our gay black brothers and sisters still choose to visit on their Sunday mornings/afternoons/evenings, even in the Washington, D.C and Baltimore, Md., area.

Here's a list of life-affirming churches from an organization known as Operation Rebirth. Operation Rebirth notes that the churches that are part of this list accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation. So check out this list for a friendly, supportive life-affirming church.


Unity Fellowship Phoenix
2106 N. 24th St., Suite C
Phoenix, AZ 85008
Rev. Henri Eason


City of Refuge United Church of Christ
1025 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA
Bishop Yvette A. Flunder

Spiritual Truth Unity Fellowship Church
717 E. Pacific Coast Highway
Long Beach, CA 90806
(562) 489-1017
Rev. Roger Quinney

Unity Fellowship Los Angeles
5148 W. Jefferson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90016
Archbishop Carl Bean

Unity Fellowship -- Riverside
3386 Durahart Street (3rd & Chicago)
Riverside, CA 92507
Rev. Elder Claude Bowen

Unity Fellowship San Diego
3437 University Avenue
San Diego, CA 92104
Rev. Charles Lanier


Amistad Fellowship UCC
Rev. John Selders


Unity Fellowship Church Washington, D.C.
1226 Vermont Ave., NW
(Inside Luther Place Memorial Church)
Washington, DC
Rev. Dyan Abena McCray, Founding Pastor

Inner Light Ministries
1525 Newton Street NW
Washington DC
Bishop Kwabena Rainey Cheeks

Greater Hope Christian Church
1722 North Capitol Street, NW
Washington, DC 20002
Rev. Dr. Paulette M.E. Stevens, Founding Pastor

Freedom Fellowship Christian Church
400 H Street NE
Washington DC
Rev. Kevin D. Brown & Rev. Patrick Maye

National City Christian Church
5 Thomas Circle, N.W.
Washington, DC
Dr. Alvin O'Neal Jackson, Senior Pastor


Breath of Life Fellowship Community Church
6424 North Armenia Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
813.935.9495 or 813.873.1889
Rev. J. Ricc Rollins, II, Senior Pastor


God, Self and Neighbor Ministries
743 Virginia Ave.
Atlanta, GA 30357
Rev. Dr. Kathi Martin

Unity Fellowship
2001 Martin Luther King Dr., Suite 602A 6th Floor
Atlanta, GA 30308

Victory Church
1170 N. Hairston Rd
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
Rev. Kenneth Samuel

The Vision Church
P.O. Box 11324
Atlanta, GA 30310
Rev. Clay Allen, Senior Pastor


Pillar of Love Fellowship Church
9 Ash Street
Park Forrest, IL 60466
Rev. Phyllis Pennesse


2530 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206
502.262.4272 or 502.893.6323


Greater Bibleway Missionary Baptist Church
2940 Joliet St.
New Orleans, LA 70118
504. 866.7554
Rev. Dr. Toris Young, Sr.


Unity Fellowship Baltimore
114 W. Read St.
Baltimore, MD 21201


Full Truth Ministries
4458 Joy Road
Detroit, MI
Rev. Darlene C.A. Franklin, Pastor

The Palmer Park Church
950 West McNichols
Detroit, MI
Rev Darlene C.A. Franklin, Founder

Unity Fellowship Church Detroit
20846 Reimanville Ave.
Ferndale, MI 48220
Rev. Darren McCarroll-Jones


Greater New Higher Heights Christian Church, "U.C.C."
4657 S. Grand Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63111
Bishop Dr. Wyatt I. Greenlee, Jr.

New York/Tri-State Area

Liberation In Truth Unity Fellowship Church
Trinity Phillips Cathedral
608 Broad Street
Newark, NJ 07102
47-49 New Street
Newark, NJ 07102
Rev. Elder Jacquelyn Holland

Unity Fellowship Church -- New Brunswick
235-239 Jersey Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Rev. Kevin E. Taylor

Tawa Pano Unity Fellowship Church
758 South Avenue
Rochester, NY 14620
Rev. Kevin E. Taylor

North Carolina

Unity Fellowship Charlotte
127 Eastway Drive
Charlotte, NC 28205
Rev. Tonyia Rawls

Church of the Holy Spirit
1901 Lendew Street
Greensboro, NC 27408

Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship, Inc.
2706 Winslow Lane
Winston-Salem, NC 27103
Pastor Roger E. Hayes


Truth and Destiny Covenant Ministries
Cincinnati, Ohio


Transforming Word Cathedral
Elder James L. Mills, Sr.
PO Box 1449
Bookhaven, PA 19015


Living Faith Church of the Full Covenant
3131 N. Stemmons Freeway, Suite E
Dallas, Texas 75247
Apostle Alex Byrd


Community Church of Joy
5311 13th Avenue South
Seattle, WA

Sojourner Truth Unity Fellowship Church
1710 11th St.
Seattle, WA 98112
Rev. Gwen Hall

If you're gay and need a place to worship the god you long to seek salvation with, then choose a church that is going to bring you up and not push you down.

To contact Justin, click here.

See Also's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
More on African-American Churches and HIV/AIDS


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Justin's HIV Journal

Justin B. Terry-Smith

Justin B. Terry-Smith

Justin B. Terry-Smith, M.P.H., may be one of the most public African Americans living with HIV: He has his own website, and he's even on YouTube. He is a noted HIV and gay civil rights activist and the creator of "Justin's HIV Journal," a popular blog in which he shares his trials and tribulations of living with HIV. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Justin resides in Laurel, Maryland, with his husband, Dr. Philip Terry-Smith, and their son, Lundyn. Presently, Justin is working toward earning his doctorate in public health. He welcomes your questions.
(Photo credit: Don Harris)

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