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HIV Frontlines: In Newark, N.J., an HIV/AIDS Advocate Finds New Ways to Reach LGBT African Americans

A Conversation With Gary Paul Wright

October 18, 2010

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Before you keep talking about that, can you go back and kind of explain what your Many Men, Many Voices is?

Many Men, Many Voices is a multi-session intervention where we talk about the dual identity of being a black man and being a gay man. We talk about community. We talk about religion, how that affects us in what we do, and how we choose our sexual partners. So it's basically made up of, like, maybe six to seven components that can be done on a weekly basis. The guys come back and report every week. Or you can do it like we do -- as a weekend retreat.

Now, the state of New Jersey also does a go-away retreat, where they go off into the -- I shouldn't say off into the woods, but to a place -- and they're actually cooped up in this place for like two and a half days. And it's really, really quite effective. I think it helps build community, as well.

It's good, but I think guys are at the point now [that] they don't want to be told so much what they can't do. I think we have to give guys permission to do some things, but just do them safely. And we have to be able to talk about those things. You know, in the old days, we used to have posters that were very, very explicit. We've gone generic, kinda. So I'd like to see more of that. But, anyway, that's my bag.

We're going to talk about that a little later on, too, toward the end, about sex-ed and culturally competent prevention methods toward MSM, especially of color. So we're going to get to that.

You were talking about the transgender community, which I was going to ask you about. How in touch is your organization with that community and the ballroom scene?

Actually, it's so unusual. Because when I was growing up as a little gay man, I had gone to the clubs in Dallas [Texas], where I grew up. And I knew that there were drag queens who performed. And that was about it. That's about all I knew about transgender [people].

So what happened was when we opened up the office, the kids were drawn in. Some of the kids were drawn to one of the posters, which actually came out of San Francisco, of a little Asian woman who has price tags on her body parts. And [she's] obviously transgender. Like, her breasts cost so much; her lips cost so much. And it was like, wow; these kids are like really interested in it. And then one or two would come up, in these little wigs, and things like that. And I'm like, oh, my gosh.

Now, I'd also been familiar with the house community. But I was sort of once-removed, because I figured that was a society all its own. And I'd done it with GMHC. "Let me move on."

Well, I had to change my tapes. I had to change the way I was thinking about it. Because it's like a totally, totally different world. And I'm looking at these kids who are walking down the streets of Newark in these wigs and fake breasts, and trying to pass as women. And I'm like, you know, these are some brave kids; and why aren't we doing anything for them? So I had another dream. And it said, T.G.I.F. (Thank Goodness I'm Fabulous!). So we started that whole peer support group thing. And we're still trying to address that community the way it needs to be addressed.

There's an EBI -- an intervention -- called SISTA [Sisters Informing Sisters about Topics on AIDS]. What we wanted to do is to do it for our transgender community. But you know, the state of New Jersey was like, "Well, even though you have some transgender women, some are still considered MSM." And I guess, because of what we were doing, we had people down there in Trenton who understand what we're going through. And they said, "Well, maybe you could do something. You know, maybe you could adapt a SISTA for the transgender community."

So two of my staff, Anastasia and Carla, went down and actually took the SISTA training, just to make sure that this was something we thought we could do. And they came back and said, "Yeah." They were like really, really excited. Anastasia's transgender. She started this support group here. And she's like, "Really, really, really, let's do this." So we talked to our people in Trenton, and they said, "Well, let's see if we can get some technical assistance for you." And they did what they needed to do with the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and they came back.

And so now we're in the process of working with University of California, San Francisco, in the transitions program over there, to get technical assistance to bring SISTA to our transgender sistas.

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More From This Resource Center

Watch What These Trans Women Would Say to Their Younger Selves

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This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication HIV Frontlines.
See Also's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More Views on HIV Prevention in the African-American Community

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Anonymous Sat., May. 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm UTC
I'm positive with a cd4 count Of 594 of which I had it after taking arvs but now that I'm pregnant I want to do abortion is it risky or not
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Comment by: Kid Pizaaz (Chicago, Il) Tue., Jul. 17, 2012 at 3:18 am UTC
Poverty! Ignorance! Willful stupidity do indeed, play a big part in this tragedy, but, the problem that nobody discusses or admit to is that those not afflicted by HIV will not, cannot, in their eyes, must not show any awareness or concern! Now, if you are Gay and Black with HIV!! Man! You can kiss your Afro-American Rear End Adios!
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