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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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What has the reaction been to the Status Is Everything campaign?

Well, I think the Department of Health is looking at statistics, and they're analyzing, and things like that. There has been -- and I don't know percentages -- an increase of young men getting tested. And we don't know if they are identifying or coming out because of the campaign, or if it would normally happen. But I'm going to take credit for it.

Go right ahead.

If they're coming out as gay men, I say that's great. I think that's just wonderful. I think getting tested is still a scary thing for a lot of people. But it's like once you enter that society, once they gain your trust, you've just got to keep on and keep on and keep on. And people are going to do the right things. Or community norms are going to change. And that's what we're hoping to do, that getting tested is going to be like a yearly thing for people, you know, and to try to stay negative. And if they do find out that they're positive, get treatment. So often -- and I know I'm preaching to the pulpit, I mean, you know, preaching to the choir -- so often in our community, we find out too late about an HIV infection. That way, we get sicker quicker. We die quicker. Or we're waiting till we're just too old to turn that tide. So I think it has happened, and I think we have got to keep on. I think we have got to keep talking to the community and finding out what they want, or what they're expecting.

We haven't had any negative feedback; I'll tell you that much. When you have [ads depicting] gay kids, or gay-identified kids, on buses here in Newark, you might think, "Oh, my God; they're going to draw mustaches on them, or they're going to write fag across it," or something. We have had none of that, knock on wood. Even the city has just been really, really helpful, and behind us, and things like that.

Yeah. Cory Booker, the mayor, was there. And I think that he has been a very vocal kind of ally -- not just around HIV, but definitely around LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues. And I think that that really sends a message to the people of Newark.

And you know, I think that's what it takes. I think if your city officials don't buy into a program, or are at least out there recognizing that there is a -- I don't want to say that there is a problem, but -- there is an epidemic ... Once they come out and say, "We're going to address it," or, "We're going to do something," or, "We're going to help this agency fight that battle," half the battle is almost won, you know what I mean? So we're very, very, very lucky. We've had progressive mayors. And now we've got the LGBT Commission, of which I'm a commissioner, as well.

Can you tell us about that?

Well, certainly, I can. Actually, Councilman Ron Rice Jr. -- Ronald Rice -- when he was elected to the city council, he met with some of us and he said, "You know, we are going to have a commission." He said, "I'm going to do everything I can." This is also after Cory Booker already had recognized our community as a unique community. I don't want to say that he hadn't done anything. He and his office, with Bari Mattes - those people have done a lot, especially for gay young people. They're trying to bring in the Hetrick-Martin Institute and afterschool programs.

But Councilman Rice said, "We're going to take this one step further," and lo and behold, he addressed the city council and put forth this commission. And last year, we actually got a little charter from the city. Now, we haven't gotten any money from the city, which other cities have, but a lot of cities don't have LGBT commissions. So we're not a governing body, but we are in an advisory capacity. And I think, with the help of our community, we're going to make some noise around here. We're already making some noise. It's a positive thing that's happening in Newark.

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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


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