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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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I think that's the thing, too: Fear and reality are not always the same thing. You're very implicit. If you would tell people, "Look, you don't have to ejaculate inside someone to give them an STD [sexually transmitted disease]," I feel like that would just have light bulbs going off in people's heads. I think they don't understand. HIV is not as -- I don't think contagious is the best word -- but you know, gonorrhea and chlamydia are much easier to transmit. And I think that people don't really even understand how any of that works.

You know what? I agree. And I think we need to start talking about syphilis, and not only can you spread it really easy; but the fact that it's really, really out there. So even if you're not afraid of HIV, honey, you need to be scared of chlamydia and syphilis. Because those things are indigenous to young people, anyhow.

If we're going to refer to behaviors, certain behaviors, then I think we have got to be honest enough to really be explicit about those behaviors. And just to go back to what you said about older men, younger men: I think that's a reality also that people just aren't really, really putting out there.

Now, in the Many Men, Many Voices intervention, they do talk about that. They talk about who's got the power in the relationship. Is it the older? Is it the wiser? Is it the bottom? And people say, "Oh, no; the top always has the power." No. You know, if you're a great bottom, honey, you're going to have the power. You ever heard of power bottoms?

If our audience hasn't, they have right now.

I apologize if you're just now hearing about this.

Because we're keeping it real today.

Yeah. And there's a lot of things that I hear that kind of make me go, "Ohhhh!" And I thought I'd heard everything, especially coming out of the transgender community.

But anyway, now my mind is racing.

That's OK.

But a lot of times there will be a case where an older man who may or may not know that he's HIV infected will have unprotected sex with a younger person. Now, you know, statistics will show you that young people have been giving each other these STDs back and forth for years and years and years, without HIV coming into the picture. But now, all of a sudden, if older guys start doing it, and doing it wrong, and having unprotected sex, all of a sudden we have introduced HIV into that equation, where it wasn't there before.

I think that's what has happened with social networks. You know, HIV entered into that realm, that culture, that subculture. And now it's taken a hold. So we need to do what we've got to do right now so that it won't continue and then affect a whole 'nother generation.

Also something people aren't talking about is the fact that there are a lot of people who were born with HIV. They're coming of age now. Remember, we've been talking about this for, what, 25 years? So we've got a lot of young people who were born with HIV, unfortunately. And maybe they weren't told the entire truth. They might be thinking they're taking vitamins.

I've met a couple of people who found out when they were being sexually active, where they didn't know that they were positive. And I want to say they were, like, 17.

You know, that is a reality. And now we're going to have to find a way to help these kids get through what they need to get through. You know what I mean?

And another thing: It's like when I hear a young person tell me -- which happened in one of the focus groups -- a 18-, 19-year-old told me why he doesn't like using condoms. He's like, "You know, I really don't like using condoms because it just feels better when it's raw." And I'm looking at this kid and thinking, "Why do you even know what it's like to feel raw?" I want to say, "You shouldn't be able to feel that." Now, somebody my age -- and I hate to say it this way, but -- all we had to do was get a shot if we got STDs, or something like that. HIV wasn't around, and sex wasn't life-threatening as it can be now.

So these kids that are growing up with HIV, it's like, why? What are you learning? Why are you putting yourself at risk, when HIV has been around since you've been around?

Because we had eight years of abstinence-only education. We live in a culture where we are afraid to talk about sex. And people are afraid to talk about it; yet, it sells everything. It's everywhere you go, but yet we're not able ... we're so ... I don't know what we are. But we're so afraid to talk about it.

HIV, and everything that's wrapped up in HIV, is uncomfortable for a lot of people. You know, it's not just about condoms. It's about God, religion, fluids, needles. All of these things that we really try to just kind of not think about.

And until there's a cure -- and they've been telling us that one for many, many, many years -- but until there's a cure, there's always going to be a need for folks like me, and young people, peer educators, continuing that message. You know: Use a condom. Learn how to use a condom. Use it correctly.

I don't care how much sex you're having. I'm not advocating everybody go out and screw everything in the world. Because the more partners you have, of course, the more you put yourself at risk. But just remember that one infection could do you in. I mean, that's all it takes, is really one time. So you have got to be consistent. Use condoms consistently.

Well, I think that some people think -- especially among the LGBT community -- that people are policing the type of sex that they want to have. And what they don't realize is, even if that's true, there still is a consequence. And is that consequence worth the behavior?

Right. Right. And I think that's another thing that we try to do. When you talk about meeting people where they are; you know, we try to tell everybody that your life is worth saving.

You were talking about the Philadelphia thing with the bull's-eye. I remember way back in the late '80s, when some writer -- I don't know if it was Joseph Beam or Essex Hemphill -- wrote that black men loving black men is a revolutionary thing. But are we becoming an endangered species? And there was a whole big brouhaha. Are you gay and black? Are you black and gay? What do you mean, endangered species? We're not a group of animals!

But the bottom line is, if we continue to put ourselves at risk in doing these behaviors, we can become an endangered species. Because we really are a species. And we've got to take control, and we've got to do the right things; and we've just got to be out there, just hollering, "Arrrrrrrr." I've been hollering for a long time.

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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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