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
Yeah, you have. But I also think that the issue is that you can holler, but we have to be able to open up people's ears to want to listen to what you're saying. And I think, slowly, it's happening. I think, unfortunately, it's taken black women dying of AIDS for the community to actually now want to say, "OK, this is an issue." For years, gay black men were dying, and no one was paying attention.
Right. Right. Right.
And I think that that's a shame on our community. Now is the time to make amends for that, and to start listening.
Yeah. There's no going back; we've just got to keep pushing forward.
There definitely has been a disconnect between the generations of gay black men, especially in terms of HIV. And we kind of talked about it: One of the theories that's kind of out there as to why there's that disconnect is just because young people feel invincible and don't think that anything can hurt them.
But there's also this theory that one of the reasons that there's such a disconnect with HIV is because they didn't really see, and haven't really seen, anyone die in the kinds of ways that people in the '80s and '90s did. Do you find that to be true, from your experiences?
I do. I really do. You know what? That's what got me involved in doing HIV work many, many years ago. Because people that I were associated with started getting sick, and started dying. One of the last things I did in Los Angeles -- in my previous life, I used to be an actor. I did a play called Punks. And even though it was set after HIV had already been around for a couple of years, a lot of people still didn't know about it. The play dealt with a community of guys who went to the gym in West Hollywood, and how HIV sort of infiltrated that core group, and people started dying.
Well, it was a play, and it was a comedy, and it had a lot of good music. But it was, in fact, reality. Because in my own life, people were getting sick and dying. And when I got to New York, they were dying in droves.
For a long time, I think that we in the gay community -- not to mention the black gay community -- but we in the gay community thought, "Oh, my God; it really is just us." And we had to start fighting for our lives. And then we opened our eyes and it was like, "Oh, my God; it's everybody. It's a lot of people." And I think it was just too, too slow in getting into the African-American community. And now I think we are dealing with the consequences.
Now, as far as the disconnect with the young people, I think it's mainly due to the fact that our families were so silent for so long. You know, "Uncle Joe died of cancer."
Oh, my goodness. Yes.
You know, that whole thing. And still, people would rather die from "the sugar" [diabetes] than HIV. That stigma is still, still there. And until we get rid of that, our jobs are going to be really, really tough. Oh, man.
Is there anything else that you would like to say or provide insight on that I didn't ask about? Anything about the African American Office of Gay Concerns?
Well, I do want to put it out there that although we try to meet the young people where they are at, I mean, there are some guys in their 40s, in their 50s, and in their 60s -- and dare I say, 70s, as well; you all need to get tested, too. You cannot go around thinking that you are immune. That's wrong. It's childish. You know where you've been. You know where you've been, and you know you need to go get tested, so we can get you into care and get you into treatment if you test positive.
But I'm hoping everybody's going to be negative. God, I do hope everybody's going to be negative. So I just want to address that community, as well, and just tell anybody in that age group: We're still not immune; it can still happen. All it takes is one time. Condoms -- use condoms; use condoms; use condoms; use condoms.
Thank you Gary, it's been a pleasure.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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