Florida: Silence Is Death Highlights Link Between Churches and Rise in Local African-American HIV Rates

The 2009 documentary Silence Is Death: Unheard Voices was commissioned by Palm Beach County in response to a report showing the disproportionate toll HIV/AIDS is having on Florida's black residents. Made on a $5,000 budget, the film examines homophobia and the role of the black church in the epidemic. It was produced by Lorenzo Robertson, an outreach coordinator with the Florida Department of Health.

Black men who have sex with men are especially at risk, and their life experiences are captured in the documentary. "I was raised in the church where they said if you were gay you were going to hell," recalled "Abdul," who feared he would lose his loved ones and sense of community by coming out.

According to Robertson, state officials understand they must engage black churches if they are to successfully tackle HIV/AIDS. But gay black men also must assume responsibility for their health, he said. "You can't make sure anyone else is protected, but you can protect yourself," he said.

The film, which premiered in 2010, will be screened Feb. 12 at the Wolfsonian Museum at Florida International University. Tickets are free but an RSVP is required. For more information, telephone 305-751-7283 or visit http://tinyurl.com/DefendingOurIdentities.