We are here! We are proud black gay men, standing tall with our heads held high!

-- Tony Daniels

Charles Stephens
Charles Stephens

When I think about being a black gay man in the U.S. South, I think about small and large acts of defiance. I think about rebellion and resistance both grand in scale and as subtle as a whisper. I think about community organizing with little money and lots of passion. I think about telling and hearing stories that sound like poetry. I think about being afraid, but doing it anyway. I think about wanting to run, but not running. I think about surreal HIV testing experiences in Kafkaesque clinical settings. I think about administering a positive HIV test to a black gay man not yet 20 years old. I think about the pervasive silence around HIV even in activist circles. I think about our dreams as much as I think about our obstacles.

Our charge, not a simple one but an inspired one, is to assemble a diverse group of Black gay men's voices from or in the South, to speak to, to provide perspective around, and ultimately to bring visibility to our experiences. Voices that might provide, if not clarity, then at least context, and certainly direction around issues impacting us like: the need for more targeted HIV testing and earlier HIV diagnosis, more sustained engagement in treatment/care for HIV positive black gay men, access to condoms, access to PrEP and PEP, individual/group/community level behavioral interventions for sexual health, access to housing, better economic conditions, an end to racist sentencing practices, access to mental health services, chronic unemployment, HIV criminalization laws, and stigma. And with that, the Counter Narrative Project and the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance partnered to curate this blog tour: "We Are Here: Black Gay Men and the South," to build on the webinar we organized back in July. We chose National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to launch the blog series as a way to ensure the voices of black gay men, particularly from the South, would not be marginal or diminished in the commemorative narratives. Each blogger represents a different facet, a diverse voice, an important contribution to what it means to be black and gay in the South.

Storytelling is indispensable to effective policy advocacy. We must wield our stories like an axe against the structures and institutions that uphold, reinforce, and perpetuate deadly policy outcomes for black gay men. We must also and just as critically use our stories as a bridge to learn from and stand in solidarity with other marginalized communities. Converting lived experiences into policy victories for black gay men is quite a journey indeed, but one we are determined to travel.

"We Are Here: Black Gay Men in the South," is a blog tour curated by the Counter Narrative Project and the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance to amplify the voices of Black gay men in the South. For more information feel free to contact: thecounternarrtive@gmail.com.

Charles Stephens is the founder of the Counter Narrative Project, an initiative seeking to amplify the voices of black gay men. Find him on twitter: @buildingdesire.