Eighteen years ago I entered the fight against the spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and wanted nothing more than to further the education and prevention strategies within communities of color. I pushed to provide HIV testing within the African-American community and beat the pavement with bag-loads of condoms and lubrication in effort to raise awareness about prevention and encourage everyone to have safer-sex. I have sat on community panels, facilitated workshops, preached from pulpits, and taught about it in schools. I have urged African-American clergy to talk about HIV prevention from the pulpit and even offered to work with traditional pastors on how to best reach the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community from a non-judgmental standpoint. Yet, in the end I am convinced that no matter what else is said, or done, HIV will continue to ravage through the Black community at an alarming rate.
I really thought my people would be willing to put in the work to stop the avoidable high rate of new HIV infections. I understand that everyone has their cause of choice and forgive me for sounding selfish, but I am at a loss as to why the issue of HIV within the African-American community is not something we are all talking about: continually. Everyone has sex (some more than others) and everyone has done something that placed them at risk for contracting HIV. It is amazing that 25+ years into the virus some are still perplexed as to how it is transmitted. I chuckle when I hear someone say ‘it’s a gay disease’, or ‘Magic Johnson was cured.’ It troubles my spirit to know that countless young (junior and high school aged) people are having sex without any knowledge of how to remain HIV negative.
The stats are clear.
African-Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV
The rate of new HIV infection in African-Americans is 8 times that of white based on population size.
Gay and bisexual men account for the most new infections among African-Americans; young gay and bisexual men aged 13 to 24 are the most affected of this group.
At some point in their lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 16 African-American men and 1 in 32 African-American women will be diagnosed with HIV infection.
Yes, I am disheartened by the black community’s lack of passion and buy-in for HIV prevention; however, what chaffs me most is the passive attitude of the black church. We all know that the church is a gumbo of personalities, behaviors and lifestyles. I am aghast when a pastor tells me that my HIV and sexual health education services are not needed because 'his' church doesn’t have congregants who engage in 'sexually sinful behaviors'. It is an awful truth that in the midst of the black church (as a whole) are large numbers of HIV positive individuals forced to live in secret because they fear being ostracized or rejected by those who profess to love all.
I am also troubled by the amount of black gay men who shun the various efforts created to educate and prevent HIV transmission. Don’t get me wrong, I have numerous gay friends who are passionately fighting to eradicate the spread of HIV, but I also know a great deal who are completely unconcerned about its spread. Of course no one wants to be reminded of sexual risks while trying to meet a cute stranger at the turn-up: I understand that. Yet, it would be ideal if while passing out safer sex items at the club people would say ‘thanks for caring enough to be here with condoms’, But, for some reason the words of gratitude are few and far between: if ever.
The worse part of it all is that the moment any type of medical advance is made the black community begins a witch-hunt to prove that the ‘treatment’ is a scientific scheme to kill off the black man; hence, leaving us further behind in treatment and prevention efforts. Yes, I do understand the reasoning behind the distrust and fear (Tuskegee experiment 1932-1972) but at some point we must realize that we can ultimately become our own worst enemy.
No one wants to contract HIV. Wait; let me retract that because there are some who are trying to become HIV positive (I’ll write about that on another blog). I am not attempting to beat a dead horse. Instead, I am trying to resurrect a conversation/topic that seems to have gotten lost. If you don’t think HIV prevention and education is important I don’t know what else to say. Maybe my vantage point is different because I work in the HIV field and hear stories from people who society would never associate with being ‘risky’. Sex is being practiced by anyone with a pulse. I counsel young kids as well as the elderly and all are doing something that puts them at risk.
As bad as I want to throw in the towel and say f--- it ain’t nobody listening, I know that would not be the right thing to do. Everyone deserves to know the facts. However, if after I have shared the truth on how to stay HIV negative you still decide to ‘trust’ the random jump-off because he or she looks healthy, guess who is to blame.
It is time to wake-up, dust of the shame, walk away from the denial, and face the crisis of HIV head-on. It definitely will take the entire village.