By H. Alexander Robinson
Like the rest of the Black America, Black gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (GLBT) communities face many challenges; the most urgent of these is the continuing enormous challenge of the AIDS epidemic. The primary barrier is homophobia and an unwillingness to talk openly and honestly about sex. Until we can tell the truth about our sex lives, we will continue to have statistics showing that half of the HIV-infected Black men who have sex with men do not know their status. Like the rest of the Black America, Black gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (GLBT) communities face many challenges; the most urgent of these is the continuing enormous challenge of the AIDS epidemic.
Photo: H. Alexander Robinson
The primary barrier is homophobia and an unwillingness to talk openly and honestly about sex. Until we can tell the truth about our sex lives, we will continue to have statistics showing that half of the HIV-infected Black men who have sex with men do not know their status.
In addition, we face the enormous challenges faced by other issues affecting Black communities and institutions: poverty and underemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, poor access to health care and an epidemic of homelessness particularly among Black gay youth. Our AIDS messages have to compete for time and attention.
Black people have made the most progress in the treatment of AIDS. As with our non-Black counterparts, access to treatment has meant fewer deaths and improved quality of life for those who are in care. However, more Black men and women are living with HIV and AIDS than any other group. HIV is prevalent among Black women at rates that far outpace their non-Black sisters. Moreover, statistically Black people living with HIV progress to full-blown AIDS and die sooner than our white and Latino brothers and sisters.
African-Americans have made the least progress in sexual attitudes and behavior. Here we continue to see misinformation and prejudice offered up as fact. Sex is still a taboo subject and homosexuality is still in the closet. There is a mistaken notion that HIV is reserved to certain subpopulations; to homosexual men, their partners, and drug users. This is largely because of the reality that HIV continues to disproportionately affect Black gay and bisexual men.
We have made a great deal of political progress in some parts of the country, but we still face major barriers in many Southern states.
Activism must play a role in combating HIV. However, the activism needed to address HIV and AIDS in Black communities is broader than what was needed in non-black communities. For example, the fact that so many African-Americans still lack access to primary health care and mental health services means that we show up not only with HIV infection, but with other serious health conditions which have gone undetected and untreated. This requires more than an AIDS clinic — we need comprehensive community health centers.
A Democratic Congress certainly offers an opportunity for progress and change. The Democratic political ideology supports the kind of policies that could make a difference for our community.
The Congress and the administration have done a great deal of damage to our efforts to address AIDS, poverty, and to educate our youth. It will take much more than a change of political leadership in the White House or in Congress for our community to have adequate access to quality health care, opportunities for higher education and protection in our workplaces, homes and neighborhoods.
The focus of the National Black Justice Coalition's AIDS advocacy is on raising awareness of the impact of the epidemic and the need for greater activism from Black civil rights, social justice and healthcare advocates. In addition, I personally have a commitment to developing more comprehensive, holistic HIV prevention strategies that address Black gay and same-gender-loving men.
HIV activism for Black communities must include gay activism, social justice activism and finishing the job of securing justice, equality and civil rights for all Americans.
In working with African-American organizations and community leaders, our discussions about HIV/AIDS are often the portal to real conversations about the impact that homophobia h