HIV-AIDS is affecting black gay men in the United States on a scale unseen among any other group in the developed world, said a report issued Wednesday ahead of the International AIDS Conference.
So grave is the crisis that in some US cities, one in two black men who have sex with other men are HIV positive, according to the report from the Black AIDS Institute, the only national HIV-AIDS think tank focusing on African Americans.
I was speaking with someone at an unrelated event the other night, and he was talking about the rising HIV infection rate in France. I mentioned similar problems in the states, and how I was surprised that you don’t really hear about AIDS any more. We used to have condoms distributed in bars and all sorts of things, now there’s the occasional concert or something. I do worry that people have become more complacent as fewer of their friends are now dying, and the image of AIDS as a manageable disease increases. (And don’t even get me started on all the online profiles looking to bareback, and worse, indicating that they’re negative!)
Wilson also faulted mainstream gay rights groups for putting the HIV-AIDS crisis on the back burner, now that it is no longer a pressing issue for affluent gays in big cities whose bigger concern today is marriage equality.
“There are almost no national LGBT organizations today that give a rat’s ass about the lives of black gay men as they are impacted by HIV-AIDS, and that’s disgraceful,” he said.
As I mentioned, AIDS certainly isn’t the burning number one issue it was ten or twenty years ago. And I agree that that is a problem. I do not however like it at all when people who have some other pet cause in the community disparage marriage equality.
You can trace probably every single problem we have in the community to homophobia. And that includes society’s homophobia, and our own internalized homophobia. For example, some of the riskier gay sex practices, in my view, have ties, at least, to years of being brought up and told that you’re worthless, a sinner, and going to hell. That does a mighty job on your self-esteem. And with lower self-esteem you might just be willing to try things that you wouldn’t if you thought better of yourself. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s a beginning.
Or take, as the article does, the black community’s response to the epidemic.
“Black people are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV, more likely to die from the disease, and less likely to receive treatment than any other race” in the United States, said the civil rights organization in a report.
Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it said African Americans represent 13 percent of the total population, yet account for more than half of all new HIV diagnoses.
Wilson, 56, attributed part of the problem to the black community’s slow response in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, when it was already wrestling with poverty, unemployment and the spread of crack cocaine.
It’s interesting that the article seems to give the black community a pass for its role in exacerbating the problem, contrary to the article’s treatment of white gays today. Marriage equality is “blamed,” at least implicitly, while poverty and unemployment are mentioned as almost an understandable deflection of attention.
(We are forgetting that in the 80s there was no possibility of passing ENDA, winning marriage, passing a hate crimes law, or ending the ban on gays in the military (and there was still a ban before DADT). While I’m sure our groups were busy with other lesser issues back then, there wasn’t as much focus on these issues because they didn’t really exist at the time. They do now. AIDS was “the” issue in the 80s and early 90s. Yet today there are other also-important issues that compete for our attention as never before.)
In fact, I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb to argue that homophobia in the black community played a huge role in that community ignoring AIDS in the 80s, just as it played a huge role in whites ignoring AIDS in the 80s. And the same homophobia, particularly in the black community, continues to play a role today.
I share the concern that AIDS has become almost a footnote in gay advocacy. I don’t share the disdain that some in our community seem to show for our civil rights battles. It’s just possible that if we got marriage equality, it could go a long ways towards putting an end to that homophobia once and for all. And that helps everyone, including those fighting to promote HIV/AIDS awareness in reluctant populations, and everywhere.