Often times we are reminded about unsettling facts about how HIV and AIDS looks within the Black gay community. These stories are often laced with tragedy, how “down low” men contribute to high infection rates in the Black community, and the constant battle of statistics being a losing game.
According to the Center for Disease Control, three out of four new HIV infections are among Black gay and bisexual men. This is more than six times the rate of infection among White men and higher than infections of other people of color groups. Data has even predicted that by the end of this decade, more than 60 percent of Black gay men will be living with HIV.
More than half.
However, another missing piece to this story, which is often overlooked, are the rates Black cisgender and transwomen face. Although disparities in new HIV diagnoses for Black women have decreased, it is still high compared to women of other races and ethnicities.
Compared with other races and ethnicities, Blacks account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses, those living with HIV, and those ever diagnosed with AIDS. Factors driving higher rates of HIV infections for the Black gay men and women are complex, but we can look at the way oppressive structures and systems shape the world of marginalized voices and groups. We see this play out in how police fail to disarm Black bodies, how we discuss consent and even how we address anti-trans violence.
For me, World AIDS Day is a time to reflect on how we deal with HIV. It is a wake up call loud enough that we cannot continue to ignore. I experience the awkward stares from my girlfriends who become uncomfortable talking about HIV in candid conversations. I hear the stigma projected in the dangerous rhetoric Black gay men use on dating apps with words like “sick” and “clean” when it comes to someone’s HIV status. I’ve listen to one too many stories of friends and loved ones sharing their HIV-positive status with me and not sure where to go for resources.
The Black community at large has had a fractured, at best, relationship with the medical community (and even moreso when it’s about sexual health). Once we seek care, we still need health care providers and systems that are culturally competent to help us navigate personal and difficult health care issues. This isn’t just limited to HIV care – but the overall health. We cannot say Black people won’t go to the doctor if we haven’t made sure that they have equitable, culturally aware places to go.
A few weeks ago after the electoral college (or white Americans protecting white supremacy) elected an unqualified candidate for president, the election results are still difficult to accept, especially for many minority groups. The racist, sexist and xenophobic tones heard throughout the campaign doesn’t leave much room for comfort for marginalized voices. We also have a Vice President-elect who has spent his entire career advocating for harmful policies like conversion therapy and diverting much-needed HIV funding in Indiana. Not to mention, the discriminatory views and unfair policies Trump’s new administration will bring.
President Barack Obama tried to calm the nation and tell us that the sun will rise tomorrow, and admittedly he was right. The sun did rise again. And the sun will come up for Black gay men and women despite what statistics show.
Make no mistake. This is not a time for us to give up. Our story and lineage is one full of perseverance and strength. From Black trans women leading the Stonewall movement, to Black woman being the backbone of the reproductive justice movement, and to Black gay men shaping our culture. Our relationship and power is a friendly reminder of how we are always there for each other and making ‘shift’ happen. Our bonds are strong because we continue to face discrimination and overcome oppression.
Black gay men and women must continue to push for advance awareness about HIV prevention and treatment, revision of federal funding, and better access to reliable overall health care.
Luckily, there are people out there doing the work. Programs like The Red Door Foundation prioritize the needs of HIV prevention and treatment in the South for Black gay men through a yearly symposium and community meetings. There’s Sister Love in Atlanta being intersectional in their approach by addressing the impact of HIV and other reproductive health challenges upon women and their families. Despite several years of research, we know very little about transgender people and HIV. So organizations like National Center for Transgender Equality are slowly releasing groundbreaking data to highlight the impact of anti-transgender bias. And a host of others like Brothers United, Positive Women’s Network, Casa Ruby, and Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative.
As we observe World AIDS Day, it is crucial for us to remember that much work remains to be done not only in the United States, but globally too. If we are to truly move the needle on HIV, we must use our collective magic to unapologetically demand equity, protection and justice across our differences. All we ever known how to do is fight, and Black gay men and women will have to stand and work together if we want to see an AIDS free generation.
Drew-Shane Daniels is a Washington, DC-based digital strategist and freelance writer who has penned articles for Slate, The Grio, VIBE, and Fusion, among others. Follow him @drewshane.