Ad­just­ing our lens

Young black gay men, HIV and the fu­ture

GA Voice - - NEWS - View­point by Charles Stephens and Ken­neth Mau­rice Pass

On Dec. 1, we com­mem­o­rate World AIDS Day. Last month, we cel­e­brated the 22nd an­niver­sary of AIDS Walk At­lanta, per­haps one of the most en­dur­ing rit­u­als of the lo­cal HIV/ AIDS com­mu­nity.

Th­ese two mile­stones are part of a se­ries of sig­nif­i­cant events over the past few months lo­cally and na­tion­ally: The United States Con­fer­ence on AIDS, also in Oc­to­ber; Na­tional Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Aware­ness Day in Septem­ber; and the much an­tic­i­pated In­ter­na­tional AIDS Con­fer­ence held in Washington, DC, back in July.

Through­out th­ese high pro­file events and ac­tiv­i­ties, one mes­sage re­mains clear: We are at a turn­ing point in the HIV/AIDS epi­demic.

Sci­en­tific ev­i­dence seems to be point­ing in that di­rec­tion. Re­cent stud­ies have shown that if an HIV-pos­i­tive per­son is put on treat­ment, they are less likely to trans­mit the virus.

There has also been ev­i­dence in re­cent stud­ies in­di­cat­ing that the HIV drug Tru­vada can be ef­fec­tive at prevent­ing HIV among HIV-neg­a­tive peo­ple if taken daily and with mon­i­tor­ing by trained clin­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als. This sug­gests an ad­di­tional tool in an ever-ex­pand­ing tool­box of HIV preven­tion op­tions.

How­ever, even in the midst of such stun­ning success, the im­pact of HIV among young black gay men pro­vides a needed and hum­bling per­spec­tive on just how far we have left to go. And thus, even as we wit­ness the breath­tak­ing progress of sci­ence and medicine in the con­text of HIV/AIDS, we must also re­mem­ber that HIV stigma, ho­mo­pho­bia, racism, and other forces of vul­ner­a­bil­ity for young black gay men, will not be treated with a pill.

We have to ad­dress the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal along­side the clin­i­cal. There will be lim­ited success in the realm of HIV preven­tion or treat­ment, un­less we ad­dress the im­pact of HIV among young black gay men.

Af­ter all, it is im­per­a­tive for the success of any move­ment, and cer­tainly our col­lec­tive progress as a com­mu­nity, to be mea­sured not only by the con­tin­ued con­di­tions of the most priv­i­leged but also by the most vul­ner­a­ble. This is not merely a mat­ter of po­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, but also a mat­ter of mo­ral ur­gency.

We must first con­tinue to drive home the fact that HIV is not merely an is­sue of be­hav­ior, but also has so­cial and struc­tural im­pli­ca­tions. For ex­am­ple, we know that home­less­ness and hous­ing in­sta­bil­ity, along with is­sues of poverty and eco­nomic dis­tress, are prob­lems that af­fect young gay men.

Th­ese chal­lenges cre­ate con­di­tions that make them more vul­ner­a­ble to HIV, and lead to poorer health out­comes if they are HIV pos­i­tive. Stigma too, as it re­lates to anti-gay stigma, cre­ates con­di­tions that dis­em­power young black gay men from seek­ing treat­ment and preven­tion re­sources.

How we ad­dress the struc­tural is­sues fac­ing young black gay men is in­tri­cately tied to our success in ad­dress­ing HIV.

Next, we must in­spire re­silience and con­fi­dence in young black gay men, while also in­spir­ing a col­lec­tive vi­sion of be­ing gay and black as parts of a whole. This cre­ates a stronger and more af­firmed sense of iden­tity, and this re­in­forces the po­lit­i­cal ur­gency to con­tinue to fight in­jus­tice and in­equal­ity.

Though there has been con­sid­er­able thought and ef­fort put into un­der­stand­ing the com­plex­ity of iden­tity from a cul­tural per­spec­tive, this has not al­ways made its way into the HIV con­ver­sa­tion. The re­la­tion­ships be­tween cul­ture, iden­tity, and the so­cial forces that shape health out­comes have to be met head on. Cul­tural af­fir­ma­tion is a part of de­vel­op­ing and sus­tain­ing in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive re­silience.

Fi­nally, we should con­sider not only the present, but also the fu­ture of the move­ment. The in­no­va­tions devel­oped to­day are as ef­fec­tive as the lead­ers who are able to usher them in.

Work­ing to­gether, young black gay men and al­lies, we will bring an end to the epi­demic.

Ken­neth Mau­rice Pass is a ju­nior at More­house Col­lege study­ing psychology and pub­lic health. He is pres­i­dent of SafeS­pace, More­house Col­lege’s gay-straight al­liance and stu­dent ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, as well as an un­der­grad­u­ate re­search fel­low and health pol­icy in­tern.

Charles Stephens is an At­lanta-based writer. He is co-edit­ing an an­thol­ogy called “Black Gay Ge­nius” and helped to de­velop the so­cial mar­ket­ing cam­paign From Where I Stand: www.fromwherei­s­tand.org

Ken­neth Mau­rice Pass

Charles Stephens and

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