Gay, bi­sex­ual health front and cen­ter at MSM Sym­po­sium

HIV, ‘the down low’ among top­ics dis­cussed at two-day health and well­ness sym­po­sium

GA Voice - - Georgia News -

By DAR­IAN AARON

Over 100 peo­ple were present at The Lou­d­er­milk Cen­ter in down­town At­lanta on Sept. 24 for the open­ing re­cep­tion of the fourth an­nual MSM (men who have sex with men) Sym­po­sium spon­sored by the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Public Health (DPH).

The re­cep­tion pre­ceded two days of work­shops and pre­sen­ta­tions geared to­ward ad­dress­ing health and so­cial is­sues such as ho­mo­pho­bia, faith and sub­stance abuse in the lives of gay and bi­sex­ual men of color. This year’s theme, “Stigma: Peel­ing Back The Lay­ers,” took on the mon­u­men­tal task of ad­dress­ing many of the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal bar­ri­ers that of­ten lead to an in­crease in new HIV and STD in­fec­tions in gay and bi­sex­ual men.

Ac­cord­ing to DPH, the state of Ge­or­gia has held some of the na­tion’s high­est rates for HIV and other sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases among men who have sex with men. A 2013 state health pro­file pub­lished by the At­lanta-based Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion (CDC) ranks Ge­or­gia first for di­ag­noses of HIV and pri­mary and sec­ondary syphilis among all 50 states. The MSM sym­po­sium in­ten­tion­ally pro­vides a safe space for this pop­u­la­tion to learn, speak out and dis­cusses top­ics di­rectly re­lated to its health and well­ness.

“We can­not al­low stig­mas sur­round­ing HIV, STDs and other top­ics im­pact­ing MSM to re­main a bar­rier to sav­ing the lives of Ge­or­gia cit­i­zens in need of im­por­tant health care ser­vices in our state,” says J. Pa­trick O’Neal, M.D., di­rec­tor of Health Pro­tec­tion at DPH in a state­ment.

Michelle L. Allen, state STD di­rec­tor for DPH, echoes O’Neal’s state­ment and un­cov­ers an ad­di­tional layer to the prob­lem fac­ing those at risk for HIV/STD in­fec­tion.

“In­di­vid­u­als who are in­fected with sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases (STDS) are at least two to five times more likely than un­in­fected in­di­vid­u­als to ac­quire HIV if they are

Oc­to­ber 2, 2015

ex­posed to the virus through sex­ual con­tact, ac­cord­ing to the CDC,” says Allen.

“That is why we are proud to or­ga­nize events such as our an­nual MSM Sym­po­sium to of­fer es­sen­tial ed­u­ca­tion and tools that will help the public un­der­stand how to pre­vent the con­tin­ued spread of HIV and other STDs.”

Keep it on the down low?

Nearly twelve years have passed since the term “down low” ex­ploded into the pop cul­ture lex­i­con, etch­ing fear into the hearts and minds of black women ev­ery­where. Al­most overnight, MSM and bi­sex­ual black men be­gan to be por­trayed as heart­less mon­sters in­tent on in­fect­ing un­sus­pect­ing black women with HIV and de­stroy­ing their lives.

Quincy Le­N­ear and Deon­dray Gos­sett, an openly gay cou­ple of 20 years and cre­ators of the 2007 tele­vi­sion se­ries, “The DL Chron­i­cles” on Here TV, cap­tured the hys­te­ria sur­round­ing the down low and pro­vided nu­ance for a dis­cus­sion that be­came over­sim­pli­fied and drenched in ho­mo­pho­bia. The Los An­ge­les-based cou­ple is now mar­ried and go­ing by their cho­sen sur­name, “Goss­field.” Both were on hand to screen an episode of the se­ries and to dis­cuss the per­sis­tent down low myth in re­la­tion to HIV at the re­cep­tion for the MSM Sym­po­sium.

“There is a lack of self-re­spon­si­bil­ity and mis­con­cep­tions about who has HIV, who can con­tract HIV and how you can con­tract HIV,” says Quincy Goss­field.

“I think we do our­selves a dis­ser­vice when we po­si­tion this con­ver­sa­tion around the DL as the rea­son for new HIV in­fec­tions among black women,” says Deon­dray Goss­field. “What we’re not talk­ing about is the self-re­spon­si­bil­ity piece and that’s the core of the dis­ease. The last time I checked, DL men were a very small piece of that puz­zle.”

The Goss­fields did not hes­i­tate to ad­dress the con­nec­tion be­tween the down low and the rigid def­i­ni­tion of mas­culin­ity black men are ex­pected to ad­here to that un­doubt­edly play a role in choos­ing a life of se­crecy over au­then­tic­ity.

“We have tried to find a place in so­ci­ety to be re­spected and to hold as men. In psy­chol­ogy it’s called ‘the cool pose,’” says Deon­dray Goss­field

“It’s this fig­ure of strength and height­ened sex­u­al­ity. And Amer­ica has em­braced that. Amer­ica has given us a place at the ta­ble as that char­ac­ter. For gay black men who find com­fort in this char­ac­ter, psy­cho­log­i­cally, some­how fear their broth­ers (who they view are like women) as a threat to this po­si­tion we’ve got­ten.”

A col­li­sion of spir­i­tu­al­ity and sex­u­al­ity

The black church is the cen­ter of black life. And whereas, the church has his­tor­i­cally been a bea­con of light and so­cial jus­tice for the black com­mu­nity, it has also con­sis­tently been a source of pain and rejection for those who are at­tracted to the same gen­der. Many re­searchers have of­ten linked de­pres­sion and low self-es­teem among black gay and bi­sex­ual men to risky sex­ual be­hav­ior.

At­lanta res­i­dent, Derrick Ten­nial, an openly gay min­is­ter and au­thor of “Saved, Sanc­ti­fied, and Same Gen­der Lov­ing: A Story-Jour­nal to Spir­i­tual Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” ad­dressed the topic of spir­i­tu­al­ity and sex­u­al­ity on the first day of the sym­po­sium.

“The ses­sions were awe­some!” says Ten­nial. “I was able to pro­vide prac­ti­cal steps for MSM to con­front their sex­ual iden­tity and the hurt in­flicted through the mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Bi­ble al­low­ing us to be set on a path to higher spir­i­tual con­scious­ness.”

Or­ga­niz­ers of the MSM sym­po­sium say they are com­mit­ted to find­ing new and in­no­va­tive ways to ad­dress is­sues of im­por­tance to MSM pop­u­la­tions when the sym­po­sium re­turns in 2016.

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