The information presented at this session was really nothing new.
We know that HIV infection rates in the U.S. have been underestimated for some time (DUH!) and that approximately 56,000 new infections occur in this country as opposed to the 40,000 that we once believed.
And we know that Black people continue to be disproportionately affected -- representing approx. 50% of Americans living with HIV/AIDS, approx. 40% of all new cases among men, approx. 60% of all new cases among women, and approx. 70% of all new cases among teens.
We also know that men who have sex with men bear the brunt of the disease in the U.S., with the most recent data suggesting a 46% prevalence rate among Black MSM.
There were, however, three defining moments within the midst of all the doom and gloom that gave me hope. The first was when Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said that of all the new data, she is most concerned about astounding rate of infection among young black men who have sex with men. Not only did she say this, but she vowed to put some political action behind addressing it. And, since she has a track record of putting her policy where her mouth is, I have absolute faith that she will be true to her word.
The second moment came when Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director for the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, declared that we must ensure that HIV/AIDS does not become a rite of passage for gay and bisexual men in the United States. It's sad that at this late stage of the game, after thousands of deaths and new infections, somebody who represents our federal government appears to finally get it. It's sad indeed, but a starting point that you can rest assured that I am going to run with and remind him of whenever I feel it necessary.
Last, but certainly not least, the silent but powerful protest that was orchestrated by CHAMP (which ironically began just as Dr. Fenton was beginning to speak) was the pitch that brought the boys on base home for me. As at least 50 or so protesters -- young and old, black and white, straight and gay -- marched through the session room carring big red "F's" and hand-made signs which read "the U.S. failed to fight AIDS, will Obama/McCain pass the test," I couldn't help but feel that I was in the midst of a turning point in our nations history.
There will be no more business as usual as it relates to the AIDS epidemic in the United States. And you better believe that I am 157% on board with the new agenda.
Where do you stand in this struggle?!
"Homophobia kills. Kill homophobia!"
-- Peter Piot (Executive Director of UNAIDS)
"I'm a human being, DAMMIT! My life has value."
-- from the film The Network
My brother and hero Dr. David Malebranche - Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory University - presented data on a study he conducted entitled The Impact of Gender Role Conflict and Black Racial Identification on Sexual Risk Behavior among Black MSM in the United States.
For this project, he surveyed 480 Black men who have sex with men (MSM) in Atlanta, Georgia, in order to assess the potential relationship between their gender role conflict (this whole concept of needing to conform to the socially determined norms of masculinity, in this case) and their black racial identity with respect to sexual risk behavior.
He concluded that while gender role conflict and racial identity were not necessarily important predictors of condom use among the men in this sample, as it relates to their sexual relations with other men, more research is necessary to determine whether or not these factors are predictors of condom use among men who have sex with men and women (MSMW).
In other words, does the way that we are socialized as Black men in America have any effect on the sexual risks that we assume with our female partners versus with our male partners.
Studies of this nature are important in determining the sexual risk behaviors of Black MSMW, particularly in light of the increasing HIV infection rate among Black women. David has been long set on disproving the myth that Down Low men are primarily responsible this rising epidemic.
I am proud to note that I served as a research assistant on this project while visiting ATL for Black Gay Pride in August of 2006! Pretty hot, huh?!
In spite of all my bitching yesterday, I was up this morning at 5am so that I could make the BAI breakfast update. And, I must say, I am so glad that I did.
Following the many interesting highlights of some of yesterdays sessions (which I will discuss in a blog to come), Phill Wilson, acknowledging that we could all probably use some uplifting at this halfway point in the conference, called on Pernessa Seale – founder and CEO of the Balm in Gilead for some words of encouragement.
Acknowledging that she herself is exhausted and overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of this monstrosity of a conference, Pernessa opened her short talk with the spiritual after which her organization is named.
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.
Instantly, as if the Holy Spirit had come rushing into the room, my own spirit became renewed. I was reminded of the reason that I am here in the first place and became determined to not let anything deter me from that mission. I am here to absorb information, process it to the best of my ability, and to relay it to you. And, from this point on, I vow to stay focused on just that.
So, after the session, I spoke with Pernessa (whose organizations mission is to improve the health status of people throughout the African Diaspora by building the capacity of faith communities to address life threatening diseases, especially HIV-AIDS) about how she engages the faith community, particularly in Black America, regarding homosexuality.
Her response was encouraging and taught me an important lesson in patience.
“The position [on homosexuality in the Black church] is changing, but it is a slow process,” she tells me.
“I don’t come in and tell pastors that they have to change their view about homosexuality. Rather, I tell them that addressing HIV is not a theological issue, but it is a public health issue. ‘At this point, it doesn’t matter what your views on homosexuality are. But you have to take care or our community!’ And that makes them begin to think.”
She references the impact of an annual conference that she holds entitled The Black Church Institute, where she brings people from all religious walks of life together to address various health issues affecting people of African decent.
“Folk will be shouting and amen-ing to a dynamic speaker and then he will say, ‘and as a Black gay man,’ and the room will grow silent. But then when they leave, that gives them something to think about.”
She also mentioned a historic moment that recently occurred at the African Methodist Episcopal Church revival. During his closing speech, the Senior Bishop made a statement that, she says, is one of the proudest moments of her career.
He said, “we must address HIV/AIDS, and we must be an inclusive church.”
Pernessa is clear that different people heard and perceived inclusive in different ways, but the fact that he said it warmed her heart and assured her that her work is not in vain.
So, my lesson for today is that a change, in fact, is coming. And that patience is indeed a virtue.
Yesterday afternoon, the Black AIDS Institute (BAI) held a press conference in support of it’s recently published report entitled Left Behind (Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS Epidemic).
Speakers on the panel included Phill Wilson, CEO of BAI; Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO or CARE; Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); Jacob Gayle, deputy vice president of the Ford Foundation; Pernessa C. Seele, founder and CEO of the Balm in Gilead, Inc; and the beautifully talented Sheryl Lee Ralph, actress and activist.
In short, the community leaders criticized the American government for providing aid to foreign countries severly impacted by HIV-AIDS through the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), while neglecting a population within its own borders that has a prevalence rate higher that seven of the 15 countries receiving assistance from the program. Not to mention that each of the countries receiving aid is required to have a national strategy in place for addressing HIV-AIDS, when the U.S. itself currently DOES NOT.
This group of leaders (along with many others) is pushing for the development and implementation of a national HIV/AIDS strategy for the U.S. that will:
-- set and meet ambitious national AIDS reduction goals though measureable, sustained increased in access to effective HIV prevention and treatment
-- invest at least $1.3 billion per year to implement this strategy
-- support efforts to raise awareness about the importance of HIV screening and the utilization of treatment
-- support traditional Black institutions to develop their capacity to make AIDS a top priority and a central component of their work
Sheryl Lee Ralph, forever the diva and activist extraordinaire, was most profound. She challenged the journalists in the room to “do something different” as it relates to communicating the issue of HIV/AIDS. She stressed that we must begin to deal with the “isms” that exist within America, if we are to really make a difference.
Personally, I couldn’t agree with her more.
For it is, without question, the isms – classism, racism, sexism and homophobia – that are fueling the epidemic in Black America. She referenced an event where Hilary Clinton recently commented that if AIDS were affecting the general population the way that it is devastating Black America, there would be a national health emergency.
PREACH IT, SISTER!!!
And then, she posed a rhetorical question that I have been asking myself and others for some time now. She asked, “When is somebody gonna value black people?” She said, “I am looking to be valued as a full, complete human being. I am black. I am in the world. Look at me and stop looking past me. I need a seat at the table.”
I watched her as the room transitioned from total silence, with folks hanging onto her every word, to a thunderous applause of approval. She sat back in her seat fighting off tears, her passion and sincerity evident.
I mentioned yesterday that not being able to see myself in the CNN Black in America special made me, as a Black bisexual man, feel neglected and overlooked. And though I don’t move from that position, because it is clearly valid, I also realize that Black people in general have quite possibly internalized being neglected and overlooked and that we oftentimes perpetuate this same craziness amongst each other (such as the way that Black America itself still refuses to acknowledge Black gay and bisexual people, in and outside the context of HIV). This dynamic, I believe, is at the very core of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Black America.
Check out BlackAids.org and www.nationalaidsstrategy.org for more details.
First off, good morning.
Now that I've gotten the formalities out of the way, let me get right down to the nitty gritty bitching.
So, anybody who knows me knows that i am not one to bitch about anything really. Generally, i kinda take things as they are and roll with the punches. But the organization, or lack thereof, of this conference is really beginning to work my nerves.
First off, Mexico City is HUGE! It is the largest metropolitan city in the western hemisphere (with more than 19.2 million residents) and the second largest in the entire world. The city is so big, in fact, that there are several organized shuttle buses to transport conference participants to and from the conference center and our hotels. Thus, my first bitch moment of the day.
The shuttle that runs to and from my hotel runs but 4 times per day - twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. The morning ones are at 5:45 and 7:00am. Clearly, I AM NOT TRYING TO BE OUT OF THE BED THAT EARLY IN THE MORNING FOR NOTHING!!!!
The only other alternative is to take a taxi, but seeing as how this city is so big and my hotel is a little more than 45 minutes from the conference center, that would cost me roughly 250 pesos (or $25) each way...as I learned yesterday morning. And, though I would be reimbursed by Positively Aware for such expenses, I don't think it fiscally responsible to waste that kind of money. So, I rolled my Black ass out of the bed at 5:45 this morning to catch the 7 o'clock shuttle, missing the Black AIDS Institute update breakfast which started at the same time.
My next and probably most important and legitimate bitch moment comes from the fact that wireless internet access in the MEDIA CENTER is all but defunct. All day yesterday, and yet again this morning, we have been unable to access the wireless network that was supposed to be made available to journalists who are here to cover the conference. This is 2008, people, and most if not all of our work is done via the world wide web. If we can’t access it, we can’t work! And the rest of the world can't have access to what's going on here in Mexico City in as timely a fashion as we would like.
To be fair, they have a small amount of shared computers available for use in the Media Center. However, as I learned this morning, not all of them are functioning properly and there are not nearly enough of them for all of the conference journalist to access. When this place is at its capacity, one might wait more than an hour just to use a shared computer. That, my dear people, is UNACCEPTABLE!
Okay, so now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’m gonna get back to work. Though I was pretty tired yesterday from such an early morning flight, I was able to attend a couple of interesting sessions and network with a lot of really great folks doing some really great work. I’ll tell you all about that in a more civilized post.
Until then, have a great morning.
Though this is the International AIDS Conference, current happenings at home have made it difficult for me to focus my energy at the international level.
A little over a week ago I watched the CNN produced Black in America special in awe as Black gay and bi-sexual men (commonly referred to as MSM), who currently represent a significantly greater portion of new infections than any other group in the U.S. and whose HIV incidence and prevalence rates rival those in some of the hardest hit regions within Africa, went completely unmentioned in the segment of the show about HIV/AIDS. Not a single word, at all.
Now, I need to make it clear that I take issue to Black gay and bi-sexual men only being discussed in the context of HIV/AIDS, because we are clearly so much more than that. We are fathers. We are brothers. We are husbands. We are uncles. We are friends. And we are lovers. We are professionals. We are scholars. We are preachers and Sunday school teachers. We are choir directors. We are pastors.
But, in a four hour, 2-part special on what it is like to be Black in America, we were in no way mentioned.
Granted, I understood the show for what it was – an effort to explain Black folk to the rest of the country, in light of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign. And I know that when politics is involved, there is a certain degree of safety that many people will assume in order to avoid ruffling certain folks’ feathers.
But how many more lives must this totally preventable and treatable disease claim before we collectively come to the realization that business as normal is killing us. If we are really going to put an end to the AIDS epidemic in Black America the way that we keep stressing that we want to, then we must address the crisis in absolute truth. Anything short of that, I believe, should be likened to genocide and prosecutable by law. And if I were the jury, CNN would most definitely be guilty as charged.
I am constantly reminded of one of the least popular architects of the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin. Rustin, an out and proud homosexual and community organizer, was the mastermind behind the infamous March on Washington, as well as many other civil demonstrations in his day.
However, you probably won’t hear his name mentioned during Black History Month celebrations in elementary schools or at your local church. Why not, you ask? Because it was believed (rightfully so, considering the time) that his sexual orientation could jeopardize the progress of the movement.
Rustin, understanding the “big picture,” was forced to assume a behind-the-scenes role in light of his many incredible contributions to it. For the sake of the greater good, he sacrificed his rightful place in history. CNNs Black in America special made me feel that somehow, today, Black gay and bisexual men are continuing to make this sacrifice. Only this time, the sacrifice is our lives.
Senator Obama released the following statement on the Center for Disease Control's report about new cases of HIV/AIDS in the United States.
"We have now learned that 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in the United States in 2006, not 40,000 that had been previously cited. These new figures should bring new focus to our efforts to address AIDS and HIV here at home.
"As president, I am committed to developing a National AIDS Strategy to decrease new HIV infections and improve health outcomes for Americans living with HIV/AIDS. Across the nation, we also need to prevent the spread of HIV and get people into treatment by expanding access to testing and comprehensive education programs. This report also demonstrates the need for more timely data about HIV transmission so that we can effectively evaluate prevention efforts.
"Combating HIV/AIDS also demands closing the gaps in opportunity that exist in our society so that we can strengthen our public health. We must also overcome the stigma that surrounds HIV/AIDS – a stigma that is too often tied to homophobia. We need to encourage folks to get tested and accelerate HIV/AIDS research toward an effective cure because we have a moral obligation to join together to meet this challenge, and to do so with the urgency this epidemic demands."
ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 3 /Standard Newswire/ -- U.S. Senator John McCain today issued the following statement on the report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that there were more new HIV infections in the United States than previously estimated:
"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday announced that in 2006 there were 56,300 new HIV infections in United States -- significantly higher than the previous estimate of 40,000 cases. More than a million Americans live with this devastating disease. As President, I will work closely with non-profit, government, and private sector stakeholders to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS. By focusing efforts on reducing drug costs through greater market competition, promoting prevention efforts, encouraging testing, targeting communities with high infection rates, strengthening research and reducing disparities through effective public outreach, we as a nation can make great progress in fighting HIV/AIDS."
just checked into the hotel. about to grab some breakfast and head over to the centro bannamex to get check in and on the ball.
will touch back soon.