Black Men Who Don’t Have Sex with Men: “The Forgotten Population in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS”

Tony R. Wafford, Director of Health and Wellness National Action Network

As we enter into our thirtieth year of the HIV/AIDS pandemic here in America, I’m still hearing many researchers, men who have sex with men (MSM), HIV activists, the infected and the affected asking the same question; “Where are the heterosexual (non-MSM) Black men, and why aren’t they doing more to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the Black community?”

First, let’s dispel the myth that Black non-MSM aren’t doing enough to address the pandemic. I know and work with a number of heterosexual Black men all over the country that are doing great work and have been doing so for many years. What I would say to those who really want to engage Black men around issues of HIV/AIDS is to allow them the freedom to address the pandemic in a way that is comfortable for them. Is it wrong if a heterosexual Black man is uncomfortable addressing issues of MSM or bisexuality? If one is not at ease addressing issues like Intravenous Drug Use (IDU) because he does not know enough about it, then why should he have to? If a brother focuses on HIV among Black Women, that does not mean he isn’t concerned about the lives and wellbeing of MSM, Bi-sexual people or IDU. Consequently, if a Black man that focuses his prevention work on MSM, Bi-sexual people or IDU doesn’t mean that women don’t matter. What am I saying? The Black community can work together in the spirit of unity, without conformity, that is if the true goal is to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in Black America.

No one has to surrender his or her belief on any issue to see that the most important thing is that Black people are dying and need our help collectively! Let’s not confuse acceptance of risky behavior on either side with the importance of saving Black life. This conversation always reminds of a story I read one day in the Bible where Jesus and his disciples ran across a blind man, who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked, who sinned that the man would be born blind; was it his mother or his farther? While Jesus, being the man he was, answered saying, “Neither, this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” I guess even Jesus was more into solving problems than trying to lay blame. So just maybe, if heterosexual Black men could be respected despite having differences and allowed to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic in our own unique way without condemnation for these differences, then maybe, just maybe you will see more brothers on the front line.

Let’s stop using the languages of those who really aren’t doing all “they” can to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in our community while demonizing Black men, the Black community and the Black church. It’s up to us, all of us to repair our own community, raise ourselves from the ruins of disease and oppression, hold ourselves and others responsible and together build the community and world we all want and deserve to live in. Whatever else it may be, our community must be a loving community that embraces and cares for its own, especially the most vulnerable among us; the ill, the aged, the children, the disabled and the poor.

 

National Action Network (NAN) is one of the leading civil rights organizations in the Nation, with chapters throughout the entire U.S. Founded in 1991 by Reverend Al Sharpton, NAN works within the spirit and tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for social justice, education, and one standard of justice and decency for all people regardless of race, religion, national origin, and gender. NAN works tirelessly s to protect civil rights and respond to crises across the country.