The Lives of Young Black Gay Men Matter

Sheldon D. Fields, PhD, ARNP, FNP-BC, AACRN, DPNAP, FAANP, Assistant Dean of Clinical Affairs and Health Policy ,Florida International University

When new [HIV] infections in young Black gay men increase by nearly 50 percent in 3 years we need to do more to show them that their lives matter."
-President Barack Obama, December 1, 2011

These historic words were spoken by President Barack Obama during this year’s World AIDS Day address about a population that continues to be overlooked. Never has any sitting president made a public statement and declaration about the lives of young Black gay men (YBGM).  President Obama referred to the recently released statistics, from the Center for Disease Control, that showed from 2006 – 2009 a 48% increase in new HIV infections among young (ages 13 – 29) Black gay men. This rate is more than any other racial/ethnic group of men who have sex with men (MSM). As a researcher, educator, healthcare provider, advocate, and policy analyst with over 20 years in the field, I am left with the same questions you may be asking yourselves:

• How can the rates of HIV be so high in this demographic?
• Did we fail an entire generation of YBGM?
• If we know exactly how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, “Why are we still seeing alarming numbers in any demographics?”

We have had major biomedical advances in both the prevention (i.e Pre-exposure prophylaxis) and treatment (i.e. Anti-retroviral Medications) for HIV and AIDS, yet 30 years into this epidemic we are seeing  here in the United States infection rates that rival many developing nations. It seems that we have not gotten a handle on the things that will bring down the rates in this community. And show them that their lives “matter”.

There are issues that should be addressed in the Black community. Historically there has been a negative condensations associated with the method upon which people contract HIV. The issue of stigma has plagued our community for generations.   We cannot begin a discussion about YBGM without addressing the historic tension about homosexuality that exists in the Black community. Not overlooking the positive progress that has been made in the Black community by countless heterosexual allies that have fought for quality on behalf of Black gay men; unfortunately still too often, these young men face issues of stigma and shame at the hands of their own people. When this does occur it leaves an already vulnerable young Black man even more so at risk of harm.

In the case of an YBGM, harm comes in the myriad of socially constructed forces that converge all at once that may render him helpless and hopeless. This then becomes a set up for behavior that directly increases their risk for acquiring HIV. So what can we do, to show these YBGM that their lives truly do matter?

1. Empower them to take responsibility of finding solutions for themselves.
2. Embrace them as full and contributing members of the Black community who have gifts and talents that can be used to benefit the community.
3. Partner with them to challenge the status quo scientific paradigms that only seek to research their weaknesses and not their strengths.
4. Support them in their quest to have a seat at the table as we move forward with initiatives such as the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
5. Stand with them and demand that adequate resources at the local, state, and federal levels get properly allocated to all groups.
6. Continue to promote tolerance within historically Black organizations so we do not turn these young men away leaving them alone and vulnerable.

In closing, I want to just remind you of this truth: “Anyone that contracts HIV gets it from someone who has HIV, so ‘Get tested and know your HIV status.’”