Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation
There are consequences to devaluing a human life. There is a correlation between the Christian Right denouncing homosexuality and gay teens killing themselves. Likewise, there is a relationship between the denigration of the lives of black gay men in their own community and in the gay community and their alarmingly high rates of HIV. Seventy-five percent of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men below the age of 24 are found among African-Americans.
In 1975, an intrepid group of us picketed the West Hollywood club Studio One. Studio One was the hottest place in town to dance and party. The owner, Scott Forbes, had a policy of asking African-Americans to show three pieces of photo ID to get in. That policy stood for a long time. As late as the mid-’70s, in the gay community—itself subject to gross discrimination—we had our own form of apartheid. A lot has changed since then, but a lot has not.
Among AIDS service providers, black organizations have always been disadvantaged. Predominantly white agencies often receive money to serve this community without having either the expertise or the consent of this community. The nascent grassroots organizations that are of, by and for this community have been systematically starved to death.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation provides care to more African-American men in California than any other HIV/AIDS provider. We are proud of the fact that these patients trust us to ensure their health. We work hard to provide care that is culturally sensitive and appropriate. But, we are not a substitute for indigenous gay black organizations. For this reason, AHF is pleased to support ‘In The Meantime’ and the work of its founder, Jeffrey King.
In The Meantime is a black men’s group grappling with the everyday realities that black gay men face. They recently celebrated their 11th anniversary in fine fashion at a supper club in South Los Angeles, where a gathering of smartly dressed men and women came
together to support the mission of INMT. I was humbled to be the recipient of their Lifetime Achievement Award. Listening to the speakers and absorbing the vibe of this particular subculture reminded me that there is so much more to being a gay man, and a human being for that matter, than simply hanging with your own group and excluding ‘the other.’
Attitudes among gay men are at least as bad among society at large. In a community organized around sexual attraction, “I’m not attracted to black men” can easily turn into “I don’t care about them either.” Or, “I like black men for sex” can turn into “but not at my dinner party.” Despite gay men’s alienation from family and society, they are still the product of their environment. The conscious leap to understanding that we are all one and that we need each other is often not made.
Among black men who are primarily attracted to other black men, there are serious risks of contracting HIV. A minority within a minority will create overlapping sexual networks where diseases can spread more rapidly. And the devaluation of lives may become ingrained—even within themselves.
Seriously grappling with black AIDS is not an easy task. But, until or unless we begin, the ravages of this disease among these men will continue, and these very high rates of HIV will remain a stain on our community’s history.