There’s never been a better time to be black. There’s never been a better time to be gay or bisexual. Black gay and bisexual men are coming together around the world using the Internet. As a result, we are becoming more accepted as a part of the broader community.
“There are around 50,000 new HIV cases in the US each year, about 30,000 of these are gay and bisexual men. One-third of these men are black.”— CENTRE FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION
As amazing as this is, the acceptance we now enjoy has come with an unfortunate but natural relaxation of ardent due diligence with our health.
Gay and straight communities view HIV and AIDS as a crisis of the 1980s. We go and catch ‘Rent’ with a gaggle of our fiercest friends. We solemnly remember the decades where we lost thousands of our brothers and sisters. And we finish the night with unbridled joy at the world we now find ourselves lucky enough to be a part of. Unfortunately for all of us, things aren’t that simple.
Being Black in America
If you’re a black gay or bisexual man living in the United States today; your chance of getting HIV is one in two, according to statistics collected by the Centre for Disease Control and reported by the Guardian.
Certain cities in the southern United States such as Atlanta, Georgia are particular hotbeds for HIV because of the large number of young, black gay men who move to there every year to escape persecution in surrounding cities and states.
These young men are coming from small towns and cities that teach abstinence, conservative religious education and anti-gay doctrine. These black gay and bisexual men are not taught that not using a condom even once is enough to contract HIV.
If you’re from a deeply religious town that sternly looks down on homosexuality, your likelihood of receiving the right information is almost zero. There’s no-one around you to educate you on the value of condoms. Nor the importance of asking your sexual partners the serious questions, or the vital importance of regular checkups.
Many gay men under 25 today still have sex entirely without protection. These men have never had a sexual health check. And those who have had a test aren’t asking their partners about their checks.
Racism and Disease
No one needs to be taught how to have sex, but information on sexual health is vital. Sex is a part of our human nature, we’ve known how to do it since our first erection watching Boris Kodjoe in Love and Basketball. But if you’re hiding who you truly are from everyone you know in your small-minded small town, how can anyone educate you on anything that truly applies to you and your life?
In the southern states of the United States where the majority of America’s black, gay population live; roughly one in two gay men contract HIV. However, in these same states, only one in eleven gay white men contract HIV. While that’s still a lot of white community members contracting HIV, it’s a lot less than the number of black members.
This enormous gap is partially due to a lack of information and counterproductive education. But this discrepancy is also caused by a history of segregation and institutional racism causing an enormous wealth gap.
For many years, black families have been kept away from everything; from good schools and universities to loans and mortgages that would have helped them start businesses and buy properties.
The institutional racism and discrimination that has kept black people from accumulating wealth have also contributed to a lack of access to resources to prevent HIV, resources such as PrEP.
PrEPare Yourself with Treatment as Prevention
Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP is a once a day pill for people who have not yet been exposed to HIV and prevents infection. PrEP is an effective tool that acts as an effective barrier against HIV when paired with condoms.
Studies show that for decades, PrEP has been widely advertised and available to white, gay men. Advertisements featured on gay-focused products that are largely consumed by majority-white communities. These products featuring beautiful, white models have been circulating for years.
This saturation of information, coupled with higher access, has allowed white community members to keep their HIV infections down over time.
Knowledge and discipline when it comes to personal health and disease control take years to implement and generations to properly understand and appreciate.
The black community is at a steep disadvantage, and things need to change going forward. Information and resources need to become more readily available, and black parents also need to change how they’re influencing their children.
Young black men are not testing themselves for sexually transmitted infections, and this is a significant factor in the spread of HIV. They fear their families finding out about their sexuality. They have never been told directly not to be gay. But they have spent years overhearing the way their families decry gay people.
It may be terrifying to go to a clinic and ask a doctor to test you for sexually transmitted infections. However, it’s vital for your health and even for your life that you make it happen.
There are clinics in most countries around the world that will do it for you at no cost. And if you do have an infection of some kind, they will help you deal with it.
If you do have an STD infection, you need to be completely honest with your recent and future sexual partners. Be honest about your condition right up until the day that a doctor has given you the all-clear. Protecting yourself is what’s most important, but after that, it’s important for all of us that we protect the community.
Effective antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV can make it impossible to pass on the HIV virus. You may have seen the ‘Undetectable = Untransmittable‘ campaigns online. ‘U=U,’ is the motto, but you have to know your status first to take the best care of yourself and your sexual partners. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” you might say.
While you’re in the clinic, pick up some condoms on the way out. They’re free, and they have them in every size. Too big for what’s available from the front counter? Bless you! Just ask them to grab you an oversized pack from outback.
Above all, stay connected with supportive community services online. If you’re suffering and feel alone, get in touch with us and your brothers and sisters across the web.
Together we can support each other and provide the education that’s lacking elsewhere. A cure for HIV is probably still some way off. But HIV can now be managed with effective antiretroviral treatment. As a result, ‘discordant couples’ where one partner is HIV-positive, while the other is without the virus, are more and more common today.
If we look out for each other, we can ride it out together. We can reduce the instances of HIV-transmission among black gay and bisexual men, and we can live long perfectly healthy lives.