Tag Archives: HIV

Stephanie Mills' "Home": So Black and So Gay!

If you’re a Black gay of the Classic Era (meaning you’re over 30, or at least have Classic Black Gay Sensibilities, or CBGS), you’ll know that Stephanie Mills‘ “Home” is really the Black gay anthem. The song, written for the 1975 Broadway play The Wiz for which Mills was cast as Dorothy (and Diana Ross played in the 1978 film version and does a lackluster version of the song. In fact, it is Lena Horne’s “Believe” that becomes the showstopper in the film. But I digress.), is the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” of this black version of the Wizard of OZ.

Why is this song, so Black and so gay, you might ask?

One reason that the Black gays of the classic era love this song, in my opinion, is that it speaks to the pain of feeling cast out of the larger Black community–we have no “home” in a sense. The song is about a stateless person–someone who has dreams of a physical place, but the lesson that they learn is that home has to be made in the family and community we create.

But Mills re-recorded the song for her 1989 album “Home” (with a Capella group Take 6 singing the background vocals). She has said that she recorded the song after the deaths of Kenneth Harper (The Wiz Producer, whose mother told the New York Times he died of cancer at age 48 in 1988)  and Charlie Small, The Wiz Composer who died in 1987 of a burst appendix.  I think that many Black gay men from the Classic Era were in the throes of so much death due to HIV (and sometimes violence) that this song became a song about the losses they were feeling too. I started going to gay clubs when I was 18 or so, and this song was a staple drag performance for about a decade. I think the part that really cinches it for the Black gays, me included, is at the end of the 1989 recording, when she sings “I can hear my friends tellin’ me, Stephanie, please, sing my song.”

Because it so much speaks to the Black gay experience, Stephanie Mills’ Home is So Black and so gay! The video below is a live verson from the Apollo in the 1980s. To see yet another un-embeddable music video from the theives at Universal Music Group, click here.


Blacks, Gay Men At Highest Risk for HIV

New infections in Men

New infections in Men

The US Conference on AIDS has begun in Fort Lauderdale, unfortunately I couldn’t afford to go, but just as well because I am going to see my southern friends at Southerners on New Ground’s 15th Anniversary. But given the CDC’s recent release of the of the subpopulation data of the new infections for 2006 (called incidence), I thought I’d share some of the data with you. If you click on the link above you’ll find a lot of other tools to help you understand the data including a fact sheet, a Q&A, and a podcast:

CDC’s August 2008 data showed that gay and bisexual men, referred to in CDC’s surveillance systems as men who have sex with men (MSM)2, represented the majority of new infections in 2006 (53%, 28,720).

Now, in the more detailed analysis, CDC further examine new infections among whites, blacks, and

New Infections by Race

New Infections by Race

Hispanics/Latinos. The findings reveal that the ages at which MSM become infected vary by race:

  • Young Black MSM: Among MSM overall, there were more new HIV infections in young black MSM (aged 13–29) than any other age/racial group of MSM. The number of new infections among young, black gay and bisexual men was roughly twice that of whites and of Hispanics/Latinos (5,220 infections in blacks vs. 3,330 among whites and 2,300 among Hispanics/Latinos).
  • White MSM in their 30s and 40s: Among MSM in the analysis, white MSM accounted for close to half (46%) of HIV incidence in 2006. Most new infections among white MSM occurred in those aged 30–39 (4,670), followed by those aged 40–49 (3,740).
  • Hispanic/Latino MSM: Among Hispanic/Latino MSM, most new infections occurred in the youngest (13-29) age group (2,300), though a substantial number of new HIV infections were among those aged 30–39 (1,870)

Walt Senterfitt, in this month’s HHS Watch (a publication of Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)), writes about what the new data means for gay men in his piece called Where’s Our National Campaign Against Homophobia?

There has also been a consistent tendency over at least the last 15 years within much of the AIDS community itself – and certainly by the media and other institutions of civil society enlisted in the struggle against HIV/AIDS – to “de-gay-ify” HIV/AIDS. For example, messages stress that HIV is an “equal opportunity virus” and that anyone can be at risk, emphasize children and women at risk, and stress that HIV/AIDS is, in its majority, now an epidemic in communities of color (while simultaneously neglecting to stress that those most disproportionately impacted in communities of color are gay and bisexual men).

This direction in messaging was in part well intended, to combat the widespread assumption that if you are not a white gay man, AIDS is not your problem and you are not at risk. It was also meant to get beyond the intensified stigmatization of gay men and focus on the behaviors that put one at risk. This approach has been embraced by many HIV positive and other gay men who fear the added stigmatization of having “gay” remain widely associated with “HIV/AIDS” in public consciousness. Even from the start though, this approach was a capitulation to rather than a confrontation of societal stigma and prejudice against gay people, against transgender people, against all people who are sexually “non-normative.” And it didn’t work. Homophobia still is rampant, dollars have gone elsewhere, and, alone among the exposure categories, HIV infection rates among gay men are rising.

Here’s video from a panel CHAMP sponsored (that I moderated) back in February on the issue:


GMHC Launches New Campaign Targeting Fathers of Black Gay Men

Some people don’t dig social marketing campaigns, but I think that, when done well, they can be a good way to disrupt the many silences around our lives and put them into the public sphere for conversation. When it comes to homophobia and the consistent invisibility of Black queers in the Black community (though that is beginning to change slowly) having posters in subways or wheat-pasted, they can be good ways for us to disrupt the silence and be situated in the geography of the city.

This is the second of a series GMHC has been doing this year, and though I am less giddy about this one as I was the I LOVE MY BOO campaign, this one is damn cool too!

“Families are critically important to young men of color and this campaign builds on the strength and resiliency of those bonds,” stated Dr. Marjorie Hill, Chief Executive Officer of GMHC. “We recognize the complexities in the lives of young men of color who have sex with men. Thus, HIV prevention efforts should speak to the realities faced by these young men on a daily basis. We cannot simply deliver a message of “use condoms” or “be tested for HIV. It is imperative to address the myriad of underlying factors which contribute to the transmission of HIV, including homophobia, racism, poverty, isolation, stigma, poor body image, and inadequate access to health care.”

CNN'S BLACK In America: On Black LGBT Folks

….yes. We weren’t there. At best, we got Phil Wilson of Black AIDS Institute, who was interviewed but was not talked about as a Black gay man, but who’s observations on HIV/AIDS were made about the whole community. Secondly, the family they profiled, the Rands, the first family had a son who was a dancer studying at Julliard who’s only appearance was in a photo wearing a purple unitard. I am not certain he’s gay, but I’m just sayin!

As usual, we were marginal, sidelines, and noticeably invisible–not to say anything of lesbians, and transgender folks, who were completely absent.

American Prospect: Best HIV/AIDS Reporting This Year!

It is hard to find good reporting on the domestic AIDS epidemic in the US that isn’t sensational, or focuses nearly entirely on individuals who contract HIV–as if it’s only their fault and that there are no policy decisions that are also complicit in driving the US epidemic. When was the last time you read a feature story that focused on the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Congress, Health & Human Services or any of the other federal agencies responsible for AIDS treatment, care, prevention, and research?

Well, The American Prospect, the liberal monthly policy magazine published not one, but TWO stories on domestic HIV policy, and both do a really great job of reporting what’s going on in terms of national HIV policy.

Kai Wright, the best AIDS reporter in the biz, has a story on AIDS in the South that shows his strength as a writer, and his enormous ease with a very complex subject as he deals with virtually every angle of the issue from history to prisons, to homophobia to government funding. He writes:

What was once considered an urban, coastal epidemic — centered in gay havens like New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles — is now a surprisingly rural, Southern one. More than half of all new infections logged between 2001 and 2004 were found in the South. Those infections are far more likely to be found among Southerners who are black, low-income, and diagnosed with advanced conditions they do not have the resources to control.

What’s being done? Adam Green’s story focuses on the work by AIDS activists in the US to push the government to have for a coordinated National AIDS Strategy. In case you didn’t know, part of Bush’s much celebrated (and highly problematic) PEPFAR prorgam is that any country applying for PEPFAR dollars must have a national strategy for AIDS prevention, treatment & care. THE UNITED STATES HAS NO SUCH PLAN. In addition, the nation’s capital has an HIV prevalence rate worse than many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Green writes:

Instead, the domestic response is built on a loosely connected network of local, state, and federal programs. Authors and activists often describe this existing HIV/AIDS programming as a safety net. But the metaphor is not quite apt. There’s only a tenuous connection between the organizations. There’s little strategic coordination and no clear goals. The result is that people who are at risk or infected don’t know where or how to access care. In 2002, an estimated half of people with HIV/AIDS were not receiving care.

For more information on the National AIDS Strategy visit their website. Also, in early August I will be in Mexico City with CHAMP at the International AIDS Conference blogging on issues pertinent to the domestic AIDS epidemic at the conference, so be sure to check us out at www.AIDS2008.com

Saliva HIV Tests Showing False-Positives in NYC

If you’ve taken an HIV test, and have taken the 20 minute tests, you know there are two kinds: The finger prick test, and then the cheek-swab test. Well, NYC Department of Health has recently suspended use of the latter test because of a 3 year history of false-positives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest MMWR (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report). They write:

The cause for the episodic increases in false-positive oral fluid tests has not yet been determined. NYC DOHMH has again suspended the use of oral fluid testing in STD clinics, and finger-stick whole-blood testing is the only rapid HIV test being used in this setting. These findings underscore the importance of confirming all reactive HIV tests, both from oral fluid and whole-blood specimens. In addition, the results suggest that the NYC DOHMH strategy of following up reactive oral fluid test results with an immediate finger-stick whole-blood test reduced the number of apparent false-positive oral fluid test results and might be a useful strategy in other settings and locations.

Testing with blood is simply more reliable, but the CDC goes on to explain why they still recommend the use of the saliva based HIV test:

CDC continues to encourage the use of rapid HIV tests because they increase the number of persons who are tested and who receive their test results. Six rapid HIV tests have been approved by FDA since 2002 (10). The New York City data indicate that repeating a rapid test on finger-stick whole blood after receiving a reactive oral fluid test result allows clinic counselors to provide more accurate test-result information to patients while minimizing the number of finger-stick tests that must be performed. Regardless, confirmatory testing is required to confirm both oral fluid and whole-blood reactive rapid HIV tests. Before testing, all patients should be informed that reactive rapid HIV test results are preliminary and require confirmation. In general, testing with blood or serum specimens is more accurate than testing with oral fluid and is preferred when feasible, especially in settings where blood specimens already are obtained routinely.

Overall, oral fluid rapid tests have performed well and make HIV testing possible in many venues where performing phlebotomy or finger sticks is impractical for screening. However, users should be aware of the unexplained variability in the rate of false-positive test results. CDC will continue to work with FDA and the manufacturer to investigate the causes and extent of increases in false-positive oral fluid tests, monitor the performance of oral fluid and other rapid tests to ensure that they continue to perform as expected in testing programs, and investigate other combination test strategies to minimize false-positive test results.

I hate giving blood, but if you can help it, get the finger-prick test. It’s really not painful and seems to be more reliable. Getting blood drawn is probably still the best way, but waiting for days on end for lab results is nerve wrecking, so I only do those when I get an annual physical and blood work done with my doctor. Even if you get a positive result any of the rapid tests, they will always do a blood draw to confirm the results, which is why they know the saliva test was giving a higher rate of false positives.

I Love My Boo!

This is the way to do social marketing for HIV prevention for Black and Latino Gay men.

My friends at the Institute for Gay Men’s Health at GMHC continue to break the mold in terms of how to do effective, interesting, and NON-STIGMATIZING HIV prevention. For Black gay men in particular, we know that number of sex partners, higher rates of drug use or higher rates of unprotected anal sex isn’t what is driving the epidemic among Black gay men (who have the highest HIV rates in the US). One of the things that may be a contributing factor among Black gay youth is “serial monogamy”—Black gay men tend to only date one person at a time, but not having safe sex in those monogamous relationships, which are often (as is generally true with youth) short lived.

Also, when polled about their rates of getting tested, Black gays are generally getting tested regularly, so testing does not equal prevention. So all those “get tested” campaigns are not the issue, and they can actually be more stigmatizing, because the only time Black gays get talked about in public purview is to “protect the public” from disease. I guess we’re not considered part of the public—HIV+ or not.

If we recognize that folks need to have safe sex in their monogamous relationships, this social marketing campaign makes perfect sense as an intervention. I also love the fact that the ads are also all over Black and Latino neighborhoods in NYC.

Kudos, GMHC!

Teen Sex

I love it when people do clever anti-propaganda. Take a look at the original government PSA to get parents to talk to their kids about sex:


Pretty stale and stupid, right? Now take a look at this ad, which is a spoof of the prior one. If more PSA’s were done like this, people–especially teens–might actually pay attention.


Non-Shock of the Week: Housing Improves Health for HIV+ & Other News

This was a big news week for people interested in HIV/AIDS domestically, which is usually rarely covered (and certainly not well) in the press. (For those of you new to this blog, I do a lot of work in HIV/AIDS prevention and policy as an activist/community organizer and writer.)

  1. The biggest, and most non-shocking of them all was the release of results from two major demonstration projects that showed if you give people with HIV access to affordable housing, they are much more likely to have fewer emergency room visits, fewer opportunisitic infections, adhere to treatment, and a host of other benefits. READ MORE.
  2. Also since this was the Black Church Week of Prayer on HIV/AIDS, a few editorials came out in newspapers. And I guess some people prayed about it. Columbia, SC’s The State produces an opinion piece that is high on blame-filled righteousness, and low on structural issues, which we KNOW for a fact are driving the epidemic in Black communities: “While there’s a dire need for more government funding for treatment and education, all citizens, black people particularly, must take responsibility for themselves and help battle this public health crisis, which affects all races, socio-economic groups and genders…People must change their risky behaviors. HIV/AIDS can be prevented. Anyone ever heard of abstinence, for example?”

Really? Ugh. My mom wants me to move to Columbia to be closer to family. I love you Ma, but when I read shit like this, I just can’t.

3. A better op-ed was written for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, by two doctors with the DC based National Medical Association (which represents Black physicians). The offered some concrete advice for Pres. Bush to deal with the domestic AIDS crisis in Black communities: “• Develop a national plan. Despite the fact that this scourge is decimating minority communities in this country, the U.S. has no national plan to deal with the AIDS epidemic. • Appoint a leader. Not only does the U.S. not have a plan, but no one is in charge of the problem. Once a leader is named, community groups, churches, medical groups and others should work together to resolve the most pressing issues. • Focus on resources. While funds are scattered around the country to fight HIV/AIDS in many little pockets across the U.S., the bulk of the money should instead be devoted to African American communities with the highest rates of HIV/AIDS. “

4. The best editorial was written by Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison for the Louisiana Weekly: “We must take time to get involved in our local communities, urging our friends and families to get tested and get educated about transmission modes of HIV/AIDS. We must continue our efforts to ensure that treatment is accessible to all those who are currently living with HIV. It is essential that we see this crisis in its broader context if we hope to slow the spread of this epidemic in our communities. I also believe we must take a hard look at other factors that the experts tell us contribute to these high rates of infection among African Americans: economics, education, homophobia, incarceration, and faith in government.”

5: Lastly there was a major breakthrough in HIV science, as reported by Science Daily: “By outfitting immune-system killer cells with a new pair of genes, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University transformed them into potent weapons that destroy cells infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Their novel strategy of genetically engineering immune cells to redirect their infection-fighting ability toward killing HIV-infected cells could lead to an entirely new approach for combating AIDS and other viral diseases.”

Letter to the New York Times on HIV and Gay Youth Editorial

(originally published on www.preventionjustice.org

Today the New York Times published a batch of letters responding to their editorial on rising HIV rates in young gay men. Since they didn’t publish my letter written as CHAMP staff, I thought I’d do it here (This is why we love the Internet!):

The January 14th editorial, “HIV Rises in Young Gay Men,” spent a lot of energy blaming 19-year olds, and ignored core issues that hamper effective prevention efforts.

A recent Journal of Adolescent Health study counted youth homelessness as a major factor in HIV risk. The New York City Council commissioned a 2007 report showing that one-third of all homeless youth in NYC were gay.

Congress continues to bankroll abstinence-only education programs in spite of the proven increase risk behavior they cause. Though the HIV epidemic grows worse in black and Latino communities, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) budget has remained stagnant for a decade.

We still have no national HIV prevention plan, 27 years into the epidemic.

Young gay men are not to blame for the profound failure of government to provide comprehensive HIV prevention—nor for the media’s continued ignorance of the root causes of HIV.