Housing Works Update: Where Are All the Black Gay Men?

This article from Housing Works’ Weekly Update raises similar issues I raised in my op-ed for The Defenders Online about HIV/AIDS in the Black community, and the silence around Black gay men.

Two weeks ago individuals and organizations across the nation marked National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Judging by many of the articles, press releases and events commemorating the day, however, you might never guess that the highest percentage of new HIV infections in 2006 was among black gay men.

Why, even on a day dedicated to black AIDS awareness, do black gay men remain a footnote?

“It’s symptomatic of the problem we face of ridding our community of HIV in order to break the back of the epidemic,” said Ernest Hopkins, policy director of the Black Gay Advocacy Coalition. “The most heavily impacted population by percentages is black gay men. If you want to talk about this epidemic you have to start there, and then move very quickly to black women, or you’re not doing your job.” Read the rest of the article here:

NYC “False Arrests” & White Gay Innocence

NOTE: I have made some changes to this entry based on some feedback I got from Duncan Osborne, reporter for Gay City News. Gay City News, a NYC-focused weekly newspaper that focuses on the LGBT community, recently published a series of stories about the false arrests made of older white gay men at porn shops, under the charge of “prostitution” and the New York Times has, as usual, been the Johhny-Come-Lately and published a story as well. It seems as though the NYPD has been sending really hot Black and/or Latino Asian male undercover cops into these porn shops, they tell these men they wanna have sex, and then on the way out, the hot younger undercover offers to pay the men. Whether or not they agree to the exchange of cash or not, the men exit the store and are arrested for prostitution.

While I think this is a terrible abuse of power and the police should not be setting up traps like this for people, and I am glad Robert Pinter chose come to forward, as many people live in shame when they are arrested–and in many states, are charged with the hugely stigmatizing “sex offender” statute, which increases the amount of community surveillance, inability to get work or live in certain places, etc. So while I think it is valuable to actively resist forms of sexual criminalization, I also have a problem with this campaign. First of all, if you read the news stories or watch the video below, notice the use of “innocence” as the framework for the reason why the arrests are wrong (which, to be fair, may be attributed to the legal strategy). It is interesting though, when you look at the history of queer activism about police harassment and public space, “innocence” was rarely used as the way the issue was framed in the pre/post Stonewall Era.

From an organizing perspective, people have often talked about sexual freedom, self determination, sexual liberation, or the right of people to freely associate with whomever they wanted, as long as it was consensual. But the activists in this case, led by Queer Justice League and the NYC Anti-Violence Project, are falling back on notions of “innocence” and the arrests of men with “no prior arrest record.” This is such a racist and elitist discourse, because it throws people under the bus (even in a queer context), uses the spectre of the Black or Latino criminal, in this case hustlers, who may be turning tricks to eat, or to feed a drug habit (for which there is often no access to treatment without passing thru the hands of law enforcement and the courts), or because they’d rather do that than work mininum wage. It says, “we don’t care if you arrest, harass, or ‘stop & frisk’ those people, but we’re not doing anything wrong.” Duncan also let me know in an email last week that ” I spent yet another day at the Midtown Community Court this past Tuesday and I am pleased to say that among the prostitution cases that were dismissed were those against a white man in his 40s who was busted in Blue Door Video and a 42-year-old, straight, African-American man who was busted on the street in the West Village. Additionally, the prostitution case against a young female, Asian immigrant who worked in a massage parlor was tossed out as well. All three were busted by undercover officer 3371 who made at least half of the porn shop busts.”

In addition, its interesting to note that this campaign has held a public forum at the LGBT Center, had one public rally, has scheduled another for this Saturday, and has lobbied out-lesbian Council Speaker Christine Quinn to call Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD on this issue. With all this activity, my organization, Queers for Economic Justice has not received one call or email asking to co-sponsor or otherwise be engaged in this work. And I wonder if FIERCE (which has been doing work on policing of queer youth and public space since 2000), Ali Forney Center, Audre Lorde Project, or many of the organizations that have a track record of doing work around police harassment of queer folks (especially when Black & Latinos queer spaces in NYC are hyper-policed) have been asked to weigh in on this issue. And given the way this has become a campaign about protecting the freedom of white gay men (to the implicit exclusion of people of color, sex workers, and poor people in commercial sex venues) I am not sure that I’d want to be a part of this, frankly. (According to Duncan, FIERCE and ALP played some role in this work, and that QEJ was contacted but did not return the call–though we discussed it as a staff months ago and none of us received such a call).

Black Gay To Serve on Obama Policy Council on Faith-Based Initiatives

From Gay Politics.com-Fred Davie, the openly gay president of Public/Private Ventures, has been named to serve on President Barack Obama’s Policy Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Davie will work to provide objective, nonpartisan advice to the president on a variety of public policy matters, including strategies to increase the effectiveness of social services delivered by community and faith-based organizations.

Before the gays break out the champaign–I don’t like the idea of government-funded social service programs to religious institutions. I don’t care who is on the decision making body (and if you look at the rest of the body, it is not clear that this is the most progressive of faith-based leaders, and they’re almost entirely Christian). Since the Bush Administration began the faith-based initiative project several years ago, it also allowed for faith-based institutions taking federal grant money to make decisions about hiring based on their, or an applicant’s, religious (read: moral) preferences. Obama, in announcing this new (but not new) office, has held off reversing this decision, which they say is under legal review, according to a story published in US News & World Report. Also, listed among the goals of the office, is to work on “abortion reduction and fatherhood participation” initiatives–both of which have the potential for more liberal, Daniel Patrick Moynihan-esque social policy that is about supporting patriarchial family structures in poor (and especially Black) communities.

I am all for churches who do good work–feeding people, caring for the sick & elderly, providing community spaces for people to gather. But I don’t want them to take money to do that work, and then turn around and preach shitty things about queers, or racist & misogynist fundamentalist churches as well. Also, what does this do to further paralyze Black churches, who have all but abandoned mass action and community organizing, to only turn them into service providers. Black churches historically have done both, but will getting government money further move them in that direction?

NOTE: I should say that I have known about Davie for many years. I used to work in workforce development where Davie is well known and very well regarded in progressive circles (you can find some of his speeches on the PPV website which seem OK. I don’t care for faith-based initiatives with government money, and have strong reservations about the office itself.

Silence is KIlling Black Gays as Much as HIV

From The Defenders Online (the blog of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund).

…28 years into the AIDS epidemic, that silence that once protected us, is now killing us. As we near Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7th, all sorts of pronouncements will be made about the devastation HIV/AIDS is having on the community. And though we are disproportionately impacted by the epidemic, concern for black men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women will not likely come from most quarters of the community. If black leadership is at all concerned with ending this epidemic, we’re going to have to acknowledge and overcome the homophobia that is driving it in the community.

Read the entire op-ed here.

My Plenary Remarks at Creating Change

Hey folks, sorry  I been gone so long, but I was in Denver al last week for the 21st annual Creating Change conference, this year in Denver. Bilerico.com just published the speech I delivered at the HIV/AIDS plenary at Creating Change on Saturday, January 31, 2009. My other co-panelists, Marjorie Hill, PhD (Executive Director, Gay Men’s Health Crisis), Bishop Yvette Flunder (UCC Ark of Refuge, San Francisco), & David Ernesto Munar (VP of Development & Communications, AIDS Foundation Chicago), were quite brilliant!

Excerpt below. Go to Bilerico to get the full text:

First and foremost, the time where we can pretend that there is no viable, credible or visible Black (or other POC) queer leadership is over. While we certainly need to be developing leaders, leadership per se, is not the problem. We have lost of leaders, but leaders with no base that they’re accountable to. Because what little Black LGBT infrastructure that exists, is largely due to HIV/AIDS service delivery, we are able to reach lots of people in our organizations as “clients”, but are rarely engaged as potential leaders, organizers or members of our organizations. We need the investment of both progressive philanthropy and LGBT funders to help build the capacity and infrastructure of organizations to move from strict service delivery to doing community organizing, leadership development, and base-building.

Lastly, as long as the White-led mainstream LGBT movement is invested in seeing itself as the only credible leadership or it’s organizations the only ones doing “the real work” or having “real impact” we will continue to invisibilize the work that Black and other POC organizations are doing on the ground, in spite of real material obstacles. So every time the gay news media and organizations promote ideas of the gay community vs. the Black community, Black queers will continue to remain invisible, and assumes that Black queer people are not engaging in a battle against homophobia and transphobia in the Black community.

Here’s the last 3 minutes of the speech on Youtube: