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The Implications of Connections

The Implications of Connections


There is no universally accepted cultural expression or appreciation. And there is no agreed-upon political or social agenda that all black gay men have cosigned.

Despite what one might discern from reports that HIV prevention is failing among black gay men, the reality is that black men who have sex with men are not the monolithic community they often are portrayed to be. There is no universally accepted cultural expression or appreciation. And there is no agreed-upon political or social agenda that all black gay men have cosigned. However, this does not mean there is an absence of complex interactions that take place within a black gay male context. Interactions between a larger gay community, between a larger black community, between other oppressed people and other communities with common bonds create the backdrop for our lives. There is an urgency to understand the implications of these connections, since they have a profound impact on the HIV epidemic in our community. With new infection rates for young black gay men hovering at 14%, one is often plagued by two questions: 'What has been done for our community?' and 'How can we change the tide of new infections?' There has been a long history of HIV prevention advocacy in the United States. As the epidemic took on frightening proportions, gay men dedicated to the health and continued well-being of their peers formed groups ranging from small social organizations to large political advocacy institutions. But 22 years into the epidemic, the black gay community is still struggling with precisely how to address HIV, while the larger white gay community has moved on. Organizations around the country attempt to address the unique nuances of our community but often find themselves fighting policy decisions that demand action based on proven 'scientific' criteria. Community-based organizations are frequently forced to strike compromises, and interventions proved in a larger gay context are massaged and adapted for a black audience. Inferred is that whether the audience is black, white, Latino, Asian, and so on, a change of colloquial language for each group will enable each audience to process the intervention in the same sociological and psychological way. Erased in this approach are the historical contexts, the unique mechanisms of adaptation, and the unique relationships of individuals to community values and norms that exist. As workers in community-based organizations begin to recognize the need to back anecdotal evidence with empirical knowledge about the lives of black gay men, they are finding themselves in a quandary. There is very little existing research that meets the methodological needs for capturing the nuances of our community or the standards used to delineate sound academic research from fluff. The black gay community needs culturally competent research to develop effective HIV prevention efforts. Researchers must place their fingers on the pulse of our community and develop tools of observation, collection, and analysis that discern the full spectrum of our lives. There must also be ongoing support for this work'support through institutional dollars, support in challenging the prevailing paradigms of accepted knowledge, and support from members of our communities. Truly effective interventions must be rooted in the lives and realities of those whose lives they are intended to affect. Until this happens our community will be fighting with one hand tied behind its back. Leon A. James is the program coordinator for People of Color in Crisis in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a member of the Black Gay Research Group, an initiative that aims to give voice to the lives of black gay men.

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