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Special Report: Black Gay and Bi Men Battle the Escalation of HIV

Special Report: Black Gay and Bi Men Battle the Escalation of HIV


Fear played a role in Gilmer’s own coming-out story. When he was first diagnosed, he was working in Mozambique assessing community-based, in-home HIV care. Although he was working in the HIV field and knew he was likely positive, Gilmer admits he avoided seeking medical attention. Finally he reached out to a friend, but even then he couldn’t admit the advice he sought was for himself. Instead, Gilmer said he had a “friend” who wouldn’t see a doctor because he was afraid. His friend said, “Tell your friend, HIV won’t kill him, but fear will.”

“It is fear,” Gilmer knows now, “that paralyzes many of us.” Whether it is fear of losing your church or family, or of what might come with treating the disease, he says, “it’s the fear that anchors the shame and stigma; [the feeling that] if I speak and admit this, then my world as I knew it will crumble. Now, realizing that the possibility of life is on the other side of taking a pill? The other side of a doctor’s appointment?”

Despite all the hurdles facing black, poz gay men, activists like Gilmer and Stephens remain cautiously optimistic. “Given the opportunity,” Gilmer says, black gay men “could help lead this country…because we are so much more than HIV.”

Stephens happily acknowledges the “great work happening in the scientific and policy realms,” but adds, “I would merely offer that we should continue to work to strengthen our institutions, sustain our culture, and really invest in our communities.”

It is in investing in the “proliferating black gay media, art, community institutions, and other innovative forms of community development” that, Counter Narrative maintains, black gay men will find the care they need to overcome HIV. “Linking black gay men to culture is linking black gay men to care.”

And for a young gay black man reading this article? “I would want him to know that he has a community behind him,” Stephens says. “He has a history, a culture, and a future. As black gay men, as fearlessly as we look back at our past, the joy and the trauma, we have to be just as willing to consider the future.”

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