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WATCH: Black Gay Men Put a Positive Spin on Life

WATCH: Black Gay Men Put a Positive Spin on Life


A welcome project, Positive Spin, features the stories of five black, gay, HIV+ men to encourage others to get tested and get treated. But is the message cohesive?

Invisible no more? A welcome new federal HIV education initiative focuses on gay black men. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)  recently launched Positive Spin, a comprehensive digital educational tool that uses personal storytelling to encourage people with HIV to get treatment. The project, which was developed by with input from federal agencies, health care professionals, persons living with HIV, and community-based HIV organizations, is available at

Positive Spin features the personal experiences of five HIV-positive, gay black men who have successfully navigated the HIV care continuum, from diagnosis to treatment and, ultimately, to viral suppression, which helps those with HIV stay healthy, live longer and dramatically reduce their chances of passing the virus to others.

Black gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by the domestic HIV epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black men account for almost one-third (31 percent) of all new HIV infections in the United States, and young black gay and bisexual men now account for more new infections than any other subgroup of gay and bisexual men by race/ethnicity and age. (Learn more about black gay men and HIV in our special report: "Black Gay and Bi Men Battle the Escalation of HIV.")

The CDC estimates that, in 2011, 86 percent of HIV-infected individuals in the United States were diagnosed, but only 40 percent were retained in care, and only 30 percent achieved the ultimate goal of viral suppression. Positive Spin is part of a comprehensive federal effort to increase the proportion of HIV-positive individuals who are diagnosed, treated and virally suppressed.

Federal, state and local agencies use data on the HIV care continuum to identify gaps in HIV services, develop strategies to improve engagement in care, determine how best to prioritize and target available resources, and monitor progress in their response to HIV.

According to HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, a key goal of the project is to promote and demonstrate digital storytelling as a tool for HIV outreach.

“These compelling and emotionally engaging stories," Burwell said in a statement to the press, "will serve as an important tool in helping to counter the misconceptions, stigma and discrimination that continue to create significant barriers to HIV testing and treatment for all populations.”

Miguel Gomez, director of added, “We hope the personal narratives in Positive Spin will inspire more people who are living with HIV to get tested and treated, so that they can protect their health and the health of their partners.” 

Positive Spin is specifically designed to provide information easily accessible and readable on mobile devices. Short (up to 3 minute) video stories are paired with what HHS reiterates are "user-friendly," and "easy-to-understand" infographics and links to federal resources.

The site also offers a system to locate nearby HIV testing facilities. Users enter their city, state and zipcode and are presented with a map of locations. The search can also be narrowed by the distance (miles) from a specific address, or results that offer services in Spanish. (The map also includes unrequested locations of things like near by family planning, mental health or substance abuse services.)

While the site has many positive features, some aspects may be counterproductive. In answer to the question, "Should I get tested?" Positive Spin initially offers the CDC's recommendation that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once as part of their routine health care." 

It continues with a list of questions regarding risky behavior:

  • Have you had sex with someone who is HIV-positive or whose status you didn’t know since your last HIV test?
  • Have you injected drugs (including steroids, hormones, or silicone) and shared equipment (or works, such as needles and syringes) with others?
  • Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, like syphilis?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for hepatitis or tuberculosis (TB)?
  • Have you had sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose history you don’t know?

If a reader misses the tacked on phrase "someone whose history you don’t know," they could could reasonably review this list and conclude they aren't among those who "should definitely" get tested.

Yet, with the current epidemic levels of HIV among gay black men it would seem prudent to encourage all members of the community to be tested. (As HIV Plus previously reported, at the current rates of infection, 1 in 2 gay black men will become HIV positive by the time they are 35.) 

HHS sees Positive Spin as supporting President Obama’s HIV Care Continuum Initiative, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and the Digital Government Strategy. Whether it will be a sucessful element in the federal government's fight against HIV is yet to be determined, but focusing on gay black men is certainly a positive step.

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Jacob Anderson-Minshall