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#3 of Our 75 Most Amazing HIV-Positive People of 2016: Kahlib Barton

#3 of Our 75 Most Amazing HIV-Positive People of 2016: Kahlib Barton

Kahlib Barton

Young, black, gay, and poz: he's determined to keep others from following in his footsteps.

Earlier this year,the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report predicting that half of all black gay and bisexual men will become HIV-positive in their lifetimes. Kahlib Barton wrote in Out Smartmagazine that at the time all he could do “was drop down on my knees and cry.”

Already poz himself, 24-year-old Barton wasn’t grieving for himself, but for others he feared would be forced to repeat his HIV story, “With the release of the CDC report, my goal has become to never have another young person in the South have an experience parallel to mine. I believe the only way we can achieve this goal is prioritizing the most marginalized and exposing every system of oppression.”

Barton grew up in the rural Marshall, Texas, where he feared coming out as gay. As a teen he was unable to “even ask questions about my sexuality. I wanted to use protection, but had no idea where I could access it.”

After being diagnosed with HIV in 2011 — while at college and still technically a teenager — Barton felt even more alone. For the next three years, the closest he came to care was a series of phone calls offering him treatment at a clinic he had no transportation to.

Everything changed when he moved to Denver, Colorado, to pursue a degree in social work in 2014. Within a year Barton was not only under a doctor’s care but actively involved in the local HIV community, working with an HIV support group (TRADE), AIDS United, and All the TEA (Teach, Empower, Advocate).

As a National Minority AIDS Council Youth Scholar, Barton attended the 2015 United States Conference on AIDS, where he learned about Advocates for Youth and National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day. When he returned to Denver he worked with TEA to petition the city to make a proclamation supporting the day. 

“We were surprised at how quickly and enthusiastically the mayor responded,” Barton says. “The proclamation was signed within a week.”

Soon afterwards, NMAC invited Barton to Washington, D.C., for a briefing to inform Congress about HIV among young people.

“I was humbled to be in a room with such amazing advocates, able to address lawmakers directly about why the government should prioritize young people in the fight against HIV and AIDS,” Barton said at the time.

That experience so influenced Barton that he relocated permanently to D.C., even though that meant leaving his position as vice-chair on the Denver HIV Resources Planning Council, where he had helped determine how Ryan White funds were allocated in the city (and where he’d been the youngest person to serve).

Barton joined Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative in D.C., where he was recently elected vice chair. An initiative of the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, the Leadership Initiative addresses issues affecting black and Latino gay, queer, bi, and trans men — including HIV, homelessness, and professional development. At the Initiative, Barton helped pilot the annual Build-A-Brother Institute in partnership with the ational African-American MSM Leadership Conference on HIV/AIDS and Other Health Disparities. As a member of the fundraising committee, he helped raise enough money to send 80 people to the group’s annual policy and advocacy summit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. More recently, Barton co-founded an empowerment campaign called Black Gay Magic.

Barton is also a program coordinator at Us Helping Us, People Into Living Inc, the largest gay-identified, black AIDS organization in Washington, D.C., where he works on community level interventions with special emphasis on PrEP and Treatment as Prevention. A one-time Greater Than AIDS Youth Ambassador, Barton was also named one of True Color Fund’s 2016 “40 of the Forty,” representing the 40 percent of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQQ.

“If an individual does not have housing, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to prioritize their health,” says Barton. “Agencies who work with youth need to recognize that some…[are] LGBT and may be experiencing issues such as homelessness.” 

The 24-year-old says he is proudest of his group’s clients. “This is more of an accomplishment for them than me, but the reason I do what I do is so that people like me will be able to live longer, healthier, fuller lives.”

A strong advocate for underserved, deserve populations to see themselves reflected in HIV prevention and outreach campaigns, Barton sees some signs of change.

“I was very pleased to see campaigns like Greater Than AIDS and #DoingIt prioritized the need for more diverse representation, not only in race but in gender. I have seen these images on billboards, buses, subways, and magazines, and it has been quite refreshing.” Of course organizations can’t just stop there. The next step, he says, is for organizations and agencies to themselves become more representative of those they serve. “If the majority of the population they work with are of color or trans populations, then the majority of the people employed with the agency should reflect that.” 

Addressing health disparities facing black men shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of non-profits. “We have to address the stigma of feminization in the black community. As long as individuals in the black community continue to believe that any sign of weakness in a man is a threat to our race then we will continue to miss opportunities to educate young black gay men on their sexual health.”

Plus, he says, “We have to remind young black gay men of their brilliance. Any time we speak of black gay men, the conversation automatically floats to HIV when there are so many other issues affecting us. We experience ostracism in our homes and even more within our communities and much of it is because we do not understand our own worth. People have to recognize and respect our genius. This will empower us to use that genius to create a better tomorrow for ourselves and each other.”

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