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Straight Black Men Ignored in AIDS Initiatives

Freddie Allen | , Special to Informer | 9/6/2012, 3:27 p.m.

No one can creditably deny the burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Black community. Although Blacks represent only 12 percent or the U.S. population, they accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections. Black women accounted for 57 percent of all new HIV infections among women and 64 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses among women.

In 2010, 85 percent of Black women were infected through heterosexual activities and Black men who have sex with men (MSMs) stand a one in four chance of being infected with HIV before their 25th birthdays and 60 percent chance of being infected by the time they reach age 40.

In the mountain of stats and programs, the impact of the AIDS epidemic on straight Black men is often overlooked.

Why?

"We were never properly introduced to the epidemic and who it was infecting," said Larry Bryant, the director of national advocacy organizing at Housing Works, a non-profit organization that advocates for ending homelessness and AIDS. "First we were told by the CDC that it was a White gay male disease. Then, we were told it was a disease of White gay males and injection drug users then we were told it was a disease of White gay males injection drug users and Haitian immigrants."

Other activists cite the lack of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment messages that focus on the unique needs of heterosexual males as one of the reasons that many straight Black men ignore the epidemic overtaking their neighborhoods.

"We have national campaigns and national initiatives around women, for men who have sex with men and for injecting drug users," said Terrence Young, manager of testing and field operations for the Community Education Group, an organization dedicated to stemming the flow of AIDS by training local health workers and increasing AIDS awareness among vulnerable populations. Young said that at he's often felt invisible at AIDS conferences and in work groups that seem to target every population accept for straight Black men.

"If I'm not directing any messages to you, if I'm not developing any interventions for you, if I'm telling you this isn't your problem, "Young said. "What do you expect to happen?"

Young noted that CDC-funded Diffusion of Effective Behavioral Interventions (DEBI) Project list 30 individual programs and of those, only one that targets the needs of straight Black men.

"The way things have been looking over the last 30 years, there will be initiatives for purple people on the moon before there's an initiative for heterosexual Black men," he said.

In 2010, Young co-founded the Heterosexual Men of Color Coalition, believed to be the is the only national organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to addressing the AIDS epidemic from the heterosexual Black male point of view. Young worked with Dwayne Morrow of the AIDS Foundation of Houston to launch HMOCC to ensure that straight Black men have a voice and a seat at the table when it comes to pulling the ears of key policymakers associated with the AIDS epidemic.