The Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) held it's first in a series of discussions to help those who are HIV positive reconnect with their spirituality for healthier living. The first event, on October 10, was titled "Don't Shhh...Me! A discussion out loud about sex, health, spirituality and HIV". The Reverend Dr. Mariah Britton from The Moriah Institute, Elder Stacy Latimer of Love Alive International Foundation, Chris Jones from the SAGE Harlem Center and Reverend Michael Lynch from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church were the first guests in the discussion series. The event was moderated by GMHC's Lynette Ford.
Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, preachers have not said many constructive things about the disease while standing at the pulpit. This needs to change before people living with HIV are fully able to access the health and wellness benefits of religion.
But the conversation first needs to begin with sexuality, and therein lay the difficulties in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The sex-negative culture of many modern religions forces a disconnect between the church and real life, making it difficult for people to even begin to talk about a same-gender loving LGBT community.
"If you’re going to get pastors to engage with a more welcoming and affirming approach to people who are LGBT or living with HIV, first one has to gain a greater sense of compassion around sexuality," said Britton. "Now that HIV is a manageable disease, there is also that added weight around stigma and misunderstandings around those who contract it."
Battling the stigma around HIV and finding a constructive way for preachers to speak to their parishioners candidly about getting tested for and living with HIV are obstacles that need to be surmounted before PLWHAs can tap into the healing power that organized religion can offer. But finding a spiritual center, even one outside the organized church, can help those battling illness become healthier and happier individuals.
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