Last month, the Washington Post reported that, according to a new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study, the number of people in the US becoming infected with the HIV virus stabilized between 2006 to 2009, except among young gay and bisexual Black males. In fact, the number of newly infected gay and bisexual Black male teens and men in their 20s rose nearly 50 percent over these three years - the only group of gay males that showed a significant increase.
In response, the CDC has launched a new campaign, “Testing Makes Us Stronger,” aimed at gay and bisexual Black men.
GLAAD spoke to health advocates in the Black LGBT community and learned of the steps this community is taking to address the HIV epidemic.
In our interview, Charles Stephens, Project Specialist at AID Atlanta (and participant in GLAAD’s National People of Color Media Institute), stated, “It’s unfortunate that the dominant stories in the media are about crises and pathology and that’s not the full story.”
Stephens recently gave an interview to AllHipHop.com, refuting remarks by rapper Game that closeted gay men are responsible for the spread of HIV. "It’s more useful to look at actual risk behaviors and structural factors such as poverty and access to health care that drive the epidemic in our communities," Stephens stated.
Stephens’ point is supported by the Washington Post article, which emphasized that “[s]tudies have shown that young gay black males do not have riskier behavior or more sex partners than their white counterparts. Instead, their much higher chance of becoming infected is a result, in part, because so many already have HIV and don’t know it.”
Stephens believes “if young Black gay men are overrepresented in the rates of HIV in this country, their voices need to be more present and visible in the conversation about HIV prevention.”
With this in mind, AID Atlanta has launched “From Where I Stand,” a new social marketing campaign featuring young Black gay men telling their own stories. “It’s important to provide a platform to let these young men share their voices, so that we can understand and harness the resilience in this community to shape solutions,” Stephens stated.
Based on a similar analysis, Chicago’s Youth Pride Center (YPC) recently launched the “Be Great” campaign, promoting positive self-representation of Black LGBT youth via social media tools like Facebook and YouTube. Though the campaign initially began in response to youth violence in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, YPC founding director Frank Walker explained its holistic focus on youth wellness and leadership development, stating, “I think we have to associate being great with being healthy. We have to take a holistic approach, that being great is not just working hard, going to school, but it’s also about taking care of yourself. We are planning to release new videos this fall that emphasize how sexual health can also assist in your greatness.”
The campaign has already been replicated in Ohio and Florida, and with additional launches planned in Georgia and Wisconsin.
GLAAD also spoke with shay(den) gonzalez, a 2011 New Leaders Fellow at the Center for Progressive Leadership who served as Program Coordinator of the National Youth Advocacy Center (NYAC) during its final months. Gonzalez provided training in HIV prevention models and social marketing strategies for LGBT youth and youth-serving providers nationwide.
“To understand why HIV rates in the Black male community are on the rise, we have to examine whether gay and bisexual Black men have had the historical ability to be out within their communities,” he emphasized. “When being anything but straight is stigmatized, gay and bisexual people are less likely to reach out to educational and testing resources, even when they are available. It’s important to not only have access to information, but to be able to get the information from people who look like you and who you can personally relate to.”
Gonzalez pointed to You Know Different, NYAC’s campaign to encourage more testing among Black LGBT youth, as an example of social marketing tools designed with direct input from the target population.
Gonzalez explained, “The campaign encouraged providers to work with youth in their community to disseminate information through posters, bracelets, stickers, and social media outlets like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter. Each campaign culminated with a major testing event, with incentives for people to return for their test results. The campaign was implemented nationwide and included creative initiatives like fashion shows and dance parties to encourage turnout. It was a very holistic approach to HIV prevention that engaged youth in discussions about how HIV affects their entire selves and entire communities.”
Though NYAC has closed its doors, its You Know Different campaign materials (stickers, posters, etc.) are still available through the Metropolitan Group, who helped design the campaign.
Finally, Snapout Memphis, based in Tennessee, has started social marketing campaigns against the HIV epidemic. Their work is almost entirely conducted online, and their website is directed by young people. Watch a video from their campaign below.