New "Back of the Line" Report Highlights HIV Epidemic Among Black Gay Men

Black gay men in the United States are at the highest risk of contracting HIV of any people in the world, according to a new report released by Black AIDS Institute.  And with a 60 percent chance of being infected by age 40, inadequate access to health care and resources as well as a lack of institutional attention to black gay men are to blame, not risky behavior.  

Back of the Line: The State of AIDS Among Black Gay Men in America 2012” was released by Black AIDS Institute, the nation’s only HIV/AIDS think tank that focuses specifically on the Black Americans, and can be read in full online.

The report explains several ways in which black men who have sex with other men (referred to as MSM) in America are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS:

  • Close to 1 in 4 of all new HIV infections are contracted by people in this group
  • Black MSM are seven times more likely to have undiagnosed HIV than MSM who are not black
  • HIV is twice as common among gay and bisexual men who are black than gay and bisexual men who are white
  • Black MSM are significantly less likely to live three years after developing AIDS than white or Latino MSM
  • Black MSM in mid-sized southern cities are at the greatest risk for contracting HIV as well as the ones with the least access to help

In recent news, the AIDS epidemic has been treated as nearing an end. “Back of the Line” points out, though, that while antiretroviral treatment reduces chances of HIV transmission by 96%, “the combined effects of poverty, unemployment, lack of health coverage, racism and homophobia” still serve as “profound obstacles” for black men.

The report states clearly: “Black gay men’s higher risk of HIV does not stem from higher levels of risk behavior.” Along with these profound obstacles, diminished health care access and health service utilization, high background prevalence of other sexually transmitted diseases, sex, and “a syndemic among Black MSM involving…violence, homelessness, experience of childhood sexual abuse or other trauma, experience of hostile home environments and associated disruption in education, and disproportionate risk of incarceration” as key factors in the higher risk this population faces.

The report also states, “Federal agencies don't even track HIV resources focused on Black gay men, and state and local governments badly under-prioritize prevention and treatment services for Black gay men.”

Phill Wilson, the president and chief executive of Black AIDS Institute, said “The AIDS Epidemic is not over in that population.” The report “highlights the gaps and why they still exist after 30 years, but it also provides a blueprint of how to close the gaps.”

He says that the black community is still playing catch up from the spread of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when poverty, unemployment, and increasing use of crack cocaine were also prevalent problems.

“How Do We Move Forward?” the report asks in a section called “Ending AIDS Among Black MSM.” It offers up “An Action Plan to End AIDS,” including “Priority Action Steps” and specific strategies to implement them, starting on page 13. They fall under categories about “involving relevant federal agencies, Black MSM, Black an LGBT leaders, the philanthropic and private sectors, and state and local health departments” in order to “exert genuine, sustained leadership in the fight” as well as to “combat homophobia and other social challenges.”

“Back of the Line” is a revealing title. Systemic discrimination looks a bit different than it used to. There are no longer plaques posted for everyone to see, clearly designating which group of people has access to which facilities, or where certain people are allowed to sit on buses or in restaurants. In daily life, to the average person, inequity is less in-your-face, perhaps even easy to ignore. It is still, however, nonetheless real. It tangibly affects life chances and opportunities of entire peoples. Based on the findings of this study, poor access to health care and a lack of attention and funding towards HIV prevention and treatment continue to keep certain peoples, particularly black gay men, perpetually at the “Back of the Line.”

The report and its findings have been covered by Medical Daily, International Science Times, AFP via Yahoo, CNN’s blog The Chart, Red Orbit, The Washington Times, Christian Post, Towleroad, Pink News, Metro Weekly, and Think Progress.

GLAAD urges the media to continue bringing light not only to the epidemic and those it most affects, but to the solutions outlined in “Back of the Line,” in order to, as Wilson says, “move those most at risk up to the front.”