Thursday, February 4, 2010

HIV/AIDS in the Black Community

According to the Center for Disease Control, roughly half of the population diagnosed with the HIV infection and AIDS virus is African American.

Gay and bisexual black men account for an overwhelming majority of these cases and have the highest risk for contracting and transmitting HIV/AIDS. The number of new infections among young African American men, ages 13-29, who engage in anal or oral intercourse with other men (MSM) is about two times higher than the number for white and Hispanic MSM.

As a person who is extremely interested in human sexuality/sexual health and, first and foremost, as an African American woman, I can't say how deeply troubled I am by these disproportionate statistics. I have witnessed homophobia and the stigma surrounding HIV firsthand within my community. In junior high and high school the general sentiment about black men who have sex with other men was that of disgust, combined with the belief that gay men were inherently immoral. These views led to downright harassment and violence towards gay and bisexual teens inside the classroom and through the halls, continuing past the final bell.

Within the black community, in regards to African American literature and media, the persistent negative view of gay black men can be witnessed in the “down low” phenomenon. Gay black men on the down low are characterized as unfaithful partners in heterosexual relationships. They are often stereotyped as hyper-sexualized beings and promiscuous; always engaging in unsafe sexual practices. This problematic portrayal of black sexuality preserves the negative stigmatization of black gays as being immoral and at the same time criminalizing black men who engage in same-sex relationships.

These social factors may be just a few predictors that contribute to the increase of HIV/AIDS in the gay/bisexual black community because they force black youth to: (a) be silent about their sexual orientation and identity for fear of discrimination, (b) stigmatize gay men, and (c) prevent sexually active gay and bisexual males from learning the facts and risks of engaging in intercourse.

With National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day just a couple days away, I urge every person, no matter how you identify yourself, to get involved in finding ways to decrease and prevent the number of new cases of HIV and AIDS.

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