Educators of HIV targeting young black gay men

The Associated Press
Sunday March 25, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — In the wake of soaring HIV statistics surrounding the nation’s gay black men, a panel of educators came together Thursday to admit their failures and discuss strategies to help curb the rate of contraction. 

“These people are coming to us to get HIV testing or to get screened for (sexually transmitted diseases),” said Lucia Torian, from the New York City Department of Health. “They are in our offices. They’re in our clinics. We are even counseling them. What’s going on?” 

Torian spoke to a packed conference room as part of the 13th National HIV/AIDS Update Conference. She said a recent Young Men’s Survey in New York showed one in every three black men sampled were HIV positive, even though they had less sexual partners than white men ages 23 to 29. 

Torian said gay black men as a group held the highest rates of infection from 1989-1999. 

“This is an incidence rate in men who have sex with men that we have not seen since the late 1980s. So we have our work cut out for us,” Torian said. “And we may be on the leading edge of the epidemic.” 

San Francisco’s gay black HIV prevalence rates are comparable with an estimated 54.6 percent of the population spanning all age groups, said Willi McFarland from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. 

“It’s an astonishing figure, and we’re not entirely sure how to answer it,” he said. “It’s one of the highest for any group in the city.” Black transgender men in San Francisco have a 60 percent to 65 percent prevalence rate, McFarland said. 

Susan Kegeles, of the University of San Francisco’s Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, spoke on the panel about ideas for a program to attract the troubled demographic. She heads the Mpowerment Project, hailed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the only effective intervention program for young gay and bisexual men, which uses peer groups in various cities to create a dialogue and a safe place for men to talk about sex. 

Now, she said, the key will be coming up with a similar program that targets and attracts the black gay community. 

“There’s an enormous complacency about contracting HIV,” Kegeles said. “It’s not a big issue anymore. People still remain healthy and strong: They think they can take two pills in the morning and two pills at night.” 

Kegeles said the gay black community hasn’t been studied sufficiently, and it needs to be examined more closely because gay black men do not necessarily frequent mainstream gay bars and other venues. In addition, she said there’s a larger stigma attached to black homosexuals. Many do not even admit they have sex with other men, Kegeles explained. 

Leniere Miley, assistant coordinator at the House of Latex Project in New York, said it’s important to seek out black gay men and educate them about the risks of unsafe sex in a message that appeals to them. He said it’s a tough job that goes far beyond simply sponsoring hip-hop dances and posters depicting black culture. 

“People have different ways of communicating and hearing things,” Miley said. “Maybe the people in the black community couldn’t hear it. It has to be tailored to the communities they’re going to.” 


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