The Bigots Are Right: The HIV Epidemic Among Black, Gay Men is from Immorality
By: Marq Montgomery
**This article was originally posted at AngryBlackHoemo.com and has been republished with permission**
It’s Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, so it’s a good of a time as any to dive into this topic.
When we talk about the HIV/AIDS epidemic among Gay men, in general, there’s often an air of judgement and condescension, dripping with implications that any of us who contract the virus “deserve it” for our “immoral” behavior. And when you add in the racism of addressing Black, Gay men, that attitude only grows…even from other Gay men.
For argument’s sake, let’s entertain that this idea of HIV being an issue of “immorality” among us, might actually have some merit. Even if we wanted to go along with that idea, that perhaps, Black Gay men see higher rates of HIV/AIDS due to “immorality,” well…maybe so. But it’s not immorality on our part.
By the definition that society has set for what’s “moral” and “responsible” in terms of sex, Black folks have been found to actually be more “moral” than others. Namely, it’s been observed that Black people are more likely to use condoms than any, other race. So, if we’re more likely to use condoms than white people (therefore, falling within this collective idea of what sexual “responsibility” is), then why are we still far more likely to be affected by HIV and AIDS?
Here’s a few things to consider…
AIDS reached the astronomical levels that it did, largely because then-President Reagan did fuckall to address the rapidly-rising number of deaths from the virus throughout the 80’s. And it’s no coincidence that two of the demographics most heavily affected by the epidemic were the Gay & Black communities…so, of course people who fall into the intersection of the two would see figures that much more devastating. By the end of the Reagan Administration, over 25% of all AIDS cases were Black people…and that figure would continue to rise for over a decade (while rates among white people started on a decline by the mid-90’s).
Also, systemic racism has prevented Black folks, as a whole, from getting the same-quality care as white people…and this is compounded even more for Black LGBTQ folks. Having all of our health needs adequately met from most doctors is a challenge…if we even have access to doctors. Employment and housing discrimination often keep Black LGBTQ people from even having access to healthcare, at all. That lack of access (plus the roadblock of homophobia from the doctors that we do manage to get to), leads to a lack of awareness around our own sexual health.
Many don’t have the access to proper HIV/STI testing, causing many to live with the virus without knowing it…this is where the risk for transmission is highest. And for those who do get a diagnosis, many don’t have access to necessary treatment. In addition to the horrible effects of letting HIV go untreated (particularly, the virus being able to develop into AIDS), we know that being on treatment with an undetectable viral load is arguably the most reliable method of preventing transmission (a.k.a. Treatment As Prevention, or TasP).
I mentioned a lack of awareness around sexual health. Sex-ed is terribly inadequate, even among the most privileged and centered parts of society. LGBTQ people (and even more so, Black LGBTQ people) get absolutely nothing…at best, we might get told to use condoms or just abstain from such “sinful” activity. Because of this, many of us don’t even have it in our heads to be diligent about sexual health. And this is made even worse by the culture of shame and stigma put on both HIV and Black, Queer sexuality. Plus, decades of negative propaganda see Black, Queer sexuality commonly made synonymous with HIV and AIDS.
Additionally, the severe levels of homophobia that we see in the Black community (compounded by systemic racism), leads some Black men to live in the closet…which makes one even less likely to seek testing and/or treatment, due to the aforementioned culture of stigma. This adversely affects Black women…and, of course, the same issues of systemic racism (plus how that intersects with systemic issues around healthcare for women) impact their struggle with HIV/AIDS, as well.
Ultimately, the issue of HIV/AIDS among Black, Gay men (and other Black men who have sex with men) has nothing to do with our “morality,” but with proper access to adequate resources around sexual health. This is why white, Gay men are seeing their rates of HIV transmission on a steep decline, despite the likelihood that they’re using condoms less often than Black people. Condoms are only one, small part of the equation in HIV prevention…it’s about resources, which have always been scarce for Black folks, and even more so Black LGBTQ folks…and this is an issue that I don’t think many expect to see much improvement on, given our new President…and his VP.
So, since bible thumpers and homophobes (and racist homophobes) like to dismiss this issue with citing our “lack of morality,” I think it’s more appropriate that we turn this around by properly citing who and what’s truly morally bankrupt: a white supremacist system, which maliciously ignored a nationwide epidemic for years. Then, even after finally coming around, proceeded to deliberately deny much of the population equal access to resources to help prevent and treat the virus, and continues to be dismissive of the issue, to this day. That’s the true moral failing, more so than anything my Black, Gay ass is doing in my bedroom…or someone else’s.
Tone-deaf bigots love dismissing the HIV epidemic as an issue caused by “immorality”…and they’re right. It’s just that the immorality is coming from them and the fucked up system that they created and maintain through their ignorance and oppression. So, if we’re gonna play this “morality” card, let’s point it where it really belongs.
One more important note: In these times, Black LGBTQ folks will have to lean on and look out for each other. We’ve never been able to trust this morally bankrupt, colonial system to look out for us, and we can’t expect it to get any better under Trump. So, one way of looking out for own is identifying local causes that provide access to resources around HIV prevention and treatment in our area, and finding ways to support.
In Chicago, Howard Brown Health Center provides LGBTQ-centered care. There’s also the South Side Help Center, which focuses on HIV prevention among the South Side of Chicago. Additionally, there’s PrEP4Love, which promotes access to PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), particularly for more marginalized communities in the city.
If you have some programs you’d like to highlight, please don’t hesitate to plug them…you never know who you might be helping!
There’s many great programs doing the good work of turning the tide of HIV/AIDS in our communities…we need to be intentional in supporting those efforts and each other. If we don’t do it, no one else will.
Photo via Flickr
Marq Montgomery is a native of Louisiana, but has lived in Chicago since 2014. He’s an IT professional (currently looking for work), blogger and all-around observer and social critic. He is involved in local community work and activism, serving as Secretary of the Chicago chapter of BYP 100. He also centers sex-positivity in his work, serving as an associate member of ONYX, a fraternal leather club for Gay and Bisexual Men of Color. Marq enjoys social media, writing, traveling, sex and hanging out with friends over good wine and/or whiskey. If you’re interested in reading more of Marq’s work, you can visit his personal blog, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (all under angryblackhoemo).