The Next Front In The Fight Against AIDS

by Isaiah Webster III

At Issue: World AIDS Day is December 1 and HIV is still disproportionately affecting black gay people.

My View: Fight AIDS with an honest, holistic approach

As I write these words, I am approximately 32,000 feet in the air traveling to San Francisco for United States Conference on AIDS (USCA), an annual meeting of HIV/AIDS prevention, advocacy and treatment professionals. This marks my fifth overall trip to USCA and my third as a presenter.

As we near the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS, many advocates are experiencing some serious burn out – even those of us who have been fighting the epidemic for only the last 10 years. Information fatigue; condom fatigue; activism fatigue; community organizing fatigue – it all adds up.

As our complacency and fatigue grows, so does the epidemic. African-Americans, and especially black gay men, continue to see their infection rates increase. Though rates have had temporary periods of decline or leveling off, they always rebound upward.

If we want to make serious advancements in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the black LGBT community, it has to be three-fold:

First, there needs to be more HIV prevention interventions developed specifically for the African-American LGBT community. While adapting existing programs is always an option, providers should have a full buffet of programs to choice from, not just a few. Our community is talented enough and resourceful enough to develop dynamic prevention programs. Every population and sub-population in our community deserves HIV prevention interventions that are created with them in mind, to address their challenges, hopes and fears.

Secondly, we must take a holistic approach to our prevention efforts. This means taking a serious look at the demons that are ever-present in our community. As black gay people, it is vital that we address our issues with internalized homophobia, racism, lack of adequate health care, the role of faith and family, and abuse. Growing up black in America is tough. Growing up black and poor in America is really tough. But growing up black, poor and gay in America presents a serious challenge. Of course it’s possible to emerge from this dealt hand with a full house, but it requires self-reflection, and most of all, support.

Finally, we must pass along everything we know about this epidemic to the next generation.

I’m a decent cook. I’m not nearly the cook that my grandmother was when she was alive, but what little I know about making a lemon moraine pie from scratch, I learned from her.

The next generation of black gay people, defined as those who are coming of age now, will be charged with ending this epidemic. It is their calling. But in the absence of mass death and wide-spread opportunistic infections as seen in the 1980s, it’s difficult for today’s generation to see and feel the impact of AIDS. As the disease becomes more manageable, it becomes more of the fabric of our lives, more “normal.” The days before advance medications and accessible AIDS-service organizations were pure hell. It would be criminal of us not to do everything we can to convey what we’ve learned with those who are following in our footsteps. Textbooks and Google searches are no match for personal stories and interpersonal connections.

With each trip to USCA, I see old friends and make new ones. It’s amazing how inspirational the work of others can be to your own. At this conference and in the days ahead, I will press my peers to find new solutions to an old problem. Our future depends on it.