Coming off the heels of the 2018 midterm elections, we’ll observe World AIDS Day on Saturday. We celebrated historic wins this November, electing black and LGBTQIA leaders to offices up and down the ballot. We have come so very far from where we were 30 years ago when World AIDS Day was first established, but black people are still disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. There is still so much to be done.
Today, even with preventative drugs and life-saving medical and scientific advancements, black people are dying from HIV at higher rates. Black men account for 47 percent of those diagnosed with AIDS between 2011 and 2015. Rates of HIV/AIDS decreased in every other subgroup except black men, with HIV diagnoses among African-American gay and bisexual men aged 25 to 34 increasing 30 percent during this period. Similarly, black cis heterosexual women are impacted by HIV/AIDS more than women of any race/ethnicity as they make up 59 percent of women living with HIV according to the CDC, compared to Latinas at 19 percent and white women at 17 percent.
This situation is only made worse by stigma. Witnessing, this week, how problematic language and transphobic thinking ensnared Dwight Howard is evidence of just how far we have to go. If the allegations are true, Howard would be following in a long line of black men forced to shrink and hide because people think they need to offer permission for others to live as they are.
If this annual observance should do anything, it should force us to acknowledge that the HIV epidemic continues to disproportionately impact black people—all of us. I continue to engage in an alarming number of conversations with black people who simply do not understand why they must care about and be engaged in the fight to end the HIV epidemic. My answer to them (and to everyone) is as follows: We are dying from HIV/AIDS and do not have to.
Here are three things you can do to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black community:
1. Use the Words Matter Toolkit (pdf) to engage in life-affirming conversations to eliminate stigma and increase HIV testing, treatment and support. Words are what we use to process, define and express our human experience. Words have the power to build or break our perceptions, understandings and expectations. The Words Matter toolkit is a resource to assist people of color with having life-saving conversations to reduce stigma and increase testing, treatment and support those living with and impacted by HIV/AIDS
2. Get tested, regularly. We already know that stigma prevents a lot of us from getting tested regularly, but it’s critical to ending the spread of HIV/AIDS in our community. The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting tested at least once per year if you are sexually active. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent testing (for example, every three to six months). Visit www.nbjc.org to find a free testing site near you.
3. Have conversations and establish agreements with your partner about what you are doing to protect your sexual health and holistic well being before having sex. Too often, we end up engaging in sexual activities without talking about what sexual health looks like. We must have critical conversations about our health and what we are doing to proactively protect each other and protect ourselves.
The statistics reflect where we are as a community on this issue. The longer we allow stigma and shame to prevent us from doing the work required to ensure that we are all happy, healthy and safe from bigotry, discrimination, and oppression the longer it will take all of us to get free.
The resources exist to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Black community in our lifetime. The questions is: what are we as a community going to do about it?
David J. Johns is the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation’s only civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS. An educator, public intellectual, federal domestic policy expert, and former executive director of the White House Initiative on African American Excellence, David is known for his passion, public policy acumen and fierce advocacy for youth. Follow him on Twitter.