In recognition of #WAD2017, the National Black Justice Coalition’s Director of Public Policy, Isaiah Wilson, penned a passionate call to action for Black America to take up the fight to end HIV/AIDS in the Black community.
My Story and Our Story
As a Black gay man living with HIV and born in the late 1980s, after the initial height of the epidemic, I have been blessed to benefit from medical as well as social advances in HIV/AIDS treatment.
I am privileged to have access to treatment, stable housing and the support of a loving network of family and friends. Because of the work I do daily at the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation’s leading civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer (LGBTQ) and same gender loving (SGL) people, I know my experience is not the reality for many Black people living with HIV/AIDS.
African Americans represent 13 percent of the US population, but our families and communities are disproportionately impacted by the spread, physical toll, and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Since the emergence of HIV in the early 1980s, African Americans have represented a significant portion of those living with HIV and those who have died from AIDS complications. For too long, stigma compounded with the racial injustices in the health care system have made it difficult for African Americans to access competent health care.
In addition, the stigma and shame surrounding HIV/AIDS has kept too many members of our beloved community from standing in solidarity with individuals living with HIV or seeking the testing, prevention efforts and treatment services that could otherwise save lives.
The current presidential administration is determined to restrict access to quality and affordable health care and pursue public policies that will negatively impact people of color, low-income people, including many people living with HIV/AIDS.
We live in a time when communities must stand up and demonstrate our ability to demand justice for all Black lives no matter who they are, what they have endured in life or how they show up in the world.
So what do we tackle first? One area is the internal stigma and “respectability politics” too common in our communities about those of us who identify as LGBTQ/SGL. We deal with too many health disparities and HIV/AIDS is at the top of the list.
Black LGBTQ/SGL people live at the intersection of multiple identities and represent more than 1 million African Americans according to data from the Williams Institute at UCLA. This data shows us that Black LGBTQ/SGL people live in the same pockets other African Americans generally live in as well– with the majority of our population living in the South where the lifetime risk of acquiring HIV is greatest in the US and access to quality, affordable treatment is most difficult.
The Call To Action
African Americans must engage across the country for policy initiatives and efforts addressing HIV/AIDS, including the Affordable Care Act, the Minority AIDS Initiative and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program. Consider the following, African Americans represented 45 percent of the HIV diagnoses in 2015 in spite of our small population size. When looking deeper at these numbers, young Black gay and bisexual men account for more new infections than any other group.
Black cisgender heterosexual women continue to be affected by HIV more than women of any other race or ethnicity, and the needs of Black transgender women, who are mistakenly conflated with gay and bisexual men, often resulting in their unique needs being ignored and going unaddressed. Both cultural and systemic factors such as poverty, racism and stigma contribute to this dire status for Black America and HIV. As such federal, state and local sources of support for HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment are critical. In the Black community they can be life-saving.
This year NBJC launched the Summit on Black Lives: Black America’s Response to the HIV/AIDS Epidemic to develop a comprehensive path forward to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Black communities. In February, we convened Black HIV policy experts from across the nation to coordinate a HIV/AIDS response for and from Black America. The initial convening resulted in a comprehensive policy letter that was endorsed by 44 civil rights and health advocacy organizations and sent to our national leaders in Washington in April.
In September, NBJC re-convened the Summit on Black Lives for a second two-day summit entitled Building a Larger Tent:Convening of Black National Stakeholders. This meeting was designed to continue to build and facilitate collaborative discussion and engagement among influential individuals and organizations prime to support efforts aimed at ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Black America.
Even though most of the leaders in this convening did not directly work within the movement to eradicate HIV/AIDS, but they all pledged their dedication to making the issues a core component of the broader movement for civil rights.
As an organization we are now taking the important lessons learned from the Summit on Black Lives and working with partners to expand this transformative work in our communities in the year ahead. This type of direct political education, combined with intense mobilization efforts, are required to prevent any additional Black lives being lost to HIV/AIDS and it’s our goal to assist in fostering a movement that centers the health of the most marginalized in our families.
I dream of the day when the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS is no longer a hindrance for those living with it. This vision is attainable and within our grasp as a people, but requires the collective efforts of all members of our beloved community.
On this day of remembrance and resilience, let’s draw strength from the experiences of Black people who continue to endure and triumph in excellence. Let us come together to ensure individuals living with HIV do not have to walk alone. We owe it to one another to have more meaningful, honest, and sometimes tough conversations about the diversity within our community as well as the impact of HIV/AIDS.
In addition to talking and learning and strengthening community, we must continue to hold elected officials, at every level, accountable for providing the resources required to ensure our holistic health and well-being–especially as it relates to funding efforts to prevent, treat and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in the Black community.
This is a moment where change requires action. Will you join us?
Isaiah Wilson is the Director of Public Policy for the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), where he is focused on the public policy implications of critical issues for Black LGBTQ and same gender loving (SGL) people.