Coauthored by Venton C. Jones Jr., Program Officer, LGBT Health and Wellness Initiatives at National Black Justice Coalition.
Liberation for Black folks must start with a focus on the issues that hinder the most marginalized in our community. Fueled by movements like #BlackLivesMatter, there is a new generation of freedom fighters that are shifting the conversation -- Black millennials. This has led the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation's leading civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, to continue to empower young professionals and emerging leaders, including ourselves.
Last December, NBJC launched its health and wellness initiative to address current health crises and disparities in culturally competent wellness programs that target Black LGBT people and families with an emphasis in supporting youth leadership to take swift and strategic action. Central to this work is addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic that disproportionately impacts Black communities. Today, on World AIDS Day, the time for us to act is now!
This work is not just significant to us as leaders of NBJC--it is personal. We are both Black gay men living with HIV, and have had to face a number of challenges to advance our own physical and emotional health. Unfortunately, our stories are not unique for the lived experiences of many Black gay men because HIV has become the new normal for our community. In fact, Black gay men are only 1.4 percent of our nation's Black population, but we represent more than half of new HIV infections in the United States, annually. Poverty, and lack of access to health insurance and culturally competent health care, contributes directly to this dismal reality. This -- on top of stigma and shame -- continue to permeate the lives of Black gay men, representing an even more pressing issue in the fight to end HIV/AIDS in the Black community.
How do we overcome this reality? It requires our Black families and support systems to stand with us. This means our churches, black fraternities and sororities, civil rights organizations, and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) must be fully engaged in our wellbeing. Traditional black spaces must be held accountable to have intentional conversations about reducing the risk of HIV transmission through new prevention methods like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Treatment as Prevention (TasP) for those who are living with the virus.
LGBT and same gender loving (SGL) family members must be supported because it aids in resolving the shame, stigma, homophobia and transphobia that still permeates our community. We have to affirm that there is nothing wrong with being your authentic self. In addition, we must embrace those living with HIV and foster affirming environments for safe disclosure of your status. Lack of disclosure continues to act as a barrier for many to seek the needed treatment in order to suppress the HIV virus.
According to the Williams Institute, Black LGBT people on average live where the broader Black population reside--which is primarily in the South. When states in this region do not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act or mandate abstinence-only education that never include methods for LGBT people to be empowered over their sexual health, black communities as a whole -- starting with the black family -- are left incredibly vulnerable to HIV infection.
The message is clear -- we have work to do. Efforts to end HIV as a nation has failed to empower the most marginalized and underserved communities. We have to continue to build on the work and legacy of so many HIV advocates and leaders who have tirelessly fought on the front lines to end the epidemic.
As a recent report of the Black Youth Project states, black youth are now leading the movement for justice for black lives in this nation and recognize that ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a cornerstone of this pursuit. However, ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black community will require a collective community effort deeply rooted in the black family...and in that family, all we need is YOU!
Venton C. Jones Jr. serves as the Program Officer for LGBT Health and Wellness Initiatives at the National Black Justice Coalition, and represents a new generation of national leaders committed to advancing equality and social justice for the African American and LGBT communities.
Isaiah R. Wilson serves as the External Affairs Manager at the National Black Justice Coalition, and oversees the implementation of the public policy and communication strategies for the organization.