Building A Movement Amidst A Broken System: Black Gay Men And HIV Justice

The /www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2016/croi-press-release-risk.html"}}">impact of HIV on the lives of black gay men, must not be seen as a failure to access and navigate healthcare institutions, but rather a failure of healthcare institutions to serve black gay men. This is also a part of a larger systemic failure of American institutions: criminal justice, religious, education, and civic, to protect vulnerable communities.

To respond to this failure, we must advance not only incremental institutional reform, but call for radical social change. This is as much a moral imperative as a political one. Only through a movement of conscious individuals, a movement that seeks to not only reform American institutions, particularly healthcare, but transform them, will we move the needle.

In 2016, we know that the impact of HIV in the lives of black gay men, is as structural as behavioral. Thus, solutions and approaches, no matter how well-meaning, become shallow tactics rather than revolutionary visions, if they ignore how structural violence shape social realities.

We must have a movement committed to eradicating the social drivers of HIV and barriers to care for black gay men, barriers such as economic distress, housing instability, trauma, food insecurity, lack of meaningful community institutions, spiritual violence, and stigma. Our visions and our actions must be nothing short of courageous, because we must also be insistent upon connecting how racism and homophobia have everything to do with vulnerability.  

This movement should be rooted in the development of sacred spaces, knowledge of our history, commitment to reforming if not eliminating structures that reinforce the social drivers of HIV in our communities.  

So how do we build such a movement? What are the components? I would like to offer three indispensable elements to this social movement: coalition building, political education and analysis, and messaging.

Coalition Building

As black gay men, we can both recognize the value of political autonomy within our movement, and simultaneously remain committed to building political alliances and working in coalition with other movements. We must remain committed to standing in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in other social justice movements working against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, ableism, HIV stigma, and other forms of oppression. We must also be committed to purging oppression from our own movement.

Political Education and Analysis

Convening trainings and honing one’s lens is critical to movement building. Topics may include everything from engaging elected officials to organizing direct actions. Trainings can also support strengthening political awareness around issues. Such an approach would have far reaching implications for the field.

Messaging

Black gay men must be the authors of our own narratives. We have to tell our own stories. Storytelling is critical to policy change. Stories change hearts and minds and can shift the culture. Equally important, is that our stories can also be a source of building collective power.  Thus, our messaging must be rooted in our stories.  

The Way Forward

We are the generation that has discovered that 1 in 2 black gay men may acquire HIV in their lifetimes, our lifetimes! More than outrage, which one might expect, there seems to be a collective shrug. The impact of HIV on the lives of black gay men, is nothing new. It’s been a conversation that we have been having for quite sometime. Perhaps, its time to consider how to advance this conversation. Perhaps, its time to really think about how to move from a place of dialogue, to a place of action. Nowhere is this more necessary than in the American south. A region, rich in history, and much of the history is tied to racial violence, systemic oppression, stigma, and a host of other forces that have informed the current reality of social disparities and downward mobility, particularly for black gay men.  That being said our movement must also be one of joy. Our movement can have art and music and beauty and our stunning stories. Our movement should be built on our dreams. Our dreams are what gives us magic, and will not only offer a path to personal resilience, but the blueprints for our collective resistance.