The Blog

Jamal Hailey: Being a Frontline Soldier in the War on HIV is Personal, Part Two

I believe that stigma definitely has a role in the HIV/AIDS crisis among black Americans. There is still a lot of misinformation about who is at risk for HIV, and moral judgements about people who contract HIV.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Jamal Hailey has his own personal stake in the war on HIV he's helping to wage: two of his family members have succumbed to the virus.

Mr. Hailey is quite accomplished: a native of suburban Maryland, he's a HIV expert, social/behavioral researcher and advocate for marginalized groups. He has spent more than a decade working to improve the lives of adolescents and young adults in Baltimore City, with a major focus on ensuring that youth have access to healthcare.

Hailey has a dual Bachelor's of Science in Psychology and Sociology (with a minor in LGBT studies) and Master of Arts in Psychology from Towson University. He's currently enrolled in Howard University's Counseling Psychology PhD Program. This is the second part of my recent interview with Hailey.

EVANS: Do you believe that stigma is a "co-conspirator" in the HIV/AIDS crisis -- particularly amongst African-Americans?

HAILEY: I believe that stigma definitely has a role in the HIV/AIDS crisis among black Americans. There is still a lot of misinformation about who is at risk for HIV, and moral judgements about people who contract HIV. There still seems to be this pervasive idea among black communities that people living with HIV are morally irresponsible, or somehow HIV is a marker of someone who is not deserving of the same love or compassion. This type of stigma greatly impacts people living with HIV, and does a tremendous amount of damage. We end up isolating members of our community, including family and friends -- everyone, and engage in pretty harmful language. People end up never getting tested for HIV because they are scared as to how they will be treated if their results are positive. We have to change our language around HIV if we ever expect to make a real impact on transmission rates.

EVANS: I'm a researcher, writer and motivational speaker on Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse (IPV/A), which is known as domestic violence and abuse within the LGBTQ community. So, it begs the question: Is there an intersection between IPV/A and HIV/AIDS? And if so, why/how?

HAILEY: Most definitely. IPV/A is something that I feel is not discussed enough as it relates to HIV. I think that particularly for same-sex male couples, often there is confusion about how IPV/A presents itself so providers aren't even screening for it. I don't think there is enough focus on recognizing the symptoms of IPV/A in same-sex couples; therefore, a lot of providers don't have the context or language to discuss it with their clients.

Within the relationship, IPV/A greatly impacts how decisions are made regarding safer sex practices. The person on the receiving end of the violence is at a disadvantage because they are not in the position to access healthcare -- including HIV screenings -- without their abusive partner knowing. This lack of agency regarding healthcare access also prevents them from accessing biomedical interventions such as PrEP and PEP if they are negative; and treatment and care if they are living with HIV. We know that treatment adherence is one of the major indicators of living well with HIV; but it also reduces HIV transmissions. So, being able access healthcare is crucial. Persons on the receiving end of IPV/A are also limited in their ability to make decisions about whether there are condoms or other barrier methods used during sexual activities.

EVANS: You're for creating space for counseling psychology in HIV prevention, which maintains a focus on facilitating personal and interpersonal functioning across the lifespan. Why are you such a strong proponent of it?

HAILEY: As a counseling psychologist in training at Howard University, I believe that the training counseling psychologists receive provides them with the opportunity to research and truly understand HIV, and how it impacts the day-to-day functioning of individuals. This is particularly true as we attempt to figure out why gay and bisexual men are more at risk for HIV. A lot of the current conversation regarding HIV and risk-taking behavior is centered around epidemiological profiling; however, I think there is something more happening within the community -- specifically regarding how black gay and bisexual men relate to each other. Counseling psychology is the perfect field to help shed light on the issue.

EVANS: Let's talk about HIV prevention and care from a radical social justice perspective.

HAILEY: We have to shift the power dynamics and get the voice of the community back to the forefront of the movement... and not just the few who are selected because they can recite whatever HIV dogma is currently in vogue. We have to make sure that those who are at the most risk are at the table and at the forefront of all advocacy initiations, and make sure the voice of those most marginalized and hidden aren't silenced because they don't look or speak in a way that is most palatable to us as professionals. We spend way too much time and energy attempting to groom people to speak and present in a way that makes us most comfortable that it often dilutes their message. People are the experts of their own lives, and when we attempt to shape or "clean-up" what our community is saying, we are taking away their voice and possibly overlooking a potential solution to the problem.

We have to challenge our systems and institutions if they are hurting the very people we are charged with helping. Yes, it may put some of us in the "hot seat" for a while... it may even challenge our job stability; however, we cannot continue to be a part of systems that further marginalize and/or disenfranchise people. We have to challenge our own systems and institutions that are paternalistic and that take a "we know what's best for you" approach. We have been doing that for way too long and that does not work!

Next up: Hailey discusses his very personal stake in this continuing struggle, what part of his work he finds the most challenging, and how his work is "food for the soul."

Before You Go

Popular in the Community