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Kali Lindsey; National Minority AIDS CouncilGuest post by Kali Lindsey, Director, Legislative and Public Affairs at National Minority AIDS Council

Thursday, February 7 marks the 13th annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), a national HIV testing and treatment community mobilization initiative targeted at Black and African Americans living throughout the United States.  And while NBHAAD is a day to recognize the impact that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has had and continues to have on the entire African American community, it is especially important to address its impact on Black gay and bisexual men.
More than three decades into this epidemic, Black gay and bisexual men bear the heaviest burden of HIV in the nation.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black gay and bisexual men accounted for more than one fifth (22 percent) of all new HIV infections in 2009.  That translates to approximately 30 Black gay or bisexual men acquiring HIV each day.  Findings from recent HIV Prevention Trials Network study 061, noted that by the time he is 25, a Black gay man has a one in four chance of acquiring HIV.  If we don’t act to change this trajectory, by the time a Black gay man is 40 to the likelihood that he’ll acquire HIV is 60 percent.
As a Black gay man who has been living with HIV for 10 years, I understand all too well the real life implications of these statistics.  Black gay and bisexual men must contend with a number of competing challenges on a daily basis.  Whether it’s paying for school, finding or maintaining employment, or even securing safe and stable housing, concerns about our sexual and personal health are often pushed aside by more immediate concerns.  What’s more, increased rates of intimate partner violence, bullying, incarceration, and lack of familial and societal acceptance often lead to mental health and/or substance abuse challenges that can increase our vulnerability to HIV.
Despite these challenges, Black gay and bisexual men are incredibly resilient.  We overcome myriad obstacles every day. HIV is certainly not stronger than us.  Evidence shows that Black gay men do not engage in risky sexual behavior at a higher rate than other gay and bisexual men.  But we continue to face a disproportionate burden of the disease, while also experiencing significantly poorer health outcomes.  Our nation has a duty to protect young Black gay men as they prepare for their adult lives. Stronger investments are needed to ensure that adequate services and family/community support are available, especially to young Black gay and bisexual men, to help them prevent acquiring HIV, and to engage and stay in care if they test positive.
In 2011, President Obama made remarks for World AIDS Day in which he proclaimed, “We have to do more to show Black gay men that their lives matter.”  After years of discrimination, both social and structural, it is time that our nation lives up to this statement.  With continued implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and the advent of exciting new biomedical interventions like treatment as prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), we have tools to dramatically reduce HIV transmission and acquisition among black gay men and eventually end the epidemic.  But we cannot realize that vision without adequately addressing the structural contributors that place Black gay and bisexual men at increased vulnerability for HIV.
On this National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I urge gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities to get tested and encourage your friends and loved ones to get screened as well.  If you’re negative, take steps to educate yourself about ways you can stay that way.  If you are positive, get into care and consider treatment.  And most importantly, take action to fight the stigma that continues to surround this disease.  If you know someone who has recently tested positive, be a source of love, compassion and strength.  If you’re positive, reach out to a friend for support and consider sharing your story with others.  As a proud Black gay man who lives every day with HIV, I know the importance of coming out of the shadows and living openly, so that others can see how full and satisfying life can be, even after an HIV diagnosis.
Our community has overcome so much and we can overcome HIV.  Together, we can win this fight; we can end this epidemic.

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