Early Fall 2021 • Jose Soto He/Him
In the U.S., there are approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV, many of whom are from Black and Latinx communities facing disproportionate rates of HIV transmissions. Through modern medicine, science has transformed a positive HIV status into a manageable disease. ART, or antiretroviral therapy, has allowed HIV to be a manageable health condition, but many challenges related to HIV remain, especially in Black and Latinx communities, including stigma and access to care.
Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation announced its two-year, grant-based partnership with Gilead Sciences, one of America’s leading pharmaceutical companies, to help address the disproportionate impact of HIV on Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities, particularly Black and Latinx LBGTQ+ youth. The $3.2 million grant funds HRC Foundation’s programs, efforts and partnerships designed to combat the HIV epidemic, particularly the My Body, My Health initiative.
In June, HRC Foundation publicly launched My Body, My Health, a coast-to-coast initiative designed to break through the barriers and systemic injustices affecting the sexual health of Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities. The initiative actively combats alarming rates of HIV infection in communities of color by building collaborative partnerships with minority-led, community-based organizations that directly provide HIV services to Black and Latinx communities such as HIV testing, treatment options and prevention.
Misinformation, miseducation, lack of financial stability and economic hardships are all factors which potentially keep Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ folks from tending to their sexual health, including HIV testing, treatment and prevention as well as other sexual health screenings and services.
One of those community-based organizations is BU Wellness in Indianapolis, Indiana, which serves to enhance the lives of those living with HIV. BU Wellness’ Interim Executive Director Jasmine Black says that the partnership will “help address these issues with marginalized communities by paying special attention to HIV/STI testing, prevention and sexual health.”
"These two things promote collaboration, enhance access and continue to raise awareness about HIV prevention and treatment services. Now more than ever, we need these tools to promote and prioritize effective engagement in our communities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Black.
Black says that “racial equity, lack of resources and known consistent barriers to access to health care are among systemic injustices” keeping Black communities from tending to their sexual health needs adequately.
“These issues also help perpetuate stigma, and this sometimes make it difficult to address health disparities and remove health inequities,” Black said. “This partnership seeks to break down the barriers that perpetuate stigmas and, in turn, create effective engagement of Black and Brown communities.”
Another community-based organization HRC Foundation has partnered with through the My Body, My Health initiative is Us Helping Us, which has been providing holistic health information and services, including mental health services, for people living with HIV & AIDS since 1985 at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Since then, Us Helping Us has been striving to improve the state of sexual health for the Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ community.
DeMarc Hickson, executive director of Us Helping Us, said that the partnership helps the organization further elevate their work.
“Us Helping Us has a long-standing history as a national leader in HIV prevention, treatment and care and is well known in the community as an experienced organization that provides transformative, client-centered work that addresses community unmet needs,” said Hickson. “This partnership enables us to bring our foresight and history working with and serving underserved and marginalized communities.”
Just like BU Wellness, Us Helping Us also grapples with systemic injustices as a challenge to fully serve Black and Latinx communities, and they aren’t just limited to stigma and health disparities, says Hickson.
“Systemic injustices like residential segregation and gentrification can limit one’s access to critical prevention and care services or increase one's exposure, whether internalized, anticipated or experienced, to stigma and other discriminatory events,” said Hickson. “This work will hopefully bring more attention to these injustices and stigma.”
My Body, My Health is also intended to help end the stigma on HIV and LGBTQ+ sexuality prevalent in Black and Latinx communities. For far too long, stigma, transphobia, prejudice and racism have acted as barriers to comprehensive sexual health services for LGBTQ+ folks.
A new website serves as a central hub for My Body, My Health’s resources and services. The site features a distinctive branding unique to the initiative which was a result of tactical research and community engagement. Currently, the My Body, My Health microsite offers in-home HIV testing kits at no cost, which provides a convenient, discreet option for those who prefer not to get tested at a clinic or doctor’s office. In addition to providing expanded access to HIV testing, the in-home HIV testing program will link community members to pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, using client navigation. The microsite also hosts the first-ever HBCU sexual health directory where LGBTQ+ students can learn about HIV prevention and care services on their campus.
In effort to tackle the language barrier which impedes our Latinx community from receiving the care they deserve, we are also making the microsite and key resources for sexual health available in Spanish this fall. This is the first step of many in the My Body, My Health initiative that will ensure our Spanish-speaking community has what they need to build a generation free of HIV and stigma.
Ultimately, the My Body, My Health initiative aims to create a generation free of HIV and stigma through its strategic partnerships with its community-based organizations. By tending to the sexual health needs of young Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ folks, HRC Foundation hopes to encourage more HIV testing, facilitate access to treatment, and encourage preventive measures, envisioning that one day, HIV will no longer be a threat to communities of color.
“The partnership with HRC Foundation focuses on underserved, overlooked and marginalized communities by bringing more awareness and creative solutions to overcome the issues and barriers that we have been talking about for decades. We will work tirelessly to dispel myths, stigmatizing and disgraceful acts,” said Hickson.
Through the initiative, HRC Foundation launched the GENERATE: Youth Advocates Building a Generation Free of HIV & Stigma. GENERATE is a peer facilitator program that fosters the professional development and leadership of Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ youth, particularly 18-24 years old. The program is designed to provide LGBTQ+ youth the training and skills needed to create transformative change through advocacy and storytelling while mobilizing communities most impacted by HIV.