On the last day of Rolling Loud, a prominent hip-hop festival, rapper DaBaby became the subject of countless headlines after making insensitive, homophobic remarks at the start of his performance. Despite receiving backlash, DaBaby initially defended his statement, causing swift criticism amongst fans. His homophobic comments fed off of negative stigma against HIV-positive people. They also perpetuate the false narrative that only promiscuous gay people have HIV/AIDS. Stigma against people with HIV, homophobia, and racism are especially harmful to those with multiple marginalized identities.
HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, can be transmitted through anal or vaginal sex, or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment (CDC). Contrary to popular belief, plenty of people aside from men who have sex with men (MSM) contract HIV: “In 2019, heterosexual people made up 23% of all HIV diagnoses in the U.S. and six dependent areas” (HIV.gov). The association between HIV and same-sex sexual contact or intravenous drug use can dissuade people from getting tested or treated, even though you can contract HIV from heterosexual sex in a monogamous relationship.
• Review Let’s Stop HIV Togetherstigma scenarios for advice on how to address stigmatic comments and actions.
• Donate to NAESM, an organization committed to the wellbeing of Black gay men.
Among men who have sex with men (MSM), Black men are the most highly affected group, accounting for 39% of HIV diagnoses resulting from male-to-male sexual contact (Kaiser Family Foundation). Incarcerated men who have sex with men (MSM) are especially vulnerable to HIV. Misconceptions regarding HIV/AIDS often lead people to believe that being HIV-positive is a result of negligence. This notion fails to account for how systematic factors like mass incarceration, poverty, and lack of healthcare access contribute to Black MSM infection rates.
In 2018, there were 2,272 inmates per 100,000 Black men, compared to 392 inmates per 100,000 white men (Pew Research Center). Chances of acquiring HIV in prison are high for all incarcerated Black men due to inmates’ lack of access to condoms or medicine to prevent or treat HIV. The lack of testing and treatment resources for inmates directly contributes to the amount of people who unknowingly transmit HIV to other prisoners (Prison Policy Initiative).
The American healthcare system’s sordid history of neglecting African Americans has created a sense of distrust among the Black community: “About two-thirds of medically disenfranchised Black and Hispanic people said they don’t feel like the health care system treats all patients fairly” (WebMD). Black people’s fear of mistreatment in healthcare settings makes them less likely to get tested for HIV or seek treatment if they have already been diagnosed. In addition, many impoverished gay Black people have little to no opportunities to get tested regularly because employment and housing discrimination have barred them from accessing healthcare.
Society has systematically oppressed people living with HIV as well as gay Black men. The intersection of homophobia and racism makes gay Black men with HIV feel isolated and ashamed. Having two oppressed identities already makes gay Black men the subject of discrimination and social ostracism, but having HIV imposes entirely different stereotypes on them. This internalized stigma often leads to low self-esteem and makes people afraid to disclose their health status.
One in two Black gay and bisexual men is likely to become HIV positive in his lifetime (CDC). The odds are undoubtedly stacked against the Black gay male community, yet somehow they are often forgotten in the response to HIV/AIDS. Many community-based programs and organizations are so focused on supporting the gay community as a whole that they fail to acknowledge the unique struggle Black gay men face. In order to destigmatize HIV/AIDS, society must change the general attitude toward HIV-positive people. Supporting HIV-positive people ranges from ensuring Black communities have access to PrEP (Anti-Racism Daily), medication that significantly reduces a person’s risk of contracting HIV, to adjusting how we speak about the virus.
By changing our language when discussing HIV/AIDS and ridding ourselves of negative stereotypes about HIV-positive individuals— specifically gay Black men— we can make it a less taboo subject. Decreasing this taboo would benefit heterosexual HIV-positive people by minimizing their fear of getting tested or disclosing their status, and it would eliminate the negative stereotypes surrounding non-HIV-positive Queer and Trans People of Color. Having open conversations about HIV/AIDS will increase awareness of its dangers and encourage people to take their sexual health seriously.
The intersection of racism and homophobia negatively influences the way HIV/AID stigma affects gay Black men.
Internalized HIV/AIDS stigma often makes people who struggle with the disease feel isolated and discriminated against.
Despite being one of the most highly affected communities, gay Black men lack resources centered around HIV/AIDS prevention and care options.