‘Secret’ Bisexuality Among Black Men Contributes to Rising Number of AIDS Cases in Black Women
Black men who secretly have sex with other men, but who also have sex with women, are creating a "particularly troublesome" situation for the black community, as HIV quickly spreads among black women, USA Today reports. Such men do not consider themselves gay or bisexual, but rather think of themselves as heterosexual men "who like to have sex with men for a change." Cornelius Baker, executive director of Washington, D.C.'s Whitman-Walker Clinic, said, "It is clearly a culture that is masculine in nature. They are closeted men who identify themselves as straight. The rest of the world identifies them as straight because they are involved in relationships with women." He added, "For many black men, (the word) gay (is synonymous) with being white, and many don't want to be labeled that." There are no hard figures on how many black men have adopted this lifestyle or live "on the down low," USA Today reports. The problem arises because many men who have sex with men "don't think themselves susceptible to HIV, believing it is an affliction of white gay men and black drug abusers," USA Today reports. Among black men, more than half of AIDS cases occur in men who have sex with other men, an increase of 31% since 1989. Only 10% of AIDS cases among black men result from heterosexual sex. Overall, blacks, who comprise 12% of the U.S. population, make up 37% of reported AIDS cases. Some health officials believe that black men who secretly have sex with other men could be one reason why black women account for nearly two-thirds of AIDS cases among all women, USA Today reports. Despite that belief, no public health agency has determined how to warn men about the risks they face, and most instead have aimed their warnings at women. Jim King, an HIV-prevention consultant, is developing a pamphlet, "Secrets: The Official Handbook of the Lifestyles of Men who Have Sex with Men," that he hopes "will pierce the veil" of secrecy of men who have sex with men (Sternberg, USA Today, 3/15).
Grants Rise as Infections Do
As the number of HIV/AIDS cases increases among minority groups, the federal government and other entities have allocated more money to a "diverse group of local organizations that provide care and other services" to minorities, the Washington Post reports. D.C. Care Consortium Director Valerie Papaya Mann said, "Finally, we're waking up. Already the infection rates are huge. We can try to respond the best way we can." In responding to an increase in HIV/AIDS among African Americans, the Congressional Black Congress in 1998 convinced former President Clinton to increase federal funding from $156 million in fiscal year 1999 to $350 million in fiscal year 2001 for organizations that provide AIDS services to black, Latino, Asian and other minority groups. With the increased funding, organizations have been able to build staff and distribute literature to advertise their services, the Post reports. For example, the Washington, D.C.-based Women's Collective "limped along" for years until statistics showed a "dramatic increase" in the number of women with HIV. The group began to receive grants, and now has an office, 10 full-time workers and 25 peer counselors. With more organizations offering services, people with HIV/AIDS have more options in choosing an organization "at which they feel comfortable," the Post reports (Gaines, Washington Post, 3/15).
Dallas Group Targets Black Men
In Dallas, the not-for-profit group Renaissance III Inc. is launching a door-to-door campaign of AIDS educators dressed in camouflage fatigues and "armed with tough-sounding brochures" to teach black men about HIV/AIDS, the Dallas Morning News reports. Renaissance III Inc. Executive Director Don Sneed said, "There was a time in the HIV prevention arena when the message was generalized, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation. This has proven not to work, so we're taking the sniper approach as opposed to the shotgun approach." Educators distribute pamphlets -- some with the message, "African Americans are the last to know and the first to go," and others offering free tennis shoes if men get HIV tests at Renaissance III -- door-to-door in the black community, as well as at nightclubs. The effort comes five weeks after a CDC study showed "unusually high rates of HIV infection" among Dallas' gay men between ages 23 and 29. At 18%, Dallas had the highest overall infection rate among young men, compared to an average of 12% among the six cities the study covered. Douglas Shenhan of the Dallas-based AIDS Prevention Project, said, "We have work to do in all our communities, but certainly, the infection rate among African-American men was the most shocking" (Jacobson, Dallas Morning News, 3/15).