Report Addresses Link Between Racism, Homophobia and HIV Infection Among Gay Latino Men
Poor, gay Latino men who are "subjected to racism and homophobia" are more likely to "engage in high-risk sexual behavior" and be infected with HIV, according to a new report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Los Angeles Times reports (Hayasaki, Los Angeles Times, 7/13). The report, titled "Social Discrimination and Health: The Case of Latino Gay Men and HIV Risk," directly links "social discrimination" with an increased risk of HIV infection in the gay Latino population. The study evaluated about 900 gay Latino men from Los Angeles, Miami and New York, who were chosen for their Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican backgrounds, respectively. Participants were placed in either a "high-risk" or a "low-risk" group according to their level of risk for HIV infection. Overall, the study found that men in the high-risk group reported "significantly more experiences of homophobia, racism and poverty than men in the low-risk group." Among the study's findings:
- Childhood and Family: Seventy-three percent of high-risk men reported experiencing homophobia during childhood through verbal abuse, compared to 62% of low-risk men; 31% of high-risk men reported experiencing childhood homophobia through physical abuse, compared to 15% of low-risk men; and 79% of high-risk men reported "feelin[g] that their homosexuality hurt and embarrassed their families," compared to 68% of low-risk men.
- Adult Homophobia: Sixty-seven percent of high-risk men reported experiencing homophobia through verbal insults in adulthood, compared to 45% of the low-risk group. Men in the high-risk group also reported more homophobia-related physical assaults (16%), compared to the low-risk group (7%).
- Police Harassment: Thirty-four percent of high-risk men reported police harassment due to race, ethnicity or skin color, compared to 19% of low-risk men.
- Sexual Objectification: A "staggering" 75% of men in the high-risk group reported more "racially biased sexual objectification," versus 58% in the low-risk group.
- Income: Men in the high-risk group had higher levels of "economic struggle," with 54% reporting that they "had run out of money for basic necessities more than twice in the past 12 months," compared to 39% in the low-risk group. Twenty-nine percent of high-risk men reported having to look for work more than twice in the past year, compared to 19% of low-risk men.
Solutions Must Address Social and Cultural Concerns
The study concluded that "[c]urrent HIV prevention methods do not adequately address social and cultural factors that can contribute to increased risk for HIV infection among Latino gay men." Rafael Diaz, the principal researcher for the report, stated, "If we are to be effective in our fight against AIDS and any other public health tragedies that feed on human powerlessness, HIV prevention workers and advocates must be agents of social and cultural change." NGLTF Executive Director Lorri Jean added that she hoped lawmakers would "use this report as a catalyst for action" (NGLTF release, 7/12). Gunther Freehill of the Office of AIDS Programs and Policies for Los Angeles County said that the study reinforces past findings on HIV infection in Los Angeles. "The study is certainly consistent with our anecdotal understanding of what drives the AIDS epidemic locally. It is important that, with this report, we understand that racism, homophobia and poverty are threats to public health," he said (Los Angeles Times, 7/13). The NGLTF report will be available for download on July 19 from the NGLTF Web site (NGLTF Web site, 7/13).