How Black Gay Men Are Taking a Lead in the Fight against HIV

By Blake Rowley, Manager, Health Equity and Prevention, NASTAD

White House ONAP Director, Douglas M. Brooks, with Blake Rowley.

White House ONAP Director, Douglas M. Brooks, with Blake Rowley.

The health disparities faced by Black gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) have become one of the most salient issues of the day. A number of issue briefs, memoranda, and speeches addressing the State of the Black Gay Union have stated the importance of this issue; however, far less has been done to address the issues this community faces or empower key stakeholders. The Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative (YBGLI) is a national coalition of young Black gay, bisexual, same gender loving men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) from around the country addressing issues disproportionately affecting their peers, especially HIV prevention, care and treatment. Additionally, the YBGLI seeks to build and cultivate young leaders within the Black gay community, creating space for more young Black gay men to take the torch when the time comes and continue the fight against HIV. Further, YBGLI seeks to develop the capacity and knowledge of the larger young Black gay male community.
Earlier this month, on April 2 – 4, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia the YBGLI convened its second Policy and Advocacy Summit (PAS). The 2014 PAS brought together over 50 young Black gay men from across the country, empowering them with the knowledge and tools necessary to aid in the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS in impactful ways. The purpose of the 2014 PAS was to enhance the capacity and leadership of young Black men who have sex with men (YBMSM) to improve HIV prevention, care and treatment and mobilization efforts for this population. The PAS held sessions on the Affordable Care Act, research, policy and advocacy, Treatment as Prevention (TasP), Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), among others. These sessions, led by experts in the field were conducted in such a way to make the material germane to the lives of these young men. Participants engaged in high-level, robust discussion with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) where they were afforded the opportunity to express their thoughts and concerns about governmental shortcomings in improving overall prevention, care and treatment for young Black gay men.

Since the Summit, the YBGLI was invited to the White House on National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day as the first invited guests of Mr. Douglas Brooks, MSW, recently appointed White House Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). In this meeting we were able to engage Mr. Brooks in a way that expressed the concerns of young Black gay men, and laid out an agenda with actionable steps to address the epidemic among Black gay men. In follow-up to our meeting, YBGLI is providing policy and programmatic recommendations on the President’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative, to ensure that it is inclusive of our community, which is routinely left out of discussions regarding Black male achievement, success, and health.

At a time when young Black gay men bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic, it is critically important that we insert ourselves into the conversations that directly impact our lives. Dr. Leo Wilton once said, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” The YBGLI, serving as a voice for young Black gay men, is playing an integral role at that table, refusing to allow other entities to work on us, without us. As the YBGLI moves forward, we will continue to push the envelope, speak truth to power, and ensure that as Black gay, bisexual, and same gender loving men and other who have sex with men are fully represented as we work to end this epidemic.

For more information on the YBGLI visit www.ybgli.org.

Missed the 2014 YBGLI Policy and Advocacy Summit? Take a peek at the highlights: https://storify.com/YBGLI/2014pas.