Since 1976, America has been reclaiming the month of February as Black History Month to commemorate the history of people of African descent, recognize their achievements, and to address important issues these communities continue to face. We celebrate those who have made enormous and often self-sacrificing strides toward greater freedom and equality for all. At the same time, however, we must also confront the barriers that continue to exist for black people and the LGBTQ+ community.
While we have progressed on many social and political levels, there is still racism that persists (the mere fact that we must dedicate a month to black history speaks for itself). We choose to recognize and celebrate Black History Month with our community, but at the same time, we understand that Black history needs to be shared and acknowledged every day, rather than relegated to one month out of the year. It is our moral obligation to understand our country’s history, and challenge the inherent biases (and systemic racism) with which we have grown comfortable.
A pressing issue we can’t ignore is the HIV epidemic among black communities. While the collective consciousness has begun to acknowledge the issue, and therefore lessen the stigma associated with sexually transmitted diseases, there’s still so much progress to be made.
Today we observe National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), an annual observance on February 7 that promotes HIV prevention, testing, treatment, care, and community support in black communities.
This year's theme, “We’re in This Together,” highlights the importance of social support from friends, family, colleagues, and partners. But before we can support one another, we must take the time to learn about one another.
We all have a role to play in ending racism and the stigma against HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections; our actions, reactions, and human interactions can help transform cultural and social institutions into a better, safer place for everyone, no matter what you look like, how you choose to identify, who you love, or how you love.
We can all make a conscious effort to be ambassadors for black history to set an example to our peers, colleagues, friends, families, and demonstrate to future generations of black people to love themselves and know their worth. We’re in this, together. 365 days a year.
Read on to learn more about the HIV/AIDs epidemic affecting the black community and what you can do to support one another.
Racism is still very-much embedded in our country, evident in the inequities in economic, educational, and health resources which elicit health disparities that threaten the mental and physical well-being of many black people. LGBTQ+ black people have the added barriers of sexism, homophobia, and transphobia which oftentimes results in medical health discrimination, financial constraints that bar access to private health providers and insurance, difficulty finding a trusted and culturally competent provider, and even violence at the hands of medical professionals. This is unacceptable.
Because of these obstacles, black people are less likely to seek medical help, or take preventative care measures—like getting tested for HIV and STIs—which has led to the HIV crisis among people of color.
Black people make up only 14% of the U.S. population, yet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 47% of new HIV infections are in the Black community. According to the CDC, African American women comprised 59 percent of women living with HIV in the United States in 2017, and black gay and bisexual men as well as other men who have sex with men (MSM) are more affected by HIV than any other group in the U.S.
And while the number of diagnoses has gone down nearly 25% among the black population, there remains a heightened stigma against black people and sexually transmitted infections. These negative attitudes affect the emotional well-being of people who have HIV and may keep people from getting tested and treated for HIV.
One of the best ways to fight HIV is by speaking up against the silence, fear, and myths that far too often dominate the issue. Ending HIV stigma is critical in reducing new HIV infections among African Americans (and everyone) and helping those with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections stay healthy. These major health and safety issues are human rights issues and it's imperative we intensify our efforts to educate one another and break the cycle.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health as a result of a positive diagnosis and the stigma surrounding HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, please read sex educator Emily Depasse’s ten steps to understanding, supporting, and taking care of oneself. We know it isn’t easy, but focusing on healing, positivity, and self-empowerment are paramount to living a life beyond a diagnosis.
As we’ve already noted above, HIV and other STIs are incredibly common. You are not alone. You are strong. And we support you.
Celebrate the Good
A disproportionate amount of media highlights the pain and trauma endured by the black LGBTQ community—specifically the transgender community. And while it’s true that a large percentage of black transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals are more affected by HIV than any other group in the United States and experience more mental health issues than cisgender people due to the discrimination, stigma, lack of acceptance, and abuse they face on an unfortunately regular basis, we choose to celebrate the story of two transgender individuals who found love and one another during their transformative journey.
Meet Jari Jones and Corey Daniella Kempster, who have built a relationship that allows the other to be their individual selves, and whose contagious laughter is something so many take for granted. It is a privilege, a display of freedom, and a revolution all at once. Read their story here.
Get Educated. Get Tested. Get Involved. Get Treated. Find an HIV testing location near you:
All About HIV & AIDS via Planned Parenthood
How HIV Impacts LGBTQ+ People via Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
What’s to Know About NBHAAD via HIV.gov
We encourage everyone to get regularly screened for HIV and other STIs and we understand if you're nervous to get tested in person for whatever reason, but there are now at-home testing options available for those with and without insurance.
Facing Misdiagnoses: BIPOCs & Trans Folks Take Sexual Health Into Their Own Hands by Tara Michaela (she/her)
10 Steps to Understanding and Supporting Someone (Including Yourself) with HIV, Herpes, and other STIs by Emily Depasse (she/her)
Redefining Activism by Kenta Ch’umil (they/them)