I am an African American, HIV positive heterosexual man, living with the HIV virus. My perspective about HIV positive heterosexual men being invisible in HIV prevention stems from my experience over the past 16 years as a HIV positive heterosexual man, activist, health educator, and HIV prevention planner.
HIV positive heterosexual men being invisible in HIV prevention, is a question that has been discussed, studied, and debated by HIV planners, governmental offices of AIDS, and HIV positive individuals throughout the United States since this insidious disease reached the pandemic stage of existence. I would really like to speak to this topic from a positive heterosexual male point of view, but that has not been my true experience. Being an African American HIV positive man, HIV has been entwined in my culture, socioeconomic condition, and it is been heavily stigmatized. I have had a very different and traumatic experience with HIV.
The populations of heterosexual positive men in America have unknowingly for the most part and knowingly on the-other-hand, allowed ourselves to become invisible in HIV prevention. This invisibility is perpetuated by discrimination and stigma. For example, most HIV+ men are bread winners and we don’t have time or the support to mobilize. However, many are not spiritually fit enough to stand up and face discrimination, stigma, and ridicule. Therefore, most of us sit on the side lines and wait for the empowered populations of gay and bi-sexual men to fight the HIV battle for us. This approach allows our status to remain confidential and we can remain in the background. Conversely, we reap all the benefits that are afforded the gay male population, as a result of their effort, protest, and activism.
Moreover, Homosexuality is stigmatized in many African American communities and is also denounced by the majority of black churches, who see it as a sin. Most straight HIV positive men will tell you we are extremely uncomfortable in casual conversation with effeminate or homosexual men because they tend to take our acceptance of their sexuality as an opportunity to try to engage us sexually. We are not homophobic, but it is very difficult for us (straight HIV+ men) to relate to gay men who are unlike us, so we do not advocate, attend HIV functions, or strategies that are aimed at HIV positive men.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (2011) knowing your epidemic in a particular community is the first step in identifying, selecting, and funding the most appropriate and effective HIV prevention measures for that community. As a result, most heterosexual HIV+ men absolutely do not want to be categorized with anyone or anything that is homosexual. Consequently, the covert and overt power of discrimination and stigma toward HIV infection causes straight men to recoil and remain silent about their plight. This is the driving force behind the invisibility of HIV+ heterosexuals in HIV prevention.
Stigma towards people living with HIV is more often believed to have its roots in misconceptions about the virus. In regards to knowledge and perception, a higher percentage of African Americans believe myths that the virus can be transmitted via kissing or sharing a drinking glass. Clearly, the HIV prevention educational messages are not reaching the African American populations at the levels of our understanding and existence. The Black AIDS Institute (2006) according to Reverend Jesse Jackson stated that; AIDS has been allowed to stalk and murder Black America like a serial killer because we have been a complacent victim, submitting through inaction. It is now time for us to fight AIDS like the major civil rights issue it is... Therefore, a paradigm shift needs to occur in today’s HIV prevention strategies for African Americans. This shift must address the ineffective prevention efforts of today and to educate our children, adolescent, teen, young adult and adult populations about HIV. Only then, do I believe that our HIV+ heterosexual black men will become empowered, motivated, and supported to raise their voices to fight our HIV prevention inequities and become visible in the HIV battle.
Black AIDS Institute (2006, June) AIDS in blackface: 25 years of an Epidemic. Retrieved, May 29, 2012, from http://blackaids.org/showarticle
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011) 'HIV surveillance report: Diagnoses of HIV infection and AIDS in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2009' Volume 21 Retrieved, May 29, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/surveillance