AIDS Fight Fails Black Community

Cleo Manago is founder and executive director of the AMASSI Health, Wellness and Cultural Center in Los Angeles. For more information, call: (310) 419-1969

Since the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report about the growing number of HIV cases among young black men, lots of response has come from the traditional gatekeepers of community AIDS services.

As always, these HIV/AIDS pundits blame everyone but themselves for the lasting and escalating epidemic. I don’t find their blame game constructive. At this late date, it’s very misleading that people of color who work in the AIDS prevention industry keep blaming others for the rise in HIV and AIDS cases among young black homosexual and bisexual males. Agencies intended to serve the black community in fighting AIDS have been funded and at the forefront for more than a decade now. Yet the numbers still rise.

If these organizations were effective, as the white gay community was, they should have had some positive impact on reducing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the major cities like Los Angeles. Apparently they haven’t.


The root of the problem is that the prevention programs are poorly designed, culturally conflicted, gay-focused and alienate many young at-risk or HIV-positive black males. After more than a decade of gay-centered prevention efforts by groups such as New York City’s Gay Men of African Descent, the CDC report showed that New York still has some of the highest numbers of HIV-infected young black men in the country. In Los Angeles, the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum’s offshoot, the AIDS Prevention Team, was so underutilized that it closed its doors late last year. Meanwhile, young black men increasingly prefer to identify as anything but gay and, lacking appropriate prevention, many practice unsafe sex. The gay-focused brand of prevention dictates that black men must first identify with being gay before the agency can focus on their behavior. It also ignores the fact that most young black homosexual and bisexual males resist the gay culture--which was not spawned by the black community--and want no direct part of it.

From the onset of the AIDS epidemic, the white gay community has achieved HIV prevention levels that are higher than any other group in the world. It’s become increasingly clear with each new report that illuminates the further spread of HIV/AIDS among blacks that new leadership and direction are needed, less determined by gay agendas and more considerate of black life, culture and our sexual diversity.

The gay prevention model was created for and by a white community and should be commended for its effectiveness for white gay men. For our community, however, it fails miserably, even if it’s implemented by black agencies.