This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have launched a new HIV testing campaign geared for gay and bisexual African-American men. "Know Where You Stand" is a gay-affirming campaign that wants for Black gay and bisexual men to know their truth and know more not only about their HIV-status, but about the disease in general.
This campaign is the latest component of Act Against AIDS, a five-year CDC communications effort to refocus national attention on the HIV epidemic in the U.S.
Key components of the effort are:
—Billboard and bus ads are running in 14 of the cities where Black gay and bisexual men are hardest hit by HIV: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Columbia, Dallas, Detroit, Jackson, Houston, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, Oakland/San Francisco, Philadelphia and St. Louis
—A series of online ads are running on websites targeted to Black gay men
—“Know Where You Stand” messages, materials and HIV testing information will be featured prominently at Black Pride events across the country
—An upcoming phase of the campaign featuring new advertising creative is slated to launch this fall
And this type of outreach is needed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that men who have sex with men (MSM) account for just 4 percent of the U.S. male population aged 13 and older, the rate of new HIV diagnoses among MSM in the U.S. is more than 44 times that of other men. And if we dig a little deeper into these stats, we find that African-Americans are disproportionately bearing the brunt of these new infections.
Black MSM account for more than 40 percent of all new HIV infections among African-Americans overall. In addition, far too many Black gay and bisexual men living with HIV don’t know that they are infected. A recent CDC study showed nearly 60 percent of HIV-positive Black gay and bisexual men were unaware of their infection. This is critical since the majority of new sexually transmitted HIV infections are transmitted by those who don’t know that they are infected.
So what are the pressing risk factors?
Unprotected sex is the main risk factor, but it's important to note that just like Black women, Black MSM report fewer risk factors—unprotected sex, drug use, multiple partners—than their white counterparts. So it's important to understand that higher prevalence of HIV among the MSM community, which is also known as "community viral load," plays a huge factor in why these numbers are so high. If your community tends to be saturated with HIV, it makes sense that the times that you do have unprotected sex, you are more likely to have unprotected sex with someone who may be HIV-positive, because you are more likely to come across HIV in your community.
Other risk factors are homophobia, discrimination and lack of knowledge of HIV status combine to place Black gay and bisexual men at greater risk for the disease.
Misconceptions about risk also play a role. Just a few weeks ago, Harvard's Errol Fields, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., released the findings from a small study that he and other researchers conducted about Black MSM and they found that power dynamics in gay Black relationships and HIV misconceptions were more prevalent that people may have thought.
By interviewing 35 young Black gay men ages 18-24 in Rochester, N.Y., Atlanta and New York City, researchers found that the participants almost exclusively prefer romantic and sexual partners they perceive to be masculine; are reluctant to allow a man they consider to be feminine to "top" them during sex; allow men they perceive to be more masculine to control the terms of what kind of sex happens, including condom use; and incorrectly consider masculine men to be less likely to have HIV, and feminine men to be more at risk.
Fields admits that because this was a small study, this by no means is meant to represent all Black gay men. He hopes that this eye-opening research will lead to larger studies about this topic in hopes of being able to create better HIV prevention strategies for gay Black men.
(Photo: JAGADEESH NV/EPA/Landov)