Washington Post (08.04.03) - Thursday, August 07, 2003
Patricia Nalls runs the Women's Collective, a nonprofit
organization in northwest Washington, D.C., for women living
with HIV/AIDS. The District ranks highest among major US
cities in the rate of new AIDS cases a year. Blacks account
for 80 percent of those cases.
In 2001, 33 percent of all AIDS cases in the District were in
adult women, more than a 400 percent increase since 1981, said
Guy Weston, director of data and research of the District's
HIV/AIDS Administration. Nalls believes the high percentage of
HIV among heterosexual women results from an unnoticed trend:
women who are infected by husbands or boyfriends they don't
know are on the "down low," an expression describing black men
who have sex with other men and never mention it to their
female partners. A 2001 CDC report showed these men to be a
major bridge for transmitting HIV to heterosexual women.
In the black community, homosexuality is a taboo subject that
clashes with interlocking issues of race, religion, and
gender, according to Ron Simmons, executive director of Us
Helping Us, an organization for black gay and bisexual men in
southeast Washington. "Black people don't talk about
homophobia - not in our churches, not in our living rooms - so
you have men afraid to come out, fearful of telling their
families what they're really about."
"There is a lack of open dialogue, and this side of the story
of how black women are getting HIV hasn't been adequately
addressed," noted Carole Bernard, spokesperson for the
Washington-based National AIDS Minority Council. "It makes it
very hard for women to protect themselves when they don't
fully know the sexual behavior of their partners."