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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
HIV-Positive, Without a Clue; Black Men's Hidden Sex Lives
Jose Antonio Vargas
August 7, 2003
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."