Washington Blade - July 27, 2006
Stop blaming homophobia and the 'D.L.' for HIV among blacks and
turn to monogamy and responsibility.
A RECENT WASHINGTON screening OF the documentary "Faces" created
an uproar among local African-American religious leaders. A
number of pastors walked out during a scene that showed a Los
Angeles clergyman encouraging parishioners to take condoms he
placed at his pulpit.
The movie, produced by Hollywood director Bill Duke, tells the
story of six Washington black women, at least one of whom
contracted HIV from her husband, who was allegedly infected by a
male sexual partner.
It's unclear why the pastors left before the documentary was
over. but a few explanations might fill in the blanks left by a
report on the screening in the Washington Post.
More than likely, the clergymen objected because the scene
approved of prophylactics handed out in a house of worship. It is
patently offensive to distribute condoms from the consecrated
area of a Christian sanctuary, no matter the intention.
It serves only to tacitly approve of what the church considers
sinful behavior so long as safety gear is in place. There already
exists a plethora of other venues to communicate safer sex ideas.
A reviewer for the Post concluded the film "makes the case" that
prejudice against homosexuality among African Americans is to
blame for the spread of HIV. In this scenario, black men feel
compelled to have secret gay sex "on the down low" and
consequently bring the deadly disease home to their unwitting
spouses and girlfriends.
THE PRODUCER OF the movie wants to extend the cloak of victimhood
beyond the women whose lives have been shattered to include the
perpetrators. But to portray unfaithful husbands and boyfriends
as victims is as wrong as it is simplistic.
Although HIV/AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate among black
Americans, it is questionable just how much of it can be
attributed to homophobia. To do so would be to disregard the role
of unsafe sexual generally, promiscuity, contaminated drug
paraphernalia and homosexual prison rape.
The latter is a significant factor considering that nationwide,
blacks are incarcerated at more than eight times the rate of
whites. Painting a sympathetic picture of cheating spouses and
boyfriends is symptomatic of an enabling mindset that ignores
underlying problems in the black community.
Conditions in the African-American culture make it a rich
environment for a disease is transmitted through irresponsible
behavior. Young black men are inundated with glorified images of
players, thugs, gang bangers, drug dealers and pimps while their
female counterparts are denigrated as "ho's." These are not the
type of role models that promote development into responsible
adults prepared to enter into healthy relationships.
Perhaps the pastors who walked out of the film understand that
the solution to many of the problems of black America is strong
monogamous marriages based on commitment, fidelity and
permanence. Unfortunately, the documentary was advancing a false
premise while ignoring a tragic reality.
THE DIFFICULT SITUATION many African Americans find themselves in
is further exacerbated by a national political party that draws
power by reinforcing a mentality of victimhood instead of
encouraging empowerment through self-determination and
entrepreneurship. While that approach has produced only a handful
of electoral victories, it has left a legacy of helplessness and
What we have learned about HIV/AIDS is that it knows no cultural,
racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, geographic, political
or ideological limits. We also know that it is 100 percent
preventable, since its transmission is dependent solely upon
The factors that influence that behavior are as diverse as the
human race itself, so to claim the sole causal relationship
between homophobia and the spread of the disease is a dangerous
It's especially troubling to see how easily the excuse of
homophobia is used to explain away a selfish lack of personal
responsibility and concern for the welfare of others.
A healthy society depends upon promoting principles like these
and should to reserve its compassion for the true victims,
infected by partners and condemned to an uncertain future and
A film like "Faces" is an agenda-driven whitewash and an unworthy
tribute to the women waging a valiant struggle against HIV.
Jeff Gannon is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and can be reached via www.jeffgannon.com.