Is it possible to support both the concept of Proposition 8 and
the men and women whose lives were most affected by it? I hope
so; I might well have voted for the California measure in
That would put me among the many African-Americans harshly
criticized by the anti-Prop 8 side for playing a role in its
passage. Even casual readers of news are aware that the vote has
led to months of tension between blacks and the GLBT (gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community.
One group with a foot in both camps are gay black men. While
others of us fight over the rights of couples to live their lives
together in peace, these men often are fighting for their lives
The shocking rise in the number of black women affected by
HIV/AIDS is well documented - and rightfully so. African-American
females are 23 times as likely to contract HIV as their white
But at the same time, black men who are HIV-positive receive
little media attention. Worse, they are often portrayed as the
enemy when it comes to the spread of HIV/AIDS. "Brothers on the
down low," men who secretly have sex with other men while living
in a committed heterosexual relationship, certainly invite no
sympathy. These men too often contract HIV and then infect their
unwitting female partners.
But all the publicity around these MSMs (men having sex with men)
has left in the shadows black men who recognize they are gay and
need help with HIV/AIDS-related education and services.
Because of the particularly negative stigma that is attached to
homosexuality by many African-Americans, men are often shunned by
family and friends once they fully embrace a gay lifestyle. And
the one place that has always been there for black men and women
- the black church - is the last place where gay men would seek
help or encouragement.
And who can blame them? We black Christians too often act as if
sex doesn't exist outside of the marriage bed. We say nothing
about our girls having babies at rates that exceed the national
average, and the silence is just as loud about our boys
contracting deadly diseases.
The Rev. James Fitzgerald, who directs pastoral care at
Friendship-West Baptist Church, says this has to change. "God is
love," says Fitzgerald, "and it's an encompassing love."
Fitzgerald has had to deal with his own biases while becoming
more involved with outreach work to help this community. "The
church has to bring the issue of homosexuality to the forefront
and become a resource to individuals and families."
Many black men are just as reluctant to seek assistance from
established mainstream resource centers. A gay friend recently
told me that while the white GLBT community is well meaning, too
often resource providers can't fathom the unique plight of gay
Additionally, just as I enjoy hearing music that I'm familiar
with at the grocery store or greeting card assortments that
include faces that resemble mine, gay men need a comfort zone of
familiarity when they seek assistance. The educational materials,
pictures on the wall and the people working in the office can
create an atmosphere much more appealing to those reluctant to
seek help. Just as churches need to rethink how they can best
help, so do service providers.
Given that half of all new HIV cases in the United States are in
African-Americans, it's critical that all of us leave denial
behind and figure out how we can help gay black men live healthy,
**Shawn Williams is a community advocate and writer who publishes
the Dallas South blog. His e-mail address is
(Printed on AEGiS with permission from the author.)