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BLACKlines: Thoughts and Ideas
by Max Smith
2004-04-01

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R & B legend Tyrone Davis sang the lyrics 'Baby can I change my mind? I just want to start all over again.' There is really no starting over in life, but there is nothing so constant as change.

For people living in a bad situation, the possibility of change for the better offers hope. To go from slavery to freedom, from poverty to prosperity, or from illness to health happens for a reason. A change in perception and attitude can move a person from complacency to being actively involved in bringing about change.

Not happy with the way things are? Want to see change? You will soon discover that people tend to resist change. People prefer the comfort of dealing with what is familiar to the challenge of exerting energy to create change, even when change could make life better.

The Sunday, Feb. 29, 2004 Chicago Tribune Magazine's cover story 'Saving Grace' was an inspirational story of how, after years of silence, Black churches are beginning to deal with the AIDS crisis. It focused on Vision House, an apartment building on the South Side of Chicago established by Liberty Baptist Church, for homeless people with HIV. The building used to be living quarters for nurses of the old Provident Hospital, later it was a methadone clinic. It derives its name from the exhortation in Proverbs 'Where there is no vision, the people perish. Now it stands as witness to the ability of Black churches to change from being indifferent to the epidemic to being actively involved in attempts to manage and control it.

One part of the article was troubling. A 46-year-old gay man residing at Vision House said he knew almost nothing about HIV before he was diagnosed as poz (HIV positive) in 1996, 15 years into the epidemic. He is quoted in the article, saying with a matter-of-fact, fatalistic attitude 'There is nothing I can do about it now, I just have to accept it and live my life.'

For years I've hated hearing gay men refer to other gay men as 'the children.' What is worse is seeing adult SGL (same-gender-loving) men watch TV cartoon shows, or play video games all day and choose to live without awareness and understanding of current events.

Historically, racists have said that a passive, childlike and dependent way of living among people of color is justification for dominating us. Choosing not to be well-informed, self-disciplined, and independent is to play into the hands of those who would oppress us. Occasionally I'm pessimistic about the future of the HIV epidemic. People at risk not wanting to know, people in denial of the obvious and a society that encourages passive consumption of entertainment (TV as a weapon of mass distraction) discourage me. On the other hand the work at Liberty Baptist's Vision House, Operation PUSH's advocacy of HIV testing and treatment, and The Balm In Gilead's rallying thousands of people around the country for 15 years to participate in the annual Black Church Week of Prayer for the healing of AIDS, are among encouraging indicators. The work by paid and volunteer workers in secular HIV outreach and service groups is heroic.

But what about a more effective prevention strategy? The time, emotional energy and money spent by those faith-based and secular organizations working on the HIV epidemic is enormous. What if the HIV epidemic ended? Those resources could be re-allocated to employment, education or other needs. So where is the envisioning of a day in the future when the HIV epidemic ends? A medical cure for AIDS, a procedure which could rid the body of HIV would be a marvelous thing. But HIV mutates and replicates so quickly that the multiple strains of HIV make a shot or pill to cure it unlikely in the near future. That leaves us with prevention: a social commitment to no new HIV infection.

Let it start with SGL men. My encouragement is a voluntary decision by SGL men not to have anal sex. Bareback anal sex, and IV drug abuse with HIV-infected needles, are the two most efficient ways of transmitting the virus. The 3% failure rate of condoms is an unacceptable risk, given the permanence, expense and discomfort of HIV infection..

The decision never to have anal sex in any position with no exceptions is a radical change, for sure. But we are at war against HIV. Fighting and winning a war requires dedication and sacrifice. Those are rare concepts in our modern society dedicated to comfort, convenience, entertainment, and doing whatever feels good. In this case I practice what I preach: a personal decision never to have anal sex in 1982, when I first learned about HIV. My encouragement of this radical way to prevent HIV infection is based on the personal experience of having dealt sexually with both neg and poz partners, and to still be HIV neg at age 50.

Comments and concerns about this idea? Contact me at MaxsonCS@aol.com


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