On March 29, The Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus ( CBGMC ) held an occasionally emotional conference at the Chicago Department of Public Health Training Center, 1642 N. Besly.
The caucus seeks to stem the increase of HIV positivity among Black men who have sex with men ( MSM ) . To that end, CBGMC has created Youth, Faith-Based, Community Outreach, Policy Advocacy, Fundraising/Development and EPC ( Executive Planning Committee ) subgroups.
The meeting started with a presentation from two members of the city's Syphilis Elimination Task Force ( SETI ) —Chicago Department of Public Health's ( CDPH's ) Laurie Anderson and Michael Hunter. Among other things, they discussed an outreach campaign that will again start at the annual International Male Leather conference. The campaign will continue with posters initially being posted on CTA buses and throughout the North Side. ( Caucus attendees were allowed to choose their five favorite posters from approximately 15, including several with retro designs. The task force will choose one to three for distribution. )
The task force also talked about the basics of syphilis, such as symptoms. Anderson stressed that syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease and that certain symptoms—such as sports on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet—can appear and disappear on their own. However, she also emphasized that treatment is necessary to prevent the worst symptoms from occurring. [ Indeed, SETI's Web site, wwwGetTested.com, states that if left untreated, the disease can progress to its tertiary level, with symptoms that include paralysis and insanity. ]
Three of CBGMC's subcommittees also made presentations. Tommy Avant-Garde, head of the Youth subcommittee, said that things started slowly in light of the Dec. 31 South Side shootings. He added that 'the goal of the Youth Advisory Committee is to give youths input to help new HIV infections.' Dana Powell, head of the Community Outreach subcommittee, talked about upcoming events and projects such as the Lovefest at Jackson Park ( scheduled for Aug. 26 ) and a campaign to entice club promoters and agencies to administer HIV tests to clubgoers.
However, it was Policy Advocacy head Michael O'Connor who provided the evening's emotional highlight. O'Connor gave a rousing presentation in which he focused on the Lobby Days that recently took place in Springfield, as well as the meaning of worth in the Black MSM community. 'Can anybody tell me when we had Lobby Days? ... We do not know our worth. Lobby Days are any time anyone goes down to Springfield to deal with legislation.'
In dealing with legislation, O'Connor talked about the formation of the Quality of Life bill, which would use a lottery scratch-off game to generate funds for HIV-related agencies. He added that 'we decided to do what everybody else in this state does—to organize and know our worth. For too long, we have not known our worth.' He also saluted those, including a few youths, who went down to Springfield 'at three o'clock in the morning' and also praised former State Rep. Larry McKeon, among others, for his support. 'He could hardly make it down that corridor, but he was there because he knew his worth,' an emotional O'Connor said. 'I'll be glad when we know our worth.' O'Connor also cited organizations such as the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Working for Togetherness.
A passionate question-and-answer session followed the presentations, and covered issues such as a perceived lack of participation by some organizations during Lobby Days as well as the city's financial support for the caucus. 'If this is a true caucus ... I think [ the ] Rev. [ Jesse ] Jackson said it best: 'Cut us in or cut it out.' If this caucus does not have a budget, I would strongly encourage you to make what efforts you can to have the city come up with a budget for this caucus, because that's the only right thing to do,' Marc Loveless said.
There was also a discussion regarding how the caucus' Springfield delegation was chosen. After several minutes of talking, Powell—aiming to quell the situation—said that 'I don't think we're going to reach a resolution on this. I think it's best that we take it back to the [ Advocacy ] subcommittee, and let the subcommittee take it back to the EPC.' More discussions apparently lie ahead for the nascent organization as it attempts to accomplish its goals in a more seamless fashion.
The caucus will convene quarterly, with the next meeting happening in June. For more info about CBGMC ( or to join a subcommittee ) , see www.lovethybrotha.com . For more info about the SETI, see www.GetTestedChicago.com .