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Black Gay Caucus Launches HIV/AIDS Campaign
by Amy Wooten

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Keith Green at the Black Gay Mmen's Causcus event. Photo by Amy Wooten.

The Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus wants to normalize knowledge of one's HIV status, Kanye West-style.

The caucus launched a new HIV/AIDS social marketing campaign, 'I know. Do You Know?' on Feb. 7 at the South Side's Steelelife Gallery. Those present at the unveiling—from party promoters and politicians to clergy and public health officials—were proof that a historic movement in the Black community had begun.

'This is a very, very big movement,' said caucus and Test Positive Aware Network member Keith Green.

This campaign is something that the health officials can't do alone, stressed Lora Branch, director of Chicago Department of Public Health's ( CDPH's ) STD/HIV prevention and care programs department and Caucus member. 'It takes everybody in this room.'

Green wrote and starred in the campaign's two-minute hip-hop music video that will be available on an interactive Web site. There will also be television, radio and print ads. Green believes hip-hop, which has a very strong presence in the Black community, is the perfect medium because it doesn't 'preach.'

'We need to normalize [ knowing your status ] and make people more aware that there are people in the community living with HIV,' Green said. 'We need to let people know they are not alone.'

According to CDPH, Blacks make up 36 percent of the population in Chicago, yet 55 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS. Many of those at the campaign launch wore pins that read '46% Is Unacceptable,' a reference to a Centers for Disease Control five-city survey that found 46 percent of Black MSM ( men who have sex with men ) tested positive for HIV, and an even larger percentage is unaware of its status.

'This is a natural disaster that did not make front-page headlines,' said Rev. Charles M. Straight, assistant pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church. 'We could debate the reasons, or we could do something. Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus is doing something.'

The unveiling was in conjunction with National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and the 'We Are Here' exhibit. The photo exhibit of Black LGBT Chicagoans by Richard Lee Gray is on display at Steelelife Gallery.

CDPH Commissioner Terry Mason stopped by the event for a moving speech. Mason gave an analogy of the horrors African Americans have survived. You can spray Raid in a house full of cockroaches and kill many of the bugs, but some will survive due to genetic mutation, he said. 'They have sprayed their best at us, but we are still here.'

The commissioner urged those present to do some soul searching and ask what they are really going to do to make a difference.

'This is a community I'm excited to see rising up and taking care of themselves,' Simone Koehlinger, director of CDPH's Office of LGBT Health, told Windy City Times.

One of those individuals taking action is Straight, who is heading the faith-based initiative to help normalize knowledge of HIV status in the African American community. Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus is taking a holistic approach with this campaign, including the spiritual.

'We need to teach people that God loves you and you love yourself,' Straight told Windy City Times. 'And because God loves you and you love yourself, you are worth saving.'

We are going to challenge the Christian church in the Black community,' he added. 'It's time to examine the issue of sex and sexuality within the church.'

At the event, caucus members urged the need for the Black community to work together and create some noise. 'We all have a stake in this work,' caucus member Allen Wright told the crowd. 'We have to make a difference. There is no other choice.'

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