'I speak for thousands; perhaps hundreds of thousands of men who live and die in the shadows of secrets, unable to speak of the love that helps them endure and contribute to the race.' — Loyalty by Essex Hemphill
In the spring of 2001a milestone in Black Gay History took place. A group of Black gay men of diverse professional and educational backgrounds met in the apartment of Gary English, executive director of People of Color in Crisis ( POCC ) , a community-based organization ( CBO ) in Brooklyn, New York. They met to conduct the first of many informal discussions about the current state of research and scholarly work being produced by and about Black men who have sex with men ( MSM ) .
These conversations highlighted some disturbing facts, key at that time was that men who have sex with men ( MSM ) represented the largest proportion of people who have been infected with HIV in the U.S.—and for the first time since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, Black MSM outnumbered white MSM in newly diagnosed cases of HIV and AIDS. The group also concluded that Black MSM have experienced substantial health disparities and, as a result, are at a substantial risk for enduring adverse health complications due to engaging in HIV risk-taking behaviors.
Recent research also has shown that people of African decent, especially those living with HIV/AIDS, are susceptible to significant health risks including increases in viral load, reinfection with multi-drug resistant strains of HIV, co-infection with other sexually transmitted diseases, and acquiring other bacteria and viruses that lead to opportunistic infections. These issues are even more compounded for men of African decent, especially those that find out that not only do they have HIV but have been diagnosed with AIDS, when taking an antibody test sooner could have given them precious time to formulate a treatment plan.
Research seeking to design and implement new strategies to prevent HIV infection has been an ongoing battle for the last 20 years in the war on HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, for many years, research which could serve as the foundation for structuring intervention strategies for Black MSM, were next to non-existent. Many have been based on studying the sexual behavior of white gay and bisexual men. Over the past few years, many research studies have begun adding new participants to their existing cohort's in order to diversify.
The group agreed to formalize their discussions, understanding that research data informs public policy and public policy informs programs. The first formal planning meeting was held Sept. 22, 2001. The discussion centered on what is research and why the need for a Black gay research body. The members unanimously agreed that a research group should be formed and they identified four intentions that would serve as the framework for the research group's underlying principle.
The first was to sponsor a research summit focusing on Black gay men, and secondly to establish a research agenda, examining life stages of Black gay men socially, spiritually, economically, and psychologically. They also sought to publish a compendium of research papers drawn from the summit presentations; and, finally, they wanted to create a sustainable research activity, BGRG 2, that continuously identifies, explores, and promotes innovative program interventions within the Black gay community.
Comprised of researchers, educators, and representatives from Black gay agencies and programs geared toward Black gay men/MSM from New York City, the Black Gay Research Group ( BGRG ) members volunteered their time and resources to produce the first research summit. The original members included Gary English, Steven G. Fullwood, Herukhuti, Kenneth Jones, Robert Miller, Wayne Mitchell Michael Roberson Colin Robinson, Al Simmons, Barry Walston, Leo Wilton, and Darrell Wheeler.
The sustained commitment from the members resulted in the first Black Gay Research Summit, co-sponsored with POCC, held July 31-Aug. 2, 2003. The Summit brought together over 150 researchers, service providers, students and other professionals who shared knowledge about research and innovative programs being implemented by and on behalf of Black MSM. The meeting featured presentations and discussions of current research and community practices and exchanges among personnel from government agencies, CBO's, and research institutions aimed at strengthening partnerships and shaping future research.
In December 2004, BGRG, after a six-month hiatus, chose to reinvent itself and identify a work plan for 2005. The product of this conversation was reframing the BGRG as a Think Tank for the Black gay community. The second Black Gay Research Summit will be Aug. 3-5, 2005: Untying Tongues: Black Gay Men in Research, Service and Scholarship, will serve as the springboard for continuing the BGRG's mission.
Keith Boykin, author of Beyond the Down Low, and David Malebranche, assistant professor at Emory University's Division of General Medicine, will serve as keynotes, and will be joined by a number of researchers, academics, writers and supporters of Black Gay research.
For info on the BGRG: www.blackgayresearch.org .