The stigma against persons living with HIV is perpetuated by numerous societal institutions, among them the law enforcement community, the healthcare system, the juvenile justice system and church communities. The impact from that institutional stigma, particularly as it relates to African Americans, was the focus of a daylong forum, Black Lives Matter: HIV, Stigma and Violence, on World AIDS Day, which was Dec. 1.
The sessions highlighted high rates of HIV infection in the African American community and explored how they overlap with other stigmas associated with race, economic status, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Christine Head, community healthcare coordinator for the Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, discussed the overlap between areas with high numbers of HIV infections and areas with high numbers of juvenile arrests. She noted several common characteristics to the areas, among them lacks in mental health and preventative health services, school-based health centers and chain grocery-stores.
Head urged providers to overcome institutional silos and embrace intersectionality in their work, as well as engage the young people whom their work benefits. "When I say we need to engage youth, I don't mean poetry," she said.
Rev. Charles Straight, pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in Dolton, Illinois, discussed efforts to abolish homophobia in the church and be welcoming to individuals with HIV. He explicitly names homophobia as a sin, he said, and particularly abhors the attitude that an anti-gay individual is hating the sin and not the sinner.
"It's always been a lie," Straight said. "If someone says that to you, stop them right there and say, 'How's that working for you and our community?' ...It's disingenuous to say that there's something wrong with you, but we're going to love you anyway."
Among those also speaking at the conference were Noel Gordon, senior specialist for HIV Prevention and Health Equity, Human Rights Campaign; Dr. Chad Zawitz, infectious disease specialist at Cermak Health Services; Peter McLoyd, patient advocate at the CORE Center; Erik Glenn, executive director, Chicago Gay Black Men's Caucus; and Alonzo Brown, executive director for Taskforce Prevention Services. Sanford Gaylord, HIV/AIDS Regional Resource Consultant for the Regional Resource Network Program, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, moderated. Opening remarks were given by U.S. Regional Health Administrator Rear Admiral James Lando. Keith Green and Leo Moore, a.k.a. The Revolutionary Act, did a spoken-word performance in the plenary session, accompanied by Brian Cox.