A Moral Imperative

The CDC’s landmark report on the rate of HIV infections for Black and Hispanic people put into sharp focus the barriers for LGBTQ communities of color in accessing reliable health care. Though Black communities make up only 14 percent of the population, the 2016 report said, they account for an alarming 44 percent of all new HIV infections. If current trends continue, half of all Black gay and bisexual men in the United States will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.

As HRC Foundation marks the 18th year of National Black HIV & AIDS Awareness Day this February and re-commits to help end the HIV epidemic and its disproportionate impact on communities of color, we must also look beyond these grim statistics and focus on the individuals and groups leading the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Among them is Darwin Thompson, executive director of NAESM, Inc., an Atlanta-based nonprofit that works to provide national and local leadership to address the myriad of health and wellness issues confronted by Black LGBTQ men.

For Thompson, empowering his clients through advo- cacy, services and education is a fundamental aspect to overcoming the HIV epidemic in his community and throughout the United States.                        

“All individuals want to feel valued,” said Thompson, “and I think that we look at Black gay men as just their HIV status. We don’t understand they bring a lot more to the table.” This point hits close to home for Thompson, whose biological mother was HIV-positive, putting Thompson in the target group for contracting the disease.

In an effort to change the conversation around HIV and Black communities, Thompson and NAESM collaborated with HRC in January to host the Moral Imperative, a symposium to strengthen Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ ability to provide leadership in the ght for an HIV- and AIDS-free generation. “This collaboration with NAESM and HBCUs affirms HRC’s commitment to work with our partners and allies to end HIV and HIV-related stigma in the United States,” said Peter Cruz, associate director of HRC Foundation’s HIV and Health Equity Program. “We all must act together — in our neighborhoods, in our schools and in our homes — to truly end the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS, particularly on our most vulnerable communities.”

Part of this action is to engage in what Thompson calls “holistic prevention” — to treat and prevent not just the disease, but also recognize the larger inequalities faced by Black LGBTQ men and lead to crisis in their communities.

“Whether we are dealing with family trauma or their high blood pressure or other things, it’s important to ensure that we are targeting a holistic prevention for Black gay men,” said Thompson.

For Thompson, fundamental to this holistic approach is tackling the stigma that surrounds HIV and the Black LGBTQ community to ensure that Black men feel empowered to seek the treatment and health services they deserve. This is why outreach to HBCUs is so important.

“I’m hopeful that in my lifetime HIV will be a disease of the past,” said Leslie Hall, who manages HRC Foundation’s HBCU Program. “I’m committed to raising awareness about HIV and encouraging young people on colleges and universities across the country — especially HBCUs — to take advantage of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and other proven prevention strategies. I know we will prevail.”

Thompson agrees. “It’s about giving HBCUs the tools necessary to find the dialogue but also fight and eradicate HIV and other STI related diseases.”

But even those of us who are not enrolled in an HBCU can be part of the solution. Getting tested for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and encouraging those close to us to do the same, is one small way we can all make a difference, Thompson believes.

“We have the right tools, right leadership in place to end the epidemic right now.

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Egypt and Russia Must Not Be Allowed To Remove Inclusive Language from UN’s Olympics Resolution

In advance of each Olympics, the United Nations General Assembly passes an “Olympic Truce Resolution” to pledge support for the Olympic spirit, for the athletes and for the host country. The resolution includes a reference to “Principle 6” of the Olympic Charter, which commits the Olympics to not discriminate on the basis of a number of factors, including sexual orientation. This year, however, Egypt and Russia are working to remove all references to Principle 6 from the resolution, because of the language on sexual orientation.   

“Russia and Egypt – two of the world’s worst violators of LGBTQ human rights – are trying to spread their hatred and intolerance and undermine the Olympic spirit,” said HRC Global Director Ty Cobb. “This is not just a fight over words on a piece of paper, this is an attempt to spread their anti-LGBTQ views all around the world, and even into the Olympics, which are supposed to be about equality and inclusion. The UN must stop this and stand for inclusion and tolerance.”

Earlier this month, Egyptian authorities arrested at least six men for “promoting sexual deviancy” after waving a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo. These arrests have led to a crackdown on LGBTQ people in Egypt, with a group of Egyptian lawmakers proposing a broad anti-LGBTQ law last week which criminalizes LGBTQ people and even speech about LGBTQ issues.

In the Russian republic of Chechnya, authorities have rounded up and detained more than 100 men in secret prisons, under suspicion that they are gay or bisexual. Chechen leaders have denied these accusations, going so far as to deny the very existence of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. It is not clear that the Russian government has done anything to stop the violence,  while there have been numerous verified reports of torture and at least three and possibly as many as 20 men have been killed.

The 2016 Games in Rio were noted for being the most LGBTQ-inclusive Olympics in history, with a record number of openly lesbian, gay and bisexual competitors taking part. This was in stark contrast to the 2014 Sochi Olympics held in Russia, where a hateful “anti-propaganda” law targeted Russia’s LGBTQ community and prohibited public support for equality in the country.  

While Egypt rounds up LGBTQ people for flying rainbow flags and Russia turns a blind eye toward Chechnya’s LGBTQ ‘purge,’ they are attempting to bully the UN into supporting their discriminatory actions. The world community must denounce Egypt and Russia for their actions, and not acquiesce to this hatred.

The United Nations is set to vote on the Olympic Truce Resolution in the coming weeks.

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Family Acceptance Saves Lives

Trigger Warning: This post discusses suicide.

This September, HRC marks National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month by reaffirming our commitment to support the wellbeing of LGBTQ youth and adults.

Though this support can come in many forms, HRC recognizes the fundamental role parents play in fostering a safe and inclusive community for young people.

According to a 2016 study published in LGBT Health, family rejection increases the odds of substance misuse and suicide attempts in transgender and gender non-conforming people. These results mirror research by Dr. Caitlin Ryan and the Family Acceptance Project, which found that LGBTQ youth whose families affirm their gender identity and sexual orientation are almost 50 percent less likely to make a suicide attempt compared to those whose families are unsupportive.   

Acknowledging the importance of parental support within the LGBTQ community, last year HRC launched the Parents for Transgender Equality Council, a national committee of parent-advocates fighting for transgender equality. Their work builds upon insights gained from parents and family members of LGBTQ children within the larger HRC network, including those who participated in HRC’s #LoveYourNeighbor video campaign.

By sharing their stories as parents of LGBTQ children who have been affected by suicide, we hope to amplify the voices of love, inclusion and support for the LGBTQ community, particularly to those currently at risk.

Joanne Lee is a member of the Parents for Transgender Equality Council. Her two children were assigned female at birth, but both came out as transgender males in 2014. At first, Lee did not accept her transgender sons. But in 2015, after one of Lee’s sons, Skyler, took his own life due to depression, her outlook completely changed.

Marsha Aizumi shared her touching story as mother of a transgender son at HRC’s 2016 Time to THRIVE conference. Her journey to accept her transgender son led her to advocate for full equality of all LGBTQ people.

HRC’s #LoveYourNeighbor video storytelling project featured Jolie and Lillie Ben, mother and sister of a lesbian daughter who died by overdose, from Birmingham, Alabama.

For parents looking for resources on how to support LGBTQ youth, HRC’s Welcoming Schools program provides tools and resources for parents, educators and administrators focused on making schools inclusive for all children and families.

If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Trevor Project provides support for LGBTQ youth, and their 24-hour crisis hotline can be reached at 1-866-488-7386. If you are a transgender person of any age, call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860

To learn more about supporting LGBTQ youth in their homes, schools and communities, visit www.hrc.org/youth.

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