The Black AIDS Institute released Thursday its latest report on HIV infection and death rates in the U.S., revealing that infection rates among black gay men have gotten worse. Some Christian churches have stepped up efforts to address the issue, with one pastor even getting tested from the pulpit.
"Black MSM (men who sleep with men) continue to be first in line when it comes to need, but remain at the back of the line when it comes to assistance. This report not only highlights the gaps and why they still exist after 30 years, but it also provides a blueprint for how to close the gaps and move those most at risk up to the front," said Phill Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute.
The institute urged that more importance be placed on the issue, and revealed that black gay men account for 1 in 500 Americans, yet represent nearly 1 in 4 new HIV infections. What is more alarming, they face higher risks of death after being diagnosed from AIDS – they are significantly less likely to be alive three years being diagnosed than Latino or white gay men.
The research study outlined that Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles were among the cities that best addressed the needs of HIV-affected black gay men, while the worst were Gary, Ind., Memphis and Richmond.
The issue of HIV/AIDS infection rates among African-Americans goes beyond homosexual men, as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has predicted that one in 16 black men and one in 32 black women will be infected by HIV.
Some in the African-American community have been using the month of July, designated National HIV Awareness Month, to draw special attention to the issue.
In order to raise awareness about AIDS and the importance of getting tested, the Rev. Anthony Lee of Community of Hope A.M.E. Church in Temple Hills, Md., gets himself tested for HIV four times a year directly from the pulpit. The pastor has long preached about the dangerous rates of HIV/AIDS in African-American communities.
"When you look at the numbers of HIV and AIDS in our area, you can see that they are really bad," Lee explained. "So we do testing, we have a barbershop and beauty shop outreach where we leave harm reduction information, we do trainings on HIV 101, and then we also have club tours. That is where our street team goes into the clubs handing out prevention material and condoms. Our tag line in the club outreach is: God Loves You. Love Yourself Enough To Protect Yourself."
In response to criticism he has received for handing out condoms, which some Christians say is not in accordance with teaching abstinence, the pastor said that not everyone lives by biblical standards of purity.
"So, at Community of Hope we preach about abstinence and about sexual purity as the standard. But we also have to deal with the reality that everyone is not living the standard. And we have to give the resources and the information so that, even if they are not going to live up to the standard they are not putting themselves at risk for STDs and HIV," he said.
Civil rights group the NAACP has also suggested that not enough African-American churches speak about how black Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. In a manual titled "The Black Church & HIV: The Social Justice Imperative," released on July 9, the NAACP suggests that many church leaders feel uncomfortable addressing the issue from the pulpit.
"However, this issue is too great to ignore," warns the 24-page manual. "The only way for us to help our congregations is to understand all aspects of HIV, so that we can help our community rebound from the impact of this epidemic."
"As we make efforts to address the HIV crisis, the Black Church should not be a place where people experience HIV stigma and discrimination, but rather a place of healing, support, and acceptance," the NAACP concluded.
Globalchange.com, an organization associated with raising AIDS and HIV awareness, published statistics to put things into perspective by revealing that there is a new HIV infection every 15 seconds somewhere around the world – and that 1 in 200 adults globally are affected – but churches in those nations often play a major role in providing compassionate care for those with AIDS.