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Greater NW Pride: Recognizing NBHAD (National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness DAY)


Recognizing NBHAD (National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness DAY)

February 7th was NBHAD, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. 
As Drs. Stephen Tang and Giffin Daughtridge wrote on hivplusmag.com, it “is a day to highlight the disproportionate impact of HIV on Black communities, to celebrate the work of Black HIV advocates, and to support Black people living with HIV in America. We also celebrate the efforts of our local and federal partners, the HIV workforce, and community advocates who have made monumental strides in reducing new HIV infections and continue to champion the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, which aims to reduce new HIV infections nationally by 75 percent in the next five years.”
The hope is to bring the HIV/AIDS infection rate down by a two-prong approach: 
1. Identifying and driving medication uptake for people living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy for HIV treatment and for those at elevated risk of HIV acquisition with HIV prevention medications, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
2. Ensuring through adherence and retention support that these medications are optimally effective.

The problem in bringing down the HIV/AIDS infection rate in the nation has to do with, first, the HIV-related stigma, social and structural influencers of health, and barriers to effective implementation of these medicines fueling unacceptable HIV-related health disparities for Black Americans. 
“However, lack of access to HIV testing remains a barrier, especially for Black Americans, 40 percent of whom have never been tested. HIV self-testing is a proven strategy to increase HIV testing access and diagnoses. Self-testing engages individuals who are first-time testers, increases testing frequency, helps connect HIV positive individuals to treatment, minimizes stigma, and during COVID-19 allows safe testing while maintaining the safety of the HIV workforce. HIV testing access for Black Americans must dramatically improve, and self-testing is a critical tool to achieve this goal” (hivplusmag.com).
The principle, targeted group for intervention, in which HIV/AIDS is highest, is among Black gay and bisexual men, and Black cis- and transgender women.
This is a clear picture of intersectionality, in which a person is more than their race, but also of their gender and sexual orientation. 
And one of the places or people that is responsible for the stigmatization of especially Black gay and bisexual men, and cis- and transgender Black women, is the Black church. Indeed, the Black church has been an historic mainstay for Black empowerment and well-being and has the potential of bine a partner for HIV/AIDS prevention.
From the blackchurchandhiv.org: 75% of African Americans say that religion plays a very important role in their lives. But it is in these very same churches that Black gay men, bisexuals, and cis- and transgender women “experience various homophobic and AIDS-phobic message that increases their feelings of shame, diminish their religious identity, and are separated from important resources of the Black church. The Black church is a part of many Black gay men’s lives, and unfortunately, so is HIV” (prevention.ucsf.edu).
“Many Black gay men attend church knowing that homosexuality is considered a sin, and pastors may know or believe that they have gay men in their congregations. The common yet contradictory scene of gay men singing in the choir while homosexuality is denounced in the pulpit, creates an ‘open closet’ at the center of church life.This contradiction in the church has a damaging effect on gay men’s personal and sexual lives.The Black church’s views on homosexuality also negatively affect the Black community at-large” (prevention.ucsf.edu).
But the Black church can also positively affect Black gay men, bisexuals, and transgender women. “Church is part of their identity…Spirituality is a resource for HIV- and HIV+ Black gay men. Spirituality has been used to cope with life-threatening events, physical illness, and emotional and psychological stresses. Belief in God is an important strength for many Black Americans. Religious participation also provides positive health benefits, increased life satisfaction, and is especially supportive in crisis moments” (prevention.ucsf.edu).
What can be done? “Black church leadership and Black gay men must develop a strategy that values the lives of Black gay men. HIV+ and HIV- Black gay men are a vulnerable population who are entitled to compassionate and courageous support. HIV related anti-stigma efforts by church leaders, as well as the mobilization of community utilizing themes of compassion for prevention and outreach, may be effective ways for the church to use their teachings to engage with this population” (prevention.ucsf.edu).
In the spirit of NBHAD, honoring NBHAD, and as part of the Church, the body of Christ, among all denominations, including the UMC and PCUSA, in which we are all connected with one another through the one Spirit, we, who call ourselves “Christians” have a responsibility to address and work with the health disparities in this nation, in which the inequality of health care is right before our eyes. Segments of our population are written off and considered “lesser.”  We see this very same imbalance of healthcare today with COVID 19 in this nation, in which the Black American community is struggling more with this virus than is the white community.  
But for today, let us address and seek justice and work to solve this problem, in which there is a disproportionate number of Black gay men, bisexuals, and cis- and transgender women who are HIV positive in this nation, and dying too young with AIDS related diseases because of the injustice and stigma around HIV and LGBTQIA+ related issues.  
It is past time for us to right this wrong in the Church and in our society. 


Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!