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Black leaders
declare war on homophobia and AIDS

Black leaders
declare war on homophobia and AIDS

Acknoweldging that HIV/AIDS has violently ravaged rural and urban black America, black leaders at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto on Monday declared war on homophobia and AIDS.

"The majority of new HIV infections here are black, the majority of people who die from AIDS here are black, and the people most at risk of contracting this virus in the United States are black," Julian Bond, the longtime chairman of the NAACP, wrote in a Monday opinion piece for TheWashington Post. "AIDS is now in our house. It's now our problem, and we must come up with solutions."

And it has a lot to do with black gay men, according to the Chicago Sun Times. Nearly 50% of black gay and bisexual men in some of America's cities are estimated to be infected with HIV.

Of the 1 million people who are living with HIV/AIDS, nearly half of them are black, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "AIDS in America today is black,'' said Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute and the driving force behind what's being called a "national call to action and declaration of commitment to end the AIDS epidemic in black America."

The commitment was personally signed by a lineup of national black leaders that came to the conference: U.S. representative Maxine Waters, California Democrat; Pernessa Seele, founder of the Balm in Gilead, a network of African-American churches that has been at the forefront of issues concerning disparity of health care; George Curry of the National Newspapers Publishers Association; and Cheryl Cooper of the National Council of Negro Women.

The pledge was being hailed as historic. It signaled a willingness on the part of black organizations to move AIDS to the top of their agendas, and it put these organizations on the spot. "We call on leaders to lead," Wilson said at a Toronto press conference. "The AIDS story in America is mostly one of a failure to lead."

In a media roundtable discussion put together by the Black AIDS Institute before the convention kicked off, several black men who are living with the virus challenged black journalists to begin the conversation on this subject. "What is it that the African-American community believes about homosexuality and why?" one speaker asked. "We are having a debate about same-sex marriage--and in my view same-sex marriage isn't in the top 10 of our agenda. Same-sex marriage is no threat to anyone else."

This year's conference marked the first time the Black AIDS Institute has played a prominent role in conference programming. The group coordinated several of the sessions geared toward African-American policy makers. (The Advocate)

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