The "down low" is a concept rooted in homophobia that leads to misguided assumptions about HIV in black communities. Studies have shown that the majority of black men who have sex with men do identify as gay or bisexual, and those who don’t are less likely to be HIV positive, have multiple male sexual partners and have engaged in unprotected anal intercourse in the past 6 months.
The idea of large numbers of black men being on the down low does a disservice to the community as a whole. It implies that being gay or bisexual is something to be ashamed of and it assumes that if you are an HIV-positive man who identifies as heterosexual you must be lying about who your sexual partners are. If you are an HIV-positive woman then you must have had sex with a man who wasn’t honest about his sexual partners, which eliminates the possibility of bisexuality and makes the woman a victim and void of the ability to empower herself and require protection during sex.
Ashley Innes is the director of prevention programs and services at AIDS Arms, Inc., an HIV and AIDS service organization in Dallas, Texas. For more from Ashley, follow her on twitter.