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Deadly homophobia

Deadly homophobia


Julian Bond, former Georgia state representative and ex-head of the NAACP, says fighting homophobia is key to progress in the struggle against HIV/AIDS among blacks.

What are you doing to address homophobia among the black population? I look at the women's movement, the movement of lesbians and gays, the Hispanic movement, the Native American movement--all these movements say they took their cues from the African-American civil rights movement. But in this case, the African-American movement against AIDS is taking its cues from the gay movement, hoping to adapt some of the militancy, some of the tactics, demonstrations, and protests.

How big a role does homophobia play in the spread of AIDS among black people? They definitely go hand in hand. I live in Washington, D.C., and over the past six months or so, two very prominent black ministers here have issued the most appalling [antigay] statements. The good news is that they were quickly and loudly denounced. The bad news is that they made these statements at all. Homophobia is one of the major obstacles to black Americans coming to grips with this disease in the ways that we should. It is awfully disturbing. It's a refutation of what the movement for civil rights stood for. It's disgraceful.

Is that changing at all? It is more possible to have rational and decent discussions about the issue and to talk about prescriptions for change. But at the same time it really is a barrier. People who have these kinds of prejudices tend to dismiss the whole [AIDS] phenomenon and put it down to a matter of "behavior." It is a phenomenon that strikes everyone, and we have to get to the point where we can put these evil bigotries behind us so we can focus on the spread of AIDS, the availability of treatment, the teaching of preventive measures, the use of condoms.

Is it a matter of more gay black men needing to come out? I can't help but think that if more closeted gay people would come out of the closet and take claim of who they are and their identity, this situation would be immeasurably eased. At the same time those who are out need to take a more active role in organizations like the NAACP and let members see they are ordinary people. Having someone say, "Here I am, look at me, pay attention to me," makes a great difference. The NAACP board is quite large--there are 64 of us. One of my members has AIDS. I don't doubt that others are gay or lesbian. Their situation would be immeasurably helped if those folks said, "Here I am."

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