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George's LGBTea: The Continued Importance of Black HIV CBOs and Conferences In HIV Work

HIV has been in existence for over 30 years now, and although much has been done to combat the once untreatable virus, the work continues to fight for a cure. Unfortunately, for black and brown people, HIV never stopped being a deadly epidemic both domestically and internationally despite new language that continues to describe it as a “chronic illness.” For that reason, it is important that the work done by black-specific organizations continues the fight to end the spread of the virus in two communities that are easily overlooked and, in many ways, easily disposable.

This will mark my first year since I started doing HIV work that I wasn’t able to attend the National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities (NAESM) conference in Atlanta, GA. Led by the organization’s Executive Director, Darwin Thompson, NAESM has served as the birthplace of many young leaders in the HIV field, ensuring that the torch would be carried until the fight was won. Several years ago, this was the first conference that was dedicated to agencies across the country meeting to discuss all the newest strategies and improvements in HIV work. I was shocked and surprised to be able to attend a place where I got to see people who were just like me. Black and brown people from various states across the country coming together with the common goal of addressing how HIV affects our communities; much different from the picture painted by the majority in America.

I fell in love with all the sessions dedicated to us, and the fellowships, plenaries, and social activities that specifically focused on us. It was the first time in my professional life that I felt at home amongst black LGBTQ people who were dedicated to doing the work to help those who were most vulnerable and “at-risk.” Meeting folks who were my age and who could understand the struggles of living with HIV, and how important it was for us to be a community of brothers who could lean on each other in our times of need, including those who are HIV-negative and who also dedicated themselves to helping us ensure that the virus no longer remained an issue for our community. We were all willing to do the work on the ground that ensured this was happening.

Black CBOs and ASOs matter in 2018, and the fight has gotten even harder with the election of a president and administration that is not concerned with HIV, and which seem to be doing everything within their power to remove funding and desperately needed resources for the HIV-positive community.

January saw the disbanding of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). The website was taken down only to be restored as an archived site with no replacement and no policy being announced. This was followed in March by a threat of a $350 million reduction in HIV funding both domestically and abroad. In May, when the actual budget was submitted, the reduction asked for closer to $1.3 billion. In November, the administration banned seven words, including “transgender” and “vulnerable” from what could be used in CDC reporting, which was followed by the disbanding of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS (PACHA).

The work of black CBOs and ASOs have more than 30 years of history, often stepping in and “Acting Up” when funding and resources weren’t being provided to our communities in comparison to the white population. Organizations like Black AIDS Institute (BAI) and Us Helping Us has done the work from coast to coast, going against the grain during times when administrations were unwilling to publicly acknowledge HIV. This work has helped ensure that black and brown communities got included in funding and in research, and provided the sustainable resources needed to help end the epidemic within our communities.

It is important that we, as black and brown communities, continue to put our time and resources behind the organizations from back then, as well as behind newer organizations being founded each year. The Red Door Foundation, much like NAESM, focuses on the HIV epidemic in Memphis, TN. Executive Director Marvell Terry hosts an amazing conference every year called the Saving Ourselves Symposium, which focuses on the epidemic in the South, inviting CBOs nationwide to participate and share in resources; doing so in addition to the work he does at the Human Rights Campaign as the HIV and AIDS Project Manager.

TruEvolution is another organization doing amazing work. It is located in Riverside CA, and is dedicated to fighting for LGBT+ justice, advocating for the prevention & destigmitization of HIV/AIDS, and empowering communities in the evolution of their health, wellness, and truth. Executive Director Gabriel Maldonado also serves on the Board of Directors of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and is a former member of the now disbanded PACHA. He wears multiple hats, yet is dedicated to ensuring that the focus remain on those most affected.

These youthful leaders continue to be a beacon of hope against an administration that continues to hurt black and brown people. Fortunately, as our ancestors before, we understand the fight we in and are ready for battle, but not without ensuring a safe space for growth and education of those who are often forgotten.