From The Grio — I was happy to read the open letter of support that Wade Davis wrote to gay athletes on theGrio last week. His earnest story, his struggle, and his newfound self-acceptance — so palpable from his words — touched me deeply. Like many others, I spent several years of my life fighting the shame generated by those hollow words: “You can’t be a strong black man and be gay.”
Perhaps Wade Davis was influenced by the positive momentum for gay rights that has been gathering steam around the country. Every day, statements by prominent black leaders like President Obama, the NAACP, and a host of celebrities showing their support for marriage equality are helping dismantle the stigma experienced by so many gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people of color.
We can’t let this momentum die. In fact, we need to step it up. Erasing the shame and stigma burdening men of color who have sex with men and who live with self-hatred, men who often live recklessly because they don’t believe their lives are worth something, men who felt “the pain of living a lie,” as Wade Davis did for so many years, is more important than ever. Because it also increases the risk of HIV: this stigma can kill.
More than 1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS today and about 50,000 become infected with HIV each year. In fact some U.S. cities — Miami, New York, Baltimore, and Washington, DC — report HIV prevalence rates of more than 2 percent, a rate that surpasses many developing nations across the world. Gay and bisexual black men have been especially impacted: a CDC study of five cities found 46 percent of them infected with HIV, compared to 21 percent and 17 percent of their white and Latino counterparts, respectively.