OPINION: The disproportionate impact of the HIV epidemic is rooted in structural racism and anti-Blackness

by Alphonso David | Human Rights Campaign
Sunday, 7 February 2021 08:45 GMT

FILE PHOTO: AIDS activists sing and chant during a rally across from the White House in Washington July 24, 2012. The international AIDS 2012 conference is currently being held in Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

On National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we call to attention the fact the HIV epidemic is far from over and that it disproportionately affects Black and Latinx gay and bisexual men and transgender women

Alphonso David is president of the Human Rights Campaign

This Sunday is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – a day that may not get the attention of World AIDS Day, but one that is equally important. On this day, we call attention to the fact that the HIV epidemic is far from over, and that we must refocus our work and our hearts on the communities who continue to bear the brunt of this virus: Black and Latinx gay and bi+ men and transgender women.

The late Dr. Ron Simmons, a longtime activist and role model whom we lost just last year, once said: “The main problem for Black gay men is not HIV; it’s that we’re trapped in a racist, homophobic, capitalist society. If I’m at a table where the only thing we’re going to talk about is HIV, but we’re not going to talk about unemployment, housing, education, and the criminal justice system, that’s not going to work because what’s affecting us is everything.”

And he was correct – “What’s affecting us is everything.” And his charge for an intersectional and social justice approach to addressing the HIV epidemic could not be more timely.

The statistics – and the health inequities they represent – are staggering. The CDC predicts one in four Latinx gay and bisexual cisgender men and one in two Black gay and bisexual cisgender men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. Trans people of color are also disproportionately impacted. Twenty-six percent of Latinx transgender women and almost half of Black transgender women in the United States are living with HIV today.

The disproportionate impact of the HIV epidemic is directly rooted in structural racism and anti-Blackness.

When we look at communities disproportionately impacted by HIV, poverty is the number one variable. The other social and structural determinants of health include lack of access to health coverage, culturally competent care, adequate educational and employment opportunities and a lack of access to fair and safe housing. These factors are directly correlated to overall poor health outcomes for people of color – specifically Black and Brown communities. 

Tragically, we have seen this truth play out even more starkly over the past year.

As COVID-19 has ravaged our country, Black and Latinx people, including Black and Latinx LGBT+ people, are paying the heaviest price. Under the burden of systemic injustice, many are being pushed to the brink.

Recent events in this country have laid bare what so many of us have known for so long: white supremacy has corrupted our institutions and systems to their very core. And we cannot achieve the end of the HIV epidemic, justice for our communities and the ultimate survival of our nation without centering its defeat in our shared work ahead.

My charge for all of us, including those who work with me at the Human Rights Campaign, is to ensure we are investing in the communities most impacted to increase access to health care, prevention, testing, and treatment. And that we are recognizing that racial justice is not a necessary corollary of our mission to end the HIV epidemic but as integral to achieving it.

The challenges we face in this moment are grave, but I find grounding and inspiration in the leaders who came before us. When he was first offered a position to run Us Helping Us, Dr. Simmons wrote, “I am convinced that this is the work I was destined for. And there may be more work to do.”

This is our shared work – the work of healing and of liberation. And it is our work to carry forward now, in his memory and in the memory of all those we have lost. A better future is possible, and we can achieve it together.

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