Greg Millett: Yes, Black gay lives matter
Gregorio Millett, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of National AIDS Policy.
While “Black lives matter” has become a rallying cry across the United States in recent months, Gregorio Millett, vice president and director of public policy at the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), is asking a different question. He wants to know whether Black gay lives matter, particularly when it comes to fighting HIV.
The number of HIV infections has been decreasing across the globe, but the news isn’t so good for everyone. In 2013, among MSM, Blacks accounted for 40 percent of AIDS diagnoses. In comparison, 32 percent of those diagnosed were white and 23 percent were Latino. Young Black MSM have been hit particularly hard, accounting for the most new HIV infections in 2010 among all gay and bisexual men.
“Black gay and bisexual men are believed to represent less than 1 percent of the nation’s population, but we represent an estimated one-quarter of all new infections every year,” Millett told the Black AIDS Institute.
Millett has been on a crusade to bring more awareness to the plight of Black MSM. In fact, a new report by amfAR says that the United States’ inability to address the HIV epidemic effectively among Black MSM is one of the greatest failures of the national HIV/AIDS response.
Heeding a Call
For Millett, an epidemiologist and researcher, the fight against HIV is personal. In an interview with the medical journal The Lancet, Millett de-scribed losing many friends to AIDS, saying that in his college years, he could “easily name 15 people who had died in the last two years.” He lent his voice to the cause as an activist, taking part in rallies and die-ins. Then, after receiving a Bachelor of Arts in history and sociology from Dartmouth College and a Master of Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Millett began his path to fighting HIV/AIDS through science and public policy.
Millett has helped develop HIV policy at the highest levels of the federal government.
As a senior policy adviser in the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, he helped shape the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, serving as one of three principal writers of the document. He also contributed to efforts to end the ban prohibiting HIV-positive people from traveling to the United States, lift restrictions keeping federal dollars from being spent on needle-exchange programs and reallocate the most HIV resources to areas most affected by the virus. Millett was also the Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) liaison to the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.
Before working at the White House, Millett was a senior behavioral scientist in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC in Atlanta. There, he wrote numerous peer-reviewed articles for such leading public health journals as JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Health Affairs and AIDS. He tackled topics such as racial and ethnic disparities in HIV rates among MSM and the relationship between circumcision and HIV infection. In fact, Millett was one of the first researchers to find that male circumcision is not effective in preventing HIV.
A Crusader for MSM
Throughout his career, Millett has worked tirelessly to give Black MSM a voice when others have seemingly tried to silence them. “We have not done enough to address the epidemic amongst gay and bisexual men—for many reasons, a lot of it dealing with institutional homophobia,” he told the Black AIDS Institute. “We are failing this population.”
He also holds the Black community accountable. “Black leaders still don’t talk about gay Black men—as if they are not a part of the community,” Millett said. “This is problematic.”
Bringing awareness to a problem and working to change it are two different strategies. Millett is committed to both: “We need to show Black gay men that their lives matter.”
Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about health, wealth and personal growth.