An SOS call for Black gay men that is being answered
By Tamara E. Holmes
While some talk about what others can do for them, Black gay men in the South are sending the message that they must take their salvation into their own hands by holding the second annual Saving Ourselves Symposium June 5-7, 2014.
“Until we take an active role in our own lives, we’re not going to be saved,” says Marvin L. Terry II, founder and executive director of symposium organizer the Red Door Foundation, a Memphis, Tenn.-based organization that works to decrease the incidence of HIV/AIDS in the South. “It’s important that we rise up and take the lead in the movement to eradicate HIV/AIDS, particularly in the South.”
Indeed, the South carries the burden of the epidemic. According to the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative, the percentage of new HIV diagnoses among Black MSM increased fastest in Southern states. Not only that, but in 2011, Southern states had the highest number of PLWHA of any region in the U.S.
“The South is very unique in the fight against HIV because there are many rural pockets in the South where individuals don’t have access to health care or, if they do have access, it’s not the quality that one should have,” Terry says.
Other factors contributing to high HIV/AIDS rates in the South include the homophobia that affects Black MSM everywhere; stigma, which often keeps people from getting treatment; and poverty, which can lead to transactional sex that puts people at risk of HIV”, Terry adds.
The theme of the symposium
is “I Am Enough!” “Being gay, you often see mixed messages that you’re not enough or you’re inadequate to do things you need to do,” Terry says.
Having been diagnosed with HIV at 19, Terry, who is now 28, hopes that the symposium will empower Black men to become leaders in their communities. “For me, there was an evolution of coming to grips with my HIV status and with being a Black gay male and trying to be part of a national movement,” he says. The goal of the symposium is to get others to do the same.
The symposium will offer training on ways to serve Black gay youths and men effectively. It will also feature workshops and forums on such topics as HIV prevention, relationships and leadership, and will touch on issues such as mental health and cultural sensitivity.
Some broader issues will also be explored. The symposium will address social and structural determinants of HIV, such as mass incarceration, poverty, homelessness and discrimination, Terry says. Organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club and a number of faith leaders in the Memphis area will also be in attendance.
One of the highlights of the symposium will be the screening of Dear Dad: Letters From Same Gender Loving Sons, a documentary that highlights the conversations between Black fathers and their gay sons. Chase Simmons, the filmmaker, was inspired to create it after seeing some of his friends struggle with their relationships with their fathers. He believes that the film can help reduce stigma experienced by Black gay men.