This is the first time I’ve written to you so please forgive me if I ramble. I started PrEP because my boyfriend is HIV-positive and I am HIV-negative and plan to stay that way. I’m black and he is white, and our friends are a reflection of us. What I mean to say is that we have a diverse group of friends.
I went to my doctor right after PrEP came out and he and I talked about it. We both agreed that going on PrEP would be a good idea for me. At first I had some stomach pain when I went on PrEP the first time but it subsided. I think of myself as an educated man and knowledgeable about PrEP, but there is something I don’t understand. Why is it that it seems Black gay men are not being educated on PrEP?
—Educated Black Man
My fellow educated Black man, you pose a very interesting question. In public health we often accidentally think that one advertisement is going to work for all communities. But this is not always so.
When PrEP first came out, public health professionals made sure that it was geared toward the target population, gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM). The reason why is because these groups have higher HIV incidence rates than a lot of other populations. Public health professionals who work in the HIV field must find places where Black gay men and MSM frequent, so that they can disseminate information on public health issues, causes, information, etc.
The lack of PrEP education may be due to limited resources. In major cities information on PrEP might be more available because of the resources that that city has.
But leadership is key when it comes to spreading the word about PrEP. We have to also rely on community leaders of certain demographics to come out in support of PrEP. The reason why is because those same community leaders are examples that people follow and some or most of them are advocates for change in their own communities. Their communities also trust those community leaders more than they trust anyone else who tells them about or how to prevent a public health issue.
Let me take this opportunity to not only suggest something not only to you, Educated Black Man, but all Black gay men and MSM that are on PrEP. Now is the time for you to become community leaders. The more and more that you speak to the Black gay and MSM community the more information they are going to be able to get the information that they need on PrEP, thereby protecting themselves from HIV. A lot of people will not do this because they are scared of the stigma that is associated with taking PrEP.
Fuck that and fuck PrEP stigma. But, honestly, you’ve noticed a hole—now fill it (no pun intended). By hole I mean the one in the public health arena. I’ve always had a high respect for anyone who sees an issue and doesn’t merely talk about it but puts a plan of action in place. I don’t know you at all but I think that you might want to seriously take some time and think of what it would mean to your community if you came out as an Advocate/Activist for PrEP. I’m not sure what state you are in, but if this is the path that you want to go down, then I suggest contacting a local and more powerful non-profit that is advocating for PrEP. Get information from that organization on PrEP and begin to ask places if you can disseminate information. This is your community and it needs you. We must all band together to stop the stigma that stifles our community to create a healthier tomorrow.
We need to be able to step up and stand out. Finally, I will leave you with these very wise words from the civil rights activist and another Educated Black Man, Bayard Rustin: “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”
Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Presently, he is working toward his doctorate in public health. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].