This Thursday is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, but although awareness has increased, the rate of infection for some members of the black community has also increased.
Since 2000, there have been no decreases in the number of black homosexual men contracting HIV in Chicago. In a December 2012 report released by the Chicago Department for Public Health, black homosexual men make up a third of new HIV cases in the city.
“When we talk about HIV, we are typically talking about groups of people who have been marginalized,” said Johnathon Briggs, chief officer for external relations for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “The stigma of being gay is often a risk factor in the African-American community. We found that gay men who experienced adverse childhood events were more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors.”
The lack of economic and educational opportunities in many African-American communities, combined with social stigma, all contribute to the troubling numbers of HIV contraction for black homosexual men in Chicago, according to Briggs.
“It’s a complex issue, there are structural barriers that exists for many different races. That’s why it’s so important to look at the context for each city,” Briggs said.
While African-Americans make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 44 percent of new HIV cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
To commemorate the day, as well as address the issue, the Illinois State University chapter of the NAACP is hosting a free HIV testing drive. They are encouraging people of all races to get tested.
“For our generation, I think we forget that it is still a problem,” said Raven Nance, a member of ISU’s NAACP chapter and organizer of the drive. “We want people to know that it is okay to get tested, and that they should get tested. For the younger generation, it’s about urging safer sex and better sex education.”
While Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a time to get a “safer sex” message out to the community, Briggs urges action all year round.
“Black AIDS Awareness Day, World AIDS Day -- those days are everyday,” Briggs said. “Everyday is a day to focus on the changes that can be made in both health care and social injustice to combat infection rates.”