Online Extra: Gays Across America: Initiative aims to end epidemic in U.S.
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A national coalition of faith leaders, religious groups, and community members known as The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative has released the latest version of its manual designed to help faith leaders address HIV.
"In the United States, the black community bears the greatest burden of the HIV epidemic, more than any other racial or ethnic group," initiative ambassador the Reverend William Francis, chief executive officer of Georgia's Atlanta Faith in Action, said in response to emailed questions from the Bay Area Reporter. "In fact, if black America were its own country, it would rank 16th in the world for new HIV infections."
The Black Church and HIV initiative, a partnership between the NAACP and Gilead Sciences, the HIV drug manufacturer, released "The Pastoral Brief and the Activity Manual" (http://theblackchurchandhiv.org/take-action/) in early April, in honor of Minority Health Month. The manual includes details about HIV and recommendations on how to combat HIV and AIDS in the black community.
Dr. Marjorie Innocent, the NAACP's senior director of health programs, said in a news release, "Historically, the black church has been instrumental in driving change on social justice issues. There is a growing need for pastors and the faith community to help address the alarming rates of HIV among African-Americans."
Francis, an African-American straight ally who's living with HIV, said that while black people make up only 12 percent of the country's population, they represent 41 percent of the population living with HIV/AIDS.
"There is an immediate need for faith leaders to take action for what is happening with HIV in the black community," he said. "For generations, the black church has been a leader for change in the black community on issues of social justice, including voting rights and employment opportunities. Today, we are applying this tradition of social justice advocacy to the HIV epidemic."
After Francis was diagnosed with HIV in 2009, he recalled, "I went to Bible study seeking solace. But what I got were faith leaders who immediately began to try and 'pray the gay spirit out of me,' even though I identify as heterosexual."
Francis said he was propelled to become a pastor specializing in HIV ministry after he got "damning" messages, rather than prayers for healing.
"I wound up leaving the church depressed, trying to figure out how to commit suicide and make it look like an accident," he said. Now, he trains other faith leaders to handle the topic sensitively through the initiative.
"We've got to reduce the stigma and shame," Francis said. "It's about taking the idea that this is a death sentence or a punishment from God off the table and preaching messages of hope and love."
National Day of Silence survey
A survey showing that many LGBTQs in the U.S. feel silenced is being released ahead of the National Day of Silence, which is Friday, April 21.
The survey, conducted April 3 by NationalToday.com, asked 1,000 Americans about their experiences with LGBTQ issues and rights.
According to the results, 61 percent of Americans have been bullied for being LGBTQ or know someone who has been, and 12 percent identify as LGBTQ.
The survey found that 10 percent of LGBTQs would take a vow of silence Thursday to support LGBTQ rights.
The Day of Silence was started by the national Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network in support of LGBTQ youth.
For more information, visit http://nationaltoday.com/us/day-silence .
Gays Across America is a column addressing LGBTQ issues nationwide. It runs most Tuesdays. Please submit comments or column ideas to Seth Hemmelgarn at (415) 875-9986 or firstname.lastname@example.org .