According to the 2005 CDC report African Americans accounted for: 49% of New HIV/AIDS diagnoses, 65% of infants perinatally infected with HIV, 61% of persons under the age of 25 diagnosed with HIV/AIDS,and 50% of the AIDS cases diagnosed.  Among the “risk factors and barriers to prevention” listed in the study is homophobia and stigma.  While the CDC does not and cannot make this observation, it is my strong opinion that: In this 21st century, homophobia and stigma are THE PRIMARY barriers to prevention!

What prevailing support does the African American community, especially its churches offer African Americans who want to disclose their sexual orientation and live open, emotionally healthy lifestyles?  Some would say, “Not jack!”  In fact, the stigma placed upon black men who have sex with men (what the CDC calls “MSM”) comes as ridicule and ostracism.  What incentive does a gay, bi-sexual or transgendered man have to disclose their sexual orientation within a community that would mock and reject them?

When my oldest brother was diagnosed with HIV in 1990 (the years before the “cocktails”) he was a master musician within a church which benefited and grew in large numbers as persons were attracted to the Sunday morning ministry of the choir.  To this day, I have an album upon which most of the music recorded was authored by my brother, a brilliant composer, out gay man and Army veteran. He died early 1991, within months of his diagnosis.  Strange though, after all these years, two years ago, as I stood in his church speaking of him with one of the senior members, she spoke of his orientation in a disarming whisper signaling the continued anti-gay and highly conservative context of its membership.  How tragic!  They would “accept” my brother in all his boldness only in terms of the  “performance” his gifts and talents provided but never his total person-hood.

I salute my brother because he was “grand”.  But there are so many others who have seen the oppression within their churches and who have no intention of being made the brunt of abusive behavior at the hands of church leaders and community members.  And so they sleep in denial and “love” in silence.  Living and loving in a community with the highest rate of STDs in America makes the refusal to disclose and get tested for HIV/AIDS a deadly dynamic.

I know my friends within the reconciling movement are busy with LGBT ordination and membership rights within our churches.  I know we bristle when confronted with the lack of integrity among bishops who are supposed to be allies.  I know we long for the right to bless covenantal relationships in our churches.  BUT HIV/AIDS disproportionately affecting African Americans is a health crisis we must address!  We cannot afford to let this event sit on the sideline of our agenda if we in fact want to be seen as a viable agency of support within the African American LGBT community, and indeed among ourselves.

Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey

Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey is an ordained elder of the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as Associate Dean for Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University School of Theology. She is the author of “Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology: and
serves as co-chair of the Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group of the American Academy of Religion. An Army veteran and mother whose son served in Iraq, Dr. Lightsey is active in social justice ministries but particularly those focusing on global peace, LGBTQ civil rights, eradicating racism and the engagement of viable reconciliation methodologies. RMN’s history and work is contiguous with her own experiences. She has worked with RMN and supported its several programs and is happy to offer her scholarship and ministry skills to the organization. Pamela hopes to help RMN especially to understand and further support the unique challenges of being a queer person of color.
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