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Black Voices: Helping to Put an End to HIV Stigma

Meico Whitlock

Meico Whitlock

Editor’s Note: The National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors and The National Coalition of STD Directors launched this brief confidential survey Exit Disclaimer to learn about community attitudes and opinions related to health among Black and Latino gay men. Our Black Voices blogger, Meico Whitlock, encourages you to take the survey and explains its importance in addressing the stigma related to HIV. 

The HIV epidemic continues to impact thousands of Americans each year, especially young Black men who have sex with men (MSM) who bear a disproportionate burden of new infections. Despite the number of people who continue to be impacted by HIV, we have made significant progress in moving toward the end of the epidemic. Notable accomplishments include the development of a first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy (which just celebrated its 4-year anniversary), the availability of multiple antiretroviral medications as a single tablet regimen, new prevention strategies like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), emerging tools such as microbicides and expanded access to health care as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Despite this progress, we still have work to do with respect to one of the central challenges to promoting optimal sexual health and reducing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): STIGMA.

According to a national survey conducted by the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors Exit Disclaimer (NASTAD) and the National Coalition of STD Directors Exit Disclaimer (NCSD) and a new toolkit to address stigma among Black and Latino gay men Exit Disclaimer [PDF 3 MB], the Black community and sexual minorities experience higher levels of race-, sexual orientation-, gender-, and HIV status-based institutionalized stigma compared to other groups. These experiences have an impact on access to health care and the quality of care individuals in these communities receive.

Even as a Black same-gender loving man who has worked in the HIV field for nearly five years with the support of a wonderful network of family, friends, and colleagues, I‘ve internalized some of the stigma perpetuated by the larger society around HIV, race, and sexual orientation. This was apparent to me during a recent visit to a local pharmacy when I noticed that new home HIV test kits were available. The only problem was that they were locked away in a glass case, requiring the assistance of the pharmacist or another store employee to purchase one. As curious as I was to see the new test kits and purchase one, I was reluctant to ask for assistance. Now, why is this? The answer is complex for sure, but stigma definitely factored into my decision to leave the store without a test kit.

Given the urgency of addressing the HIV epidemic among Black and Latino men and the role stigma plays in fueling it, NASTAD and NCSD have relaunched an updated survey Exit Disclaimer to assess stigma in public health practice. The survey is intended for health department and community-based organization (CBO) staff, health providers, and community members. The information gathered from this survey will provide additional information to further national efforts to reduce stigma in public health practice. Wondering how you can help with this initiative? Take five minutes to complete this brief survey Exit Disclaimer. The survey will remain open until July 21, 2014.

We want to hear for you! How are you addressing HIV-related stigma in your community? Tell us how by leaving a comment below.