Counter Narrative Project Statement on National HIV Testing Day 2016 (#NHTD)

If current HIV prevention, care, and treatment efforts remain the same, 1-in-2 Black gay men men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.

Reaction:

"sobering"

"alarming"

"urgent"

Yet, despite this shocking research and grave words presented at the 2016 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) earlier this year by CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention Director, Eugene McCray, the larger public health community continues to ignore the ineffectiveness of the response. The HIV prevention toolbox has grown. We have celebrated biomedical advances in prevention and treatment. The Affordable Care Act has expanded access to health care. With all the promise in reducing risk for acquiring HIV, we must ask:

"How are we still failing Black gay men in 2016?"

While the data paints a complex picture of what we are up against, what it lacks is the clarity of the path forward. As a result, the response has become fearfully formulaic and increasingly predictable:  we simply must go beyond increasing testing frequency, pushing condoms or placing all our collective faith in PrEP. These important tools will be powerless without a radical shift to our approach in community engagement for Black gay men in testing, prevention and care.

This National HIV Testing Day we call for an urgent, fundamental shift from the paradigm of risk, to a broader, bolder strategic vision that is rooted in responding to structural vulnerability, particularly in the South.

When we as Black gay men get tested for HIV, we make ourselves vulnerable: Silenced by stigma. Shackled by criminalization. Restricted by imprisonment. Targeted by homophobia. Reduced by racism. While testing is the first step to care and viral suppression, many Black gay men are often already suppressed in their voice, identity and truths.

To counter this narrative, testing can no longer be treated as a singular event, but must be made into a moment to respond to vulnerabilities and center the strengths of Black gay men. Prevention must mean loosening the reigns of a "cascade of injustice" comprising criminalization, racism and stigma. Testing for the truth, must mean allowing Black gay men to walk in their full truth without fear of losing their identity or respectability. Black gay culture and history must be rooted in our response moving forward as way to empower sexuality and embrace the diverse identities of Black gay men.

Only in boldly changing our response to address our vulnerability, will the startling statistics burdening our community approach zero. Only then will the narrative of all Black gay men become one of:

Liberation

Celebration

Affirmation.

#NHTD

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