“…new careers were skyrocketing in the area of AIDS care, as was the attitudes of indifference towards non whites.”
“…’coalition newcomers’ actually represented the faltering agencies already set into place…people who were already clinically established still had to be galvanized through a leadership developed by alternative ‘outsider’ forces.”
Trouble In Black Paradise Chapter 15: A Demon Lurking In The Closet Of Mainstream Gay Organizing, pages 310-311.
Greetings charged-up readers!
Trouble in Black Paradise rumbles along, but a deadly foe now misses the nation’s radar.
The room was full of Black folks. A spirited setting glistened with an infusion of presence that sparkled. Soul food tradition, the cultural tie that binds, saw greens, fried chicken and cornbread shining central—calling up the air of a family picnic.
I’d generally be rejoicing at such a moment, so strangely rare in San Francisco not in a Black Church setting. Everyone knew though, this climate would soon be stormed by clouds baring treachery, confusion and statistical forebode.
The topic bringing these people together, mostly male and mostly gay (with a smidgeon of “others”) actually impacts the entire Black community. It really affects the entire world, though not drawing the headlines sparked by other “boiling over” issues.
Outside these walls the room’s constituents—their plight pressing the room’s urgency—wage those offstage battles, hugely in silence; a key segment seems strangely drowned out, even as desperate sounds see other justice collectives joining one another, screaming defiantly to the world that all Black Lives Matter.
I’m at the 2016 National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day event, annually held in February. The San Francisco Department of Public Health hosted this 2 hour forum at their offices. I had last attended the Awareness Day’s 2009 African-American MSM HIV Summit (an 8 hour event) held at SF’s LGBT Center.
MSM I soon discovered is “clinical speak” for Men who have Sex with Men but don’t identify as gay, bisexual, or any LGBT sector. It’s a slippery piece in the equation I’ll soon address—a pulse well rooted (having adapted through the ages) suited to transcend imaginary “boundaries”—the clandestine “tie that binds.”
I’ve been invited here by a new friend who’s slipped most unexpectedly into my chain of social interaction. He’d finally left our bar’s sideline to arouse my dialogue fancy, leaving me pleasantly speechless.
Cocktail chats grew frequent unfurling a broad tapestry of thrilling subject matter. The man’s far more connected to “nitty-gritty” issues—delight injecting my surprise as this impression sat backseat in placid air, during months of my casual watch before we finally meet.
Incidentally, we’re in the same Castro pub that set the subject of “visual imagery” I so criticized in my last blog. It’s key, as at that blog’s end I promised to tie the damaging crux of gay “visual matters” to this blog’s issue; I’d show how white gay mainstreamer’s—duplicating aspects of Black liberation shortsightedness (and neglect)—is bringing the same corrosion to the integrity of gay communal building, stunting it—without whites even knowing.
There’s a huge contrast though, to the white lad who launched that issue’s topic:
Person #2 (tied to this blog) carries none of the baggage that sadly sabotages the first guy’s progressive momentum. And #2 does turn plenty of heads in our pub of mostly Anglos. But how ironic: tucked in the broad range of hues yielded by spectrums of Blackness, most never suspect this man (baring such potent social perspective) is not white.
How marvelous! The city of St. Francis interestingly never fails to reveal nuggets of fine human interest.
But I digress with this ray of sunlight attacking integrated storms. #2 works for the hosting Health Department; he and other clinicians will solely observe, listening for nuggets of solutions. Hence his recognizing my depth of leadership and experience (indeed honoring it) bringing me here.
So let’s get to the “nitty-gritty”:
2016’s theme is “Our Voices—Bearing Witness.” Clinicians, social workers, caregivers and AIDS clients addressed the gathering, then an “open mic” forum (in the Afro tradition of involvement & input from everyone) was opened to the crowd. In this format as I expected, things quickly got hot!
First, what everyone should already know: Blacks by far are still the hardest hit, with women and MSM now the fastest rising cases—period.
And the goal: improve overall Black health & wellbeing to stop (at least slow down) transmission, stop “sero-conversion” from negative to positive and actually connect Blacks with effective resources that do exist.
The challenges to reaching and improving Black lives:
Condensed wretchedness in neighborhoods (huge economic deficiencies, addiction, mental illness); Black homophobia through the roof (“stigma” domino-effect intensifying isolation); booming mistrust of civic institutions (doctors, police, social workers, etc…); sinister racist climate in the white LGBT mainstream (an advanced resource hub); and no viable, cohesive Black gay “community.”
Now, the ever gloomy, worsening statistics:
Blacks make-up only 6% of S.F.’s population, but a whopping 12% of all AIDS cases and shockingly one full quarter of all deaths. MSM’s are considered to be at highest risk and make the fastest rising male cases. Pardon my English, but…damn!
So, what did the room’s “voices” have to say?
Towering frustration, confusion and even anger boiled from a young Black male agency employee, obviously in desperate need to vent—about his very agency. Revealed was nasty staff politics, insufficient support from higher-ups, lack of solid direction in effectively reaching clients (with critical services) and a management air practically screaming “detachment”—all running rampant.
Claimed was that he’d witnessed unjust firings of others he thought brought added ambition, or challenged systemic inadequacies. All this, added to grappling with horrendous Black social conditions and seeing medical regress (even while clinical breakthroughs advance) was frying his colleague’s ranks—clear-cut “burn out” which he also stressed being on the verge of. Isolation (virtually no supportive “shoulder” or resource for staff venting) suffocated him.
Attendees, one-by-one, began to echo him. Soon survivors and their partners chimed in with similar frustrations and untended anxieties, feeling like island castaways.
Just as I expected: seven years since the last summit find no progress; it’s only gotten worse. Adding injury to misery is the idea that such promising new “prevention” and “stabilizing” drugs are now available and no one knows just how to connect Black folks—who again are “missing out.”
Now, it was my turn.
More irony: six years ago I started writing Trouble In Black Paradise for especially everyone in this room—a specialized blueprint for cutting-edge posterity. Interestingly my pesky challenge is how to connect these folks—who themselves are “missing out”—the same way they wish to link up clients.
And now immediate necessity dictates.
Slightly shaking from heartbreak and anger I took the mic and a deep breath. Striving to be brief I proceeded to give this room a hearty wake-up call.
Distinctly unorthodox points come driving home, given fiery credence as my feisty trail speaks for itself.
To be continued…