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African American Leaders Mobilize Against HIV/AIDS
by Jon Garbo

In response to the alarmingly high rates of HIV infection among African American men who have sex with men (MSM), African American community leaders called on President Bush to step up efforts to fight the disease and to declare HIV/AIDS a national state of emergency, Reuters reported June 8.

"Homophobia is as morally wrong and as unacceptable as racism." -- Coretta Scott King
According to a six-city study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as three in ten African American MSM age 23 to 29 are infected with HIV -- around four times the rate of Caucasian MSM that age.

The leadersí plea came on the heels of the "Meeting of the Millennium," a two day gathering in Atlanta, GA organized by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Medical Association and the Surgeon Generalís Leadership Campaign on AIDS. Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline provided financial support for the meeting.

"As we mark 20 years since the AIDS epidemic [was first identified], we are seeing some of the highest AIDS infection rates ever reported in the black community," Reuters quoted Coretta Scott King, the wife of the late Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., as saying. "The struggle to prevent the spread of AIDS and the suffering that accompanies AIDS are made more difficult by the bigotry and prejudice that exists today towards gay people."

"African American youth must understand that homophobia is as morally wrong and as unacceptable as racism," King added.

During the meeting, the leaders -- who included former New York City mayor David Dinkins and Rep. Donna M. Christian-Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) -- drafted a five-point plan of action to combat HIV/AIDS. The plan calls for:

  • Additional outreach programs;
  • Housing for people with HIV/AIDS;
  • Resources to be directed to areas where they are most needed;
  • The elimination of racial and ethnic disparities in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; and
  • Better efforts to address HIV/AIDS issues in Africa.

"It is incredibly historic to have a public display of the civil rights leadership of the black community in America stand up to say that they are now committed to establishing a state of emergency in the United States on AIDS," Ernest C. Hopkins, director of federal affairs with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, told Reuters. "This kind of new initiative really does give us an opportunity to inspire people of color to think that this disease really can affect them."

Updated: Tuesday, June 12th 2001


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