World AIDS Day: A Personal Perspective

Dream Big Final

A message from WORLD Executive Director Cynthia Carey-Grant: I am My Brother’s Keeper

I am My Brother’s Keeper

This World AIDS Day, I want to commemorate the life of my younger brother Garrith, whom I lost to AIDS related complications, by challenging some divisive societal stereotypes and myths about HIV in the black community. It is the love for my brother that compels me to speak the truth about what I consider a thinly veiled racist and sexist power dynamic that pervades the HIV community. There is this assumption, often perpetuated by privileged gay white men, that black women and black men constitute separate communities. And more specifically as it relates to gay black men impacted by HIV and the black community, that we as HIV advocates must prioritize whose needs trumps everyone else’s. We are led to believe that it is unreasonable to expect that the needs of both can be met. And thus, gay black men are often pitted against black women in the competition for limited HIV services and resources. On more occasions then I care to remember, white men from establishment AIDS institutions have treated me as though I did not have the best interest of gay black men in mind if I advocated on behalf of women. This is fundamentally unacceptable to me as well as offensive. While I come to my work as an unapologetic women’s reproductive health activist, my personal experience as a black woman who lost her gay brother to AIDS shapes my perspective and fuels my dedication to end this epidemic in my community, period. My brother is not my enemy. I will not engage in a false construct that pits us against one another. I refuse to believe the allegation that the only way black women can rise up from HIV is by stepping on the backs of black gay men or vice versa.  I reject the whispers that suggest there is no love between us. I know from my own experience that the familiar bond between black women and gay black men is strong and deep. We both know the joy and pain that comes from loving men who have too often betrayed us with each other. The shame and indescribable despair of being rejected because we do not meet the definition of beauty and desirability fostered upon us by a dominant culture that denies us both belonging.

No, my brother is not my enemy. We are too much alike, have lived too much in common, have fought the same battles for equality, fairness and relief from the oppression of being branded unacceptable, undeserving, unlovable, different and disposable. I look into brother’s face and see the same smile, eyes, lips and rainbow of pigment I recognize and know as family. We are our brother’s keeper. We are the ones where love and hope has always lived. We are the ones that persevere and rise up no matter the trails, because we are resilient and refuse to accept that any of us are less than worthy. We are family. My brother’s pain is my pain, my tears fall from his eyes. There is something greater than our individual selves that bind us to each other, linking our fate and destiny so that one of us cannot rise without the other.

From the very start of the HIV epidemic, when AIDS was a so-called “gay white man’s” disease, women across the racial spectrum have been allies to and caretakers of our gay brothers.  Today, the face of HIV has changed. It is darker and in many places in the world, female. But the stigma-fueled discrimination and enormous disparity of health outcomes due to race, gender or geography remain the real tragedy in this epidemic. At a time when we have the advanced medical and technical means to contain HIV, too many people still die unnecessarily or live lives ravaged by the complications of unsuppressed HIV in their bodies. We cannot afford the illusion of “lack of resources” to divide us. We all know that, where there is the will, humans find the way. All we need do is look back at the history of this epidemic, at the heroic accomplishments of our gay brothers in the face of death, to find the prescription for our success. Unity, all of us or none.

Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. But my brother also keeps me. It is important that we remember we are in this together now more then ever, as we come closer to a cure. And I am heartened by the many gay men I have met, black and white, who understand the danger of unchecked health and social disparities and are brave enough to challenge the status quo. They are the ones who internalized the truth of the iconic motto, “Silence Equals Death.” I have had the privilege of working with a few of these leaders, especially through my affiliation with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and it’s “AIDS is a Civil Rights” campaign. This has made a difference in sustaining my inspiration and has kept my spirit positive when I have been faced with divisive attitudes. On this World Aids Day 2015, I salute all the warriors in the HIV community: men, women, trans*, gay, and straight, across the human race, working to bridge our differences for a greater cause. This is the legacy that allows us to dream big and propels us towards the ultimate end of this devastating epidemic.

I love you Garrith.