Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Dying for Resources: AIDS Activists in New York City Analyzed the Racial Impact of the Epidemic-And Won an Unprecedented $5 Million from the City from Communities of Color

Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Dying for Resources: AIDS Activists in New York City Analyzed the Racial Impact of the Epidemic-And Won an Unprecedented $5 Million from the City from Communities of Color

Article excerpt

HIV/AIDS infections have been on the increase in New York City's communities of color since the start of the syndrome's crisis.

But initially, most of the funding for prevention and for education programs to combat the disease was directed toward organizations that had little contact with people of color.

Jennifer Flynn of the AIDS Housing Network notes that Latino and black men were the first people of color to show high incidences of HIV/AIDS infections. As early as October 1986, the cumulative incidence of AIDS among blacks and Latinos registered at more than three times the incidence rate for whites. In 1988, the Centers for Disease Control had determined that African American men and women each accounted for 70 percent of all AIDS cases in their respective gender groups. By 1999, experts were estimating that 1 out of every 50 African American men and 1 of every 160 African American women was infected with HIV. Yet among whites, 1 in 250 white men and one in 3,000 white women were infected.

As statistic after statistic came out showing that in certain communities the rates of HIV/AIDS was rising, and that in others a large decrease could be seen, the obvious question became why weren't monies being provided to the communities where HIV/AIDS was having the most devastating effect?

In the 1990s, it took protests, political actions, and agit-prop activism to get New York City's government to realize that prohibitive measures were necessary to fight the onslaught of HIV/AIDS. The predominantly white, gay activists of ACT-UP took the fight for the funding of HIV/AIDS-service groups to the streets. By disrupting social gatherings and storming press conferences, ACT-UP made certain legislators see that there were people being affected by and dying from a then virulent, but little understood disease.

Groups serving mostly white, gay groups were the impetus for getting monies to combat HIV/AIDS. And, for years, these groups were granted the major portion of the HIV/AIDS funding.

"It was clear that prevention worked," Jennifer Flynn says, "because there were less white gay men being affected." But because New York City's people of color were not turning to white, gay HIV/AIDS prevention groups when they wanted information about the disease, the epidemic continued to spread.

By January of 2000, the Centers for Disease Control reported that, for the first time since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the majority of new HIV/AIDS cases could be found among African American and Latino men. That announcement was enough for the National Black Leadership Commission, the Latino Commission on AIDS, and Gay Men of African Descent to come together and declare their communities in a state of emergency.

At the time, media reports claimed that white gay men had been able to combat HIV transmissions because they'd educated themselves about condom use and had begun using prevention measures. Presumably, cultural homophobia and an attendant lack of HIV prevention and treatment services were leading to an increase in HIV infections in communities of color. Community organizations and cultural networks were encouraged to deal with their homophobic issues, if they wanted to decrease HIV infections.

But one organization, the New York City-based public policy advocacy group, Housing Works, used the Centers for Disease Control data and local New York state statistics to show how a funding disparity toward HIV/AIDS groups was just as much to blame for the high incidence rates in communities of color.

In January 2001, Housing Works published a report stating that persons of color made up over 83 percent of new AIDS cases confirmed in 1999, according to the New York State Department of Health. People of color made up the vast majority of the 56,698 people living with AIDS in New York by mid-2000. Forty-three percent were African American and 32 percent Latino. …

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