Michael Crawford

Wiping Out Anti-Gay Stigma in Black Communities

Filed By Michael Crawford | October 16, 2007 4:25 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: black gay men, HIV prevention, homophobic behavior

For more than 20 years Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) has been on the cutting edge of creating programs that educate and empower gay and bisexual men of African Descent. The organization's current social marketing campaign Wipe Out! focuses on raising awareness about the impact of anti-gay discrimination and HIV-related stigma in the Black community.

I had the chance to ask Donald Powell, GMAD's director of Anti-Stigma Interventions some questions about the group's work.

MC: Please explain the work of GMAD and its focus on gay men in Black communities.

DP: GMAD has served the needs of Black gay/bisexual and other men of African descent who experience same-sex desire for 21 years. We provide educational, mental health, advocacy, and health promotion support for the members of our constituency delivered by qualified staff in ways that acknowledge the context in which these men live their lives. All services and initiatives are designed to advance the organization’s mission “to empower gay men of African descent through education, advocacy, health and; wellness promotion and social support.” GMAD was founded at a time when there were no opportunities and physical spaces for black gay, bisexual and transgender men to meet socially and address issues that affected them. Despite major improvements that have taken place in the lives of our community, black gay men still face enormous challenges around acceptance, discrimination, health issues that make the work of GMAD still very relevant.

MC: You focus on a program called "Anti-Stigma Interventions." How long has the program been active and what are its key goals?

DP: Anti-Stigma interventions actually are a series of initiatives to provide individual, group, and community level activities that seek to mobilize support both from within the ranks of Black Gay Men and the larger communities which we remain emotionally and spiritually tied to. You are aware of our social marketing campaign Wipe Out! which includes the Words Kill Too image, but we also have developed an HIV prevention campaign, PnP (‘ProtectnPreserve).

The Wipe Out! campaign started this Spring and continues through 2009, with new additions every year. We are currently running a second campaign on the MTA (NYC subway system) and a third one is scheduled to be unveiled in November.

We provide free training on the components of stigma and discrimination as they relate to Black men with same-sex desire who are (or perceived to be) HIV+ to community service providers, faith-based leaders, and the staff of primary health care and substance abuse treatment modalities. We are also working with a prominent research scientist to develop an intervention for Black men to help them examine and address, with the support of their peers, the effects of stigma and discrimination on their overall mental health and the impact on their decision making processes. Finally, we work in Coalition with local and national organizations to end hate music in all genres of music and create protections for our LGBT brothers and sisters in other regions of the world. More information on all these initiatives can be found at the Project’s website, www.wipeoutstigma.com.

MC: GMAD has run a number of public educational campaigns focused on increasing awareness of anti-gay attitudes in Black communities. Can you describe some of these campaigns and the hoped for impact?

DP: GMAD has continuously worked with community members and stakeholders to develop timely, relevant social marketing campaigns since 1999. Like our programs, campaigns have been diverse, focusing on recognizing and fighting stigma, specific campaigns to focus on both our young adults (<24) and our elders (50+). Within the community we have striven to educate members on issues ranging from syphilis diagnosis/treatment to crystal methamphetamine use/addiction. Within the context of the larger Black communities, we have sought to underscore the negative impacts of stigma and discrimination on health-seeking behaviors (i.e. regular HIV testing, STI screening, access to mental health).

MC: Your latest campaign is Words Kill….Too. Can you describe the campaign and the response that you have received in the targeted communities?

DP: The Words Kill Too visual is a part of our Wipe Out! project. Currently placed in several subway stations in the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, it has received wide-spread attention. It’s been up two weeks to date, and we’ve received several calls and emails from across the city responding to the message. Over thirty organizations and city agencies have requested either palmcards or posters of the visuals. The overwhelming reaction has been positive with regards to the visual impact and how effectively the message is conveyed. Many who have called with their feedback have talked about the sense of pride they got from seeing a campaign by and about black gay men.

MC: Are there plans to widen the campaign to include more neighborhoods in NYC or even take it national?

DP: As an organization with a 20-year history of being a resource for Black Gay Men locally and nationally, we are always researching new approaches to expanding the work that we do to areas where we can promote dialogue and action around the lives and concerns of the men we were founded to serve. Currently, we are in negotiation with Titan Media to expand the reach of the Wipe Out! Project by advertising on NYC buses in the four boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx. We will also be launching additional materials at the end of the year. In the internet age, we would be remiss if we did not have the campaign on our website. This is bound to lead to a wider reach market not only nationally, but hopefully internationally. We have recently received inquiries from Kenya and are very excited to be sharing the campaign with them.

To review or receive any of GMAD’s social marketing materials, or discuss ways in which you can support any of these initiatives, please contact our Anti-Stigma Interventions Director, Donald R. Powell at 212.828.1697 ext. 120 or the Stigma and Discrimination Trainer, Aundaray Guess at 212.828.1697 ext. 133.

MC: What kind of changes in attitudes towards LGBT people have you seen in Black communities because of GMAD's work?

DP: In recent years, we are proud to have forged partnerships with churches in the Black community in Harlem such as Riverside (through their LGBT ministry, Maranatha), Second Providence and Memorial Baptist. We have partnered with these respected institutions to create dialogue around such taboo issues as incarceration/re-entry, LGBT families, and provide HIV testing support for several church-sponsored health fairs.

I believe that in our six years of providing services from a physical location in Harlem, we have been well-received and have formed solid partnerships which include legislative & policy-making support that assist us in our fight to eradicate stigma and discrimination on all fronts. In addition, being physically located in the community and providing services at public events has resulted in opportunities to address people’s misperceptions about black gay men and in so doing, create opportunities for better understanding of the commonalities we share with the wider community.

MC: What are some ways that Black LGBT people can speak out against anti-gay slurs in their communities?

DP: First, we need to take a stand and make a choice not to embrace or support that which does not embrace or support us. It is important that we, like all Black peoples, utilize our dollar, our voice, and our vote to speak out against oppression in all its forms (racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, and ageism). It is very critical for black gays to find ways to become more visible where they live or work. The more visible we are through our everyday lives, the greater the opportunities there will be to change people’s misconceptions of us. It also will dispel the myth that we are ashamed of who we are and would rather live our lives in the dark. Finally, it is important to support organizations like GMAD and the National Black Justice Coalition that exist to raise awareness about the black gay reality and to empower the community to live free of fear and intimidation.

MC: How can people interested find out more about GMAD?

DP: They can visit our website at www.gmad.org or for specific information on our anti-stigma interventions, visit the www.wipeoutstigma.com website. They can call our office any business day between 9:00a and 6:00p @ 212.828.1697.

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Great interview, Michael. I hope GMAD is successful in their efforts.