The sexual health and wellness of Black gay men are a critical concern in the fight against HIV. In 2006, APLA Health launched the African American Gay Men’s Health Initiative (AAGMHI). The mission of the AAGMHI is to advocate for Black gay men’s needs by inviting them to build a community that will reduce the incidence of HIV and other STIs and promote wellness in the Black community. AAGMHI addresses co-factors such as homophobia, discrimination, and other stigmas that play a role in risk-taking behavior by capitalizing on the strengths and resiliency of Black gay men. The initiative consisted of many components and, throughout the years, has addressed the needs of Black gay men via various strategies.
Many Men Many Voices (3MV), which was funded by the Los Angeles County Division of HIV and STD programs, fell under the AAGMHI umbrella. It is a group-level intervention consisting of seven sessions designed to prevent HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among Black MSM, who may or may not identify themselves as gay. 3MV addressed factors that influence Black gay men’s behavior, including cultural, social, and religious norms, interactions between HIV and other STIs, sexual relationship dynamics, and the social influences that racism and homophobia have on HIV risk behaviors.
In 2011, 3MV underwent a rebrand and changed its name to Unique Brothers United (UBU). Both community and participants welcomed the new look and feel of the program. As UBU flourished, those who were involved appreciated the safe space it provided. Along with formalized groups program, staff created a special Friday night drop-in called “B 4 Da Club,” which was unrelated to the more formalized workshops. The weekly drop-in groups allowed Black gay men to vent, exhale, regroup, and bond in a nonjudgmental and casual setting created specifically for them.
Unfortunately, UBU will discontinue on July 1, 2020, thus ending the 14-year run of an intervention that was a staple within the organization. Although the loss of UBU is significant, APLA Health remains committed to providing Black gay and bisexual men services in the areas of HIV testing, healthcare, education, and support.
Since its inception, Darrin Aiken, Program Coordinator, AAGMHI, has driven the vehicle. His vision and expertise in the areas of HIV, substance abuse/use, and sexual health have been critical drivers of the program. Throughout the years, UBU connected with more than 2,000 Black gay and bisexual men of all ages. Nearly 800 of them have received services to include HIV/STD testing, one-on-one Health Navigation services, group-level interventions, and linkage to biomedical HIV prevention services. Additionally, they successfully sustained a core group of Black MSM who served as liaisons between the program and the target demographic. These individuals worked closely with staff and guided how to strengthen outreach, recruitment, and program flow. It is because of their support that 3MV was able to meet objectives and continue the work.
UBU was more than a sexual health program where Black gay men received sexual health support services. It evolved into so much more. Staff provided participants with tools that could help them craft out a better existence for themselves and the community. Clients entered the intervention with various needs and received help to overcome those obstacles. The overall desire of staff is that the seeds they planted will be watered, nourished, and used to further the work of both UBU and APLA Health as a whole.
African American Gay Men's Health Initiative
Black men who have sex with men suffer among the highest HIV rates of any population in the world.
A U.S. study shows that 46%—or 1 in 2—Black men who have sex with men may be HIV-positive. Here in Los Angeles, reports show that 33 to 36%—1 in 3—Black men who have sex with men may be HIV-positive. In both cases, too many men are unaware of their infection.
The time has come to “Flip the Script.”
These statistics are staggering, yet Black gay men have the power and strength to reverse them by learning about HIV and how to protect themselves and their community.
“Let’s Flip the Script” is a project undertaken by the African American Gay Men’s Health Initiative (AAGMHI) and sponsored by APLA Health.
The mission of the AAGMHI is to advocate for the needs of Black gay men by inviting them to take part in building a community that will reduce the incidence of HIV and other STIs and promote wellness in the Black community. AAGMHI addresses co-factors such as homophobia, discrimination and other stigmas that play a role in risk-taking behavior by capitalizing on the strengths and resiliency of Black gay men.
One essential way that you can flip the script is to know your HIV status. You can get information on the different ways to be tested and kinds of HIV tests, along with an explanation of test results, by contacting the Gleicher/ Chen Health Center in Baldwin Hills at 323.329.9900 or the Long Beach Health Center at 562.432.7300.
Another way to flip the script is to seek medical care if you have HIV. With an early diagnosis and advances in treatment, HIV-positive people can lead fulfilling, productive lives. For more information about medical care and other support services offered in the care and treatment of HIV-positive people—including support groups, housing assistance, and counseling services, to just to name a few—contact the Gleicher/Chen Health Center at 323.329.9900.
Other Ways to Flip the Script
- Encourage your friends and family members to get tested for HIV/STDs.
- If you are HIV-positive, get access to medical care now and learn about your treatment options.
- If you are HIV-negative, find support to stay that way.
- If you are HIV-negative, talk to a doctor about PrEP.
- Find help if substance abuse is an issue for you.
- Join a support/rap group to build and sustain a sense of community and wellness.
- Utilize spiritual resources as a means to maintain wellness.
- Encourage dialogue about HIV with family, friends and sexual partners.
- Be open about your identity as gay or same gender-loving men.
- Address homophobia and racism in your community.
- Become involved in HIV policy and advocacy efforts.