Phil Wilson on black homophobia, HIV/AIDS

Black AIDS Institute CEO Phil Wilson recently attended the annual convention for the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the largest organization for black newspapers in the United States. For many years, there has been a reluctance to discuss HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia in the black community. Wilson, who is openly gay and HIV positive, tells it like it is.

From Seattle Medium:

“We started in a bad place,” Wilson said in an interview before addressing the annual convention of the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA). “We started with the conventional wisdom that AIDS was about White gay men. So we got a free get out of jail card – it was about White people. If I am honest, I was included in that group.

“Secondly, it was about gay people and for most African-Americans, that means that it was not about us. Thirdly, we already had a full plate. AIDS really hit in 1980 to 1982 and we were dealing with unemployment, we were dealing with poverty, we were about to deal with welfare reform. There were all these issues that we were busy with. So this was an issue that we didn’t want to be a part of and we could make the excuse that all these other issues were more important.”

In the early 1980s, there were no Hollywood celebrities adopting HIV/AIDS as their pet project. For Blacks, confronting the issue of HIV/AIDS, there were also other considerations.

“There is an increased reluctance to take on any other possibility to be further stigmatized,” Wilson explained. “So, ‘I’m not willing to take on the banner of homosexuality and I’m not willing to take on the banner of drug use and I’m not willing to take on the banner of having a deadly disease.’”

Wilson began taking up those banners when he helped organize a candlelight vigil for AIDS victims in Los Angeles during the early stages of the epidemic. The issue became personal when Wilson, who is openly gay, learned in 1980 that he was HIV positive. His partner died of AIDS nine years later.

Unlike many Blacks, Wilson does not believe that homophia is any worse among African-Americans than Whites. However, he says, the rejection is much more painful.

“For Black and gay lesbians, we need our community to protect us against the bias of racism. Where do I go when I am called a nigger? I go to our church. I go to my mama and pappa – that’s where I go.

“But when I’m called a faggot, I don’t got anywhere else to go,” Wilson said, intentionally selecting his words for impact. “And particularly if the people who are calling me a faggot are my mommy, my daddy and my church.”

Wilson said White gay men have a different reality.

“When you are a White gay man, you’re still a White man and all of the privileges that go with being a White man are delivered to you,” he explained. “When I am a Black gay man, at the end of the day, I still have to be a Black man in America.”

As you all know, I have worked in the black press for a while now, and I have written articles here and there about these issues. Much of this discussion of battling stigma needs to be taking place in the black media, and I hope Wilson's attendence at the convention is a step forward.

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