Statement: ll Dec. 24, 2007
December 24, 2007
The Black AIDS Institute mourns the death of one of Black America's shining stars this holiday. Thomas Morgan, former New York Times editor and trailblazing ex-president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), died Dec. 24 of an AIDS-related heart attack, according to NABJ and friends. He was 52.
Morgan lived for 20 years as an openly HIV-positive, gay man and worked in some of America's largest, most influential newsrooms. He was a reporter and editor at the Times, The Washington Post and the Miami Herald. From 1989 to 1991, he presided over one of NABJ's most explosive periods of growth and organization.
"He had the ability to walk into a room divided and help those who held opposing viewpoints find common ground," said NABJ President Barbara Ciara in a statement announcing Morgan's death. "His loss is not only a personal one for me, but a great loss for NABJ. As recent as last week he was making his voice heard as we debated the recent FCC ruling affecting minority media ownership. I will miss his counsel, his dedication to NABJ, and most of all his friendship."
In the years following his presidency, Morgan was a tireless advocate on behalf of fellow gay and HIV-positive journalists of color, both within NABJ and in the news industry at-large. And he always stepped forward to help all journalists learn to cover the HIV/AIDS epidemic smartly and compassionately. "I want members to know," he told the NABJ Journal in 1995, "that AIDS is a disease no different than things like breast cancer or prostate cancer. It is simply a disease. We are all mortal, and we will all die of something."
Today, NABJ boasts an active LGBT Task Force that has a significant presence at national conventions and has repeatedly tackled the AIDS epidemic in its programming-an achievement that would have been impossible without Morgan's leadership. "When we talk about standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, we mean Tom," wroteMarcus Mabry, the task force's founding co-chair, in marking Morgan's death Monday. "In a very real literal way, we are here thanks to him."
Morgan is survived by his long-time partner, Tom Ciano, in Brooklyn, N.Y. For more information about Morgan's life and career, seeNABJ's statement and his obituary in Richard Prince's Dec. 24 Journal-isms column.
A Change is Gonna Come
By Lee Carlson
World AIDS Day always inspires me to reflect on how I started doing HIV prevention work for black gay men, which began officially, exactly seven years ago today on December 1, 2000.
I, at that time was thoroughly excited about landing a job with an organization in my hometown of Rochester, N.Y., that provided services for black men who have sex with men (MSM). I remember thinking, “Wow, how can an organization like this exist in a small city like Rochester?” But it did, and it still does, and it, like all of the organizations across the country serving black MSM have more work to do than ever, because in spite of our best efforts with the limited resources the government has given us, we have fallen short of saving the lives of black gay men from HIV/AIDS. A disease with a small name, but powerful punch, that has robbed our families and our communities of so many beautiful and talented black gay men. However, I believe a change is gonna come!
The title of this essay is inspired by the politically charged song by the late Sam Cook, who spoke prophetic words about the change that was going to occur as a result of the Civil Rights movement to combat racial injustice in the United States. Like Sam, I feel “a change is gonna come” in how we address the HIV epidemic among black gay men in the United States. Why do I think this? The answer is both simplistic and complex at the same time. It’s simplistic in that, we have no other choice but to attack this killer called AIDS “by any means necessary” to quote the late, great Malcolm X. Yes, attack it with the same fierceness in which it is attacking us, an eye for an eye! The complexity lies in how we employ an effective response to stop AIDS from its relentless attack on the lives of black gay men. Twenty-five plus years in the game and we are still coming up short! Maybe this is because we have viewed HIV prevention from a restrictive lens, focusing too much on education and giving out condoms vs. addressing the psychological, social, cultural and economic factors that contribute to the spread of HIV. Maybe it’s that HIV is a symptom of these structural issues and this is where we should shift our focus.
I get angry as hell and then sad when I think of the lives lost and how AIDS has extinguished some of our most important political leaders. I think back to the 80’s, when black gay organizing began to congeal into a movement.
I’m referring to folks like Joseph Beam, Essex Hemphill and Marlon Riggs. They put a face and gave life to black gay organizing with books like “Brother 2 Brother” and documentaries like “Tongues Untied.” Indeed, the tongues of black gay men had become untied and we no longer had to live through the voices of gay white men who had more privilege and power to live their lives openly. I often wonder what black gay organizing would look like today if AIDS hadn’t stolen their lives and the lives of countless other black gay men. Just as I often wonder what the state of black folks in this country would be if Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were still alive. I suppose every war has its martyrs and in either case, lives were taken before their time and we should not let their deaths be in vain.
We must achieve a cohesive national response to revive the value of black gay men in all of our diversity from the femme queen to the homo-thug, because when a person feels valued, they are more likely to protect their life and less likely to engage in behaviors that will put them at risk for HIV. But before we can rebuke larger society for how they treat us, we have some home cleaning to do. We have got to come back to a village mentality and stop allowing patriarchal, heterosexist and sexist notions to create hierarchies in our communities that leave some of us devalued, broken, depressed and suicidal. The hierarchy that has been created within many Black gay “communities,” which value masculinity and devalue femininity, is in part what fuels the alarming rate of HIV among black gay men. We need to own up to this and realize that in some cases we are playing a co-conspirator role in this epidemic, which is ravaging our brothers (and sisters). Sam Cook said it well: “…..then I go to my brother, and I say brother help me please. But he winds up knocking me back down on my knees." It's amazing that in 2007, we are dealing with this same divisiveness amongst ourselves as was the case over 40 years ago. But I believe a change is gonna come!
I don’t view the need to build cohesion among black gay men through rose-colored glasses, as I don’t expect us all to “just get along” a la Rodney King. This isn’t “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” or “The Brady Bunch” and the lack of cohesion that has taken hold in black gay communities cannot and will not be solved in a 30 or 60 minute episode. We can only begin to address it through deep introspection, honesty and in some cases therapy. Yep, I said it, THERAPY. Some of us are damaged because of the things that have happened to us in our lives and going to a counselor isn’t a bad thing. Some of us are carrying the battle scars of sexual abuse, racism, homophobia, effemiphobia, emotional abuse, physical abuse, pain from damaged family relationships because of our same sex desire and religious homophobia to name a few. How can one carry these emotional scars with no outlet to heal and it not have a negative impact on ones self-esteem, well-being and self-worth? The answer is, it DOES impact us in ways that manifests itself through engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse and risky sexual activity. If we dig deep into our psyche to find out how the things that have happened to us in our lives impact how we feel about ourselves and how we treat others, I think then we will begin to find a way to build greater cohesion among black gay men, which in turn will help curb the HIV epidemic. We cannot heal, if we don’t allow ourselves to feel.
My challenge to my black gay brothers for 2008 who carry these emotional scars is to seek a means to heal. Heal in the way that feels best for you, but don’t allow your emotional scars to erode your ability to connect in a healthy way to other black gay men. Don’t allow the scars to erode your ability to protect yourself, your family and your community. It is up to us to get the help we need to feel better about ourselves so we don’t put ourselves at risk for HIV. It is up to us to stop wounding each other with our words and in some cases our actions. And it is up to us to resist those patriarchal, heterosexist and sexist hierarchies from continuing to devalue and wound members of our communities. While we face significant challenges as black gay men across the United States in relation to stopping the HIV/AIDS epidemic, I continue to believe in Sam Cook’s prophetic words that a change is gonna come!
Lee Carson resides in Philadelphia, PA ,where he works as an HIV prevention behavioral science researcher and as a mental health therapist with the LGBT population.
By Deneen Robinson
I’m been thinking a lot about the last 15 years of my life. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had not learned that I was HIV+ on Aug. 30, 1992.
I realize there are a few things that would have been different. I am not sure, however, that those differences would have made my life any better than it is at this moment.
The doctors gave me six years to live. In this reflection, I realize that while I was planning to be here past the six years they originally gave me to live, it was only in my head. It was never in my heart. I did the practical things to be here so I could take care of my children. I was focused on being here to raise my children. I was not focused on being here for me. That works for a while, but at some point the children grow up. My children are now young women - 18 and 19. They are off and living what I taught them. How ironic. Now, I have to do the same. The difference, I now have to feel it. I have to want to live past HIV.
So what is living past HIV? Living past HIV is many things. This article will be the first in a series on the topic. I have realized in the last years that it takes lots of courage to live. This virus is so exhausting --the medicine, the doctor visits, the thousands of ounces of water, the numerous bathroom visits, sleep apnea, exhaustion and so on and so on --all because of the virus. At least we believe these sudden additions to our life are because of the virus.
I confess. This is something to share. I have been an advocate since I can remember. I believe I have done a good job in helping us adjust to living with HIV. I have also been a proponent for moving on, making adjustments, etc... There is something to be said however for looking past HIV and simply living. Just like everybody else. Waking up every day, doing what you do and also having HIV.
The difference in this outlook is that HIV is not the focus. Living is the focus. Your dreams are the focus. Your career is the focus. Getting that degree is the focus. Building that business is the focus. Even if; like me what makes you get up every day is helping others learn and master HIV. With all the accomplishments in HIV in the last 10 years, we have to work toward living past HIV. Understand, it is a process, but a necessary step in what has become the “Living Cycle of HIV.”
Step 1 - Grieve the “perceived” loss. Often most of us get stuck here for years. We spend our time angry, sad because we can’t do all these things. You have to say goodbye to those things you believe you will never be able to do because you have HIV. This is important because if you don’t you will be stuck. And you MUST move to live.
Living past HIV takes courage. I have learned this as I raised my children, and, in the process, created a life that now I have to live. I must live with the same passion and courage I used to raise my children. I am excited, because I am continuing to evolve and I realize that I will be here for a while. Those seeds I planted 15 years ago are harvesting a crop that will need to be harvested. As the gardener, I take on that task with honor.
Deneen Robinson is the Privileged Gardener. She is the owner of the Savant Consulting Group. Savant Consulting Group provides educational presentations, motivational speaking, staff in-services, curriculum development and other services as needed by the client. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her family. Deneen volunteers and acts as a minister at her local church.
NNPA Commentary Series
By Patrick-Ian Polk
It’s an obvious thing that HIV is an important subject when you’re talking about the black gay community. And I knew it was something I wanted to address in some way.
I saw a lack of representation of gay people of color in entertainment media, and being a black gay man, that’s an area that interested me. So I just stopped waiting around for Hollywood to decide to really portray our community and, as a producer and film maker, I tried to make a series on my own terms that explores who we are as black gay men.
A few years ago I did a movie I called “Punks,” where we dealt with the HIV issue. One of the lead characters was HIV-positive and was dealing with it. Another character was dealing with getting tested and going to a clinic to get counseling about it.
Now as the creator and executive producer of Noah’s Arc,” a television show about black gay men in Los Angeles, I can use interesting ways to incorporate HIV information and messages without being too preachy or melodramatic. My task was to find interesting ways to layer in HIV, so that it’s not just about getting sick and dying. It’s about living with it and dating with it, and dealing with the health system and the medical system and all these things.
It’s a hugely complicated issue to deal with, and I wanted to explore that in the show. Instead of having a lead character who was HIV-positive, I decided to have a character who worked in the field of HIV prevention and treatment. I modeled after Phill Wilson and the Black AIDS Institute. One of the main characters, Alex, is working for a more mainstream gay health organization and trying unorthodox ways of getting the messages out there to gay people of color.
But his methods are met with resistance from the powers-that-be within this organization, who are trying to toe the line of the conservative administration. And so, frustrated with that experience, he quits his job and opens his own organization called the Black AIDS Institute. And we see the organization from the beginning—when it’s just a dilapidated storefront with rats. He enlists the help of his friends to spruce it up and decorate and help to raise money. And then it’s a fully operational clinic, that’s offering free STD screenings, counseling and advice.
Alex has a doctor character whom we introduce later in the season. He helps to facilitate the medical aspects of the clinic’s business, and the doctor ends up in a relationship with one of the other main characters, Ricky. But it turns out that the doctor is HIV-positive himself. So, that was a way to weave in the issue of dating someone who is HIV-positive.
In the past, in film and television, characters with HIV/AIDS had this melodramatic, death-sentence story line. Now, due to the medical advancements, it’s become a manageable condition for people who have access to regular health care and follow the treatment regimens. So I really wanted to show that, because we haven’t seen a lot of that.
I’m always concerned about being too heavy-handed or being preachy. But I think as long as story lines are presented in a realistic and interesting way, in a way that we don’t expect, then we avoid the dangers of people being turned off. It’s usually when people feel like they’re being preached to or talked down to that they get turned off.
Weaving in story lines about HIV can be more affective when you have created characters that the audience can relate to and care about. When you feel like you know someone or you can relate to someone, and you’re suddenly going through something serious with them, then it means more to us as viewers.
So that’s what’s nice about being able to weave story lines into a television series. It’s not just about the fact that they’re HIV-positive or that they’re working on HIV; it’s about so much more. And the person who felt like, “Oh, I could never date someone who’s HIV-positive,” might see something differently. When they see Ricky on the show dealing with this situation and falling in love, trying to decide if he can go out with this person he loves but who has HIV—it opens the viewers’ minds too. They might change their minds about it and maybe they can date someone with HIV. Or someone who’s HIV-positive might get the message that, “You know, life is not over for me and I can still have a career and have relationships and be healthy and happy.”
Patrik-Ian Polk is a film producer, director and writer of Los Angeles.