AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) President Mark Ishaug welcomed participants Sept. 16 to "Sex and the City," an AFC-sponsored conference on men and HIV that met in the South Loop. Kicking off a day of workshops exploring topics such as health, faith, sexuality and race, Ishaug said, "The purpose of today is to give everybody tools."
"Thirty years ago, we screamed 'Silence equals death,'" Ishaug exhorted the crowd, many of whom were HIV/AIDS advocates and service providers. "I think we need to keep shouting that. I implore you to keep screaming and shouting and singing and dancing."
The first presentation, by DePaul University psychologist Gary Harper, focused on intersecting identitiesincluding race and sexualityand invisibility. "A lot of what I'm going to be talking about is bolstering a sense of self, a sense of value," Harper said at the beginning of his remarks. "There's so many different negative societal forces that can really fragment your identity."
Harper spent much of the hour-long presentation defining and clarifying terms. He said that he preferred to use the phrase "gay and bisexual men," for instance, rather than "men who have sex with men ( MSM ) ," a term favored by epidemiologists because, in describing behavior, it steers clear of ascribing identity. MSM, though, "gets down to just us as our penis," said Harper, "and we're about so much more."
Harper said that much or his work as a psychologist has been with young men of color, whose attitudes toward sex and love have been heavily impacted by cultural factorsincluding racism and heterosexism. His suggestions for how to intervene involved identifying and challenging the cultural messages that are targeted at young people. "We have to explore multiple layers of negative societal messages," Harper said. "Spend a week and just look at TV. See how many times these images are of Black men, and of black gay men in particular."
Harper also told the audience that men working in HIV prevention and treatment need to hear voices other than their own. "As men, we have a lot to learn from women," he said, referencing the "very powerful" political work done by Black and Latina activists.
And, Harper said, "we need to learn a lot more from young people. Some of us have a lot of baggage. I think we need to sit down with [ young ] people more and see the way they've been pulling these identities together."