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AIDS: Black AIDS Day marked in Illinois
by Erica Demarest, Windy City Times

This article shared 3669 times since Wed Feb 22, 2012
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In honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) and Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus ( CBGMC ) traveled to Springfield Feb. 7 for a day of advocacy and lobbying.

Representatives from each organization joined state Sen. Jacqueline Collins ( D-16 ) and state Rep. Karen Yarbrough ( D-7 ) at a mid-morning press conference to urge lawmakers to extend the Quality of Life "Red Ribbon Cash" lottery program, set to expire Dec. 31, 2012.

Established in 2007, the scratch-off fundraiser supports prevention and treatment efforts in communities hardest hit by AIDS. To date, more than $3 million has been donated to groups that work with youth, Black, Latino and LGBT populations.

"Funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs is vitally important given the increasing prevalence and devastating nature of this disease in our communities," said Collins, who along with Yarbrough co-sponsored legislation that would extend the lottery's sunset date to Dec. 31, 2017.

In 2012, the lottery ticket program will fund 14 community-based organizations across the state, including the CBGMC. Caucus Co-Chair Keith Green was on hand to talk about about HIV infection rates among Black men who have sex with men.

"I began my remarks," Green wrote in an email, "by acknowledging the difficulty of addressing the epidemic among Black men as a result of the number of social determinants associated with transmission and acquisition within this population ( incarceration, homophobia, stigma, the down low, etc. ) ."

Some activists present took offense to Green's comments, claiming he disrespected Black female activists and ignored contributions made by local grassroots organizations.

"I understood you to say, 'Black men are dying of HIV/AIDS due to silence about black men and this issue,'" HIV activist Beryl C. Fitzpatrick wrote in an open letter to Green. "I believe the science-based facts do not support this premise … . Also, I think making this statement … in a room full of elected officials and advocates, where a lot of advocacy and work has been done to develop a cordial, professional working relationship was just incorrect and inexcusable."

Fitzpatrick demanded an apology from Green, arguing his remarks were "disrespectful of all the hard work that Black LGBT and heterosexual Black women have done together."

"If I can offer an apology for anything," Green answered, "it would be that my words were not received in the way in which they were intended."

Green continued: "In the ongoing battle for scarce resources … Black men and Black women continue to be pitted against one another ... . If we are going to make any headway at reducing the disproportionate rates of infection that exist among both of these significantly impacted groups of people, we must address the epidemic holistically and not continue to segment us off as either victim or vector."

Green said the CBGMC plans to revive its "Conversations Series," which brings together queer and heterosexual Black community members for solutions-based dialogue. He invited Yarbrough and Collins to future sessions.

Following the press conference, AFC and CBGMC members, including caucus Co-Chair Anthony Galloway, continued advocacy efforts in the state capital.

— Each group met with state officials to discuss challenges posed by ADAP changes and potential budget cuts.

— Rev. Doris Green, AFC's director of corrections and community relationships, offered the opening prayer on the state Senate floor.

— Rep. Thaddeus Jones sponsored a House resolution to commemorate National Black AIDS Awareness Day and encourage African-Americans to get tested and treated.

Back in Chicago, CBGMC founder and former co-chair Ariq Cabbler spoke at a radio broadcast titled "seX Factor: A Dialogue on HIV Prevention and Care Among Older Adults."

And caucus members Charles Nelson and Craig Johnson closed the day by attending a planning session titled "HIV 2012: The National HIV/AIDS Strategy" at Loretto Hospital.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was founded in 1999 to encourage testing and community mobilization.

Black Americans accounted for nearly half of all new HIV infections in 2009 despite the fact that only 14 percent of U.S. residents identify as Black, according to the Centers for Disease Control ( CDC ) .

Within the African-American community, Black men accounted for 70 percent of new infections. And nearly three-quarters of these men identified as men who have sex with men.

This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.

This article shared 3669 times since Wed Feb 22, 2012
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