[Editor's Note: Jeffrey King is the founder and director of In The Meantime Men's Group in Los Angeles. The group is dedicated to developing discussion groups and programs devoted to the health and wellness of same gender-loving African American men. In the past several years, ITMT has become very prominent in political and community health and awareness events.]
I can remember a turning point in my life, long before I had come out of the closet. I came home after a long day of work and turned on the television. The screen filled with what appeared to be thousands of mostly white HIV/AIDS activists engaged in righteous civil disobedience--shutting down Santa Monica Blvd., blocking traffic, jumping onto cars, getting arrested, not giving up, and not giving in.
Although I had yet to claim my place among the LGBT alphabet, I knew right then that the time would soon come when I would have to step up to the plate and take a stand, first by coming out myself and then by defending the right to not only be who I am, but also to defend the rights of others like me.
For many of us, coming out is still terrifying. Twenty-five years ago no one could have told me that I would found an organization for black gay men. But after losing most of my dearest friends and hundreds of peers and associates to the HIV/AIDS virus, I began the journey that brought me to the fertile ground that now is In The Meantime.
Since then I have spent countless hours in meetings at the federal, state, and local level, standing on years of well established advocacy work facilitated by those who came bravely before me in an effort to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS infection in the black gay community, only to watch the stroke of a pen by a governor and a couple of side bars torpedo one of our countries most impressive HIV prevention and care portfolios.
Historically, California has helped set the standard for the rest of the country in the area of innovative and cutting edge HIV prevention strategies. Once considered one of the most resource-rich states in the country, we must now hang our heads in shame because of the low vibration of our elected leadership.
(Photo: Jeffrey King pictured with transgender activist Queen Victoria Elizabeth Ortega at a recent protest against the cuts.)
Now California has a problem and it just got worst. Black and Latino men, hit hardest by HIV/AIDS, are in dire need - but the moment it appeared that help was on the way "The TERMINATOR" - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - pulled the plug on the "girly" men of color.
While the broader LGBT community focuses its attention and resources on marriage equality, twenty-five years of HIV/AIDS work is being flushed down the drain.
In The Meantime, much like many of our other community based organizations (CBOs) and AIDS service organizations (ASOs), faces monumental challenges in its effort to meet the growing need for prevention, education and treatment in the black community. This wild fire has been raging all around us for some time now and we have yet to effectively assess the devastation, much less put out the flames that threaten to devour us. The state's cutting off of our water supply could spell our and our community's doom.
I, like many black LGBT people, have had to ask: how do we begin to prioritize from the broad list of issues facing us?
Racism, internalized racism, homophobia, internalized homophobia, black-on-black homicide, hate crimes, driving-while-black, the subtle institutionalized racism of corporate America, unemployment and, yes, the freedom to marry is important to many black LGBT people. But because HIV/AIDS has become the granddaddy of grim reapers, dangling the threat of genocide over our heads, it has become very personal.
This threat to our very existence must be dealt with through the joint efforts of us as individuals, our organizations, the pharmaceutical companies that make billions of dollars because this virus exist, and the state.
Our California endowment is needed to refocus efforts back to community based organizations. Our research institutions are needed to develop data that initiates from within the communities that are disproportionately impacted by the virus by engaging, employing, and testing individuals from those communities.
HIV/AIDS testing is not the solution in and of itself. Our young black gay men are worth saving and educating. Prevention is an intricate piece of the puzzle.
Furthermore, our churches and our elected officials must be called to task. Messages of hate from the pulpit continue to confuse our youth as they struggle with sexual identify and expression, while those we hire to govern must be made accountable, through the ballot box, for how they spend our tax dollars and how they choose which programs to fund and which programs to cut.
I further challenge our black and brown sisters and brothers who are not out today to support and give what you can until and beyond that day when you too will feel compelled to stand up and proudly take your place among the LGBT alphabet.
And California? We are not done with you. We ARE you. And we shall take these very difficult challenges you have faced us with not lying down, but standing tall. We will fight for our seat at the table where decisions about our future are made, and we will fight with an activism that is proactive and not reactionary!