With regard to HIV and race, blacks have the highest infection rates. And black men may be playing a significant role as a result of homophobic beliefs. This was the hypothesis recently studied to determine why blacks have disproportionately high HIV numbers.

The study conducted at the University of Washington in Seattle looked at social factors in men who have sex with men (MSM), not risky sexual behavior, as previous studies have shown this not to be a factor with blacks as compared to whites. What the researchers found was a prevailing attitude of homophobia among black men in general, and even in black MSM.

Using data from a U.S. health survey, the researchers found that, in general, African-Americans were more likely than whites to report a negative attitude toward homosexuality.

In 2008, 72% of black adults said that homosexuality was “always wrong”—a rate that had changed little since the 1970s. Among whites, 52% expressed that view in 2008, which was down from 71% in 1973.

A similar pattern was seen among men who reported having sex with other men. Of these men, 57% of African Americans said they believed homosexuality was always wrong, versus 27% of whites.

When the researchers looked at the men’s reported rates of HIV testing, they found that those who regarded homosexuality as wrong were less likely to have ever been tested: 36%, versus 73% of those with a more favorable view of homosexuality.

Hmmm….I see the dilemma here. First, let me say this is an excellent study, as it seeks to understand a phenomenon not explainable by sexual behavior alone, and it is important to understand why. Let’s look at the numbers.

  • 1 in 16 black Americans will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime—more than twice the risk for Hispanics and eight times that of whites
  • in 2006 African-Americans accounted for nearly half (45%) of new infections in the 50 states and the District of Columbia
  • Blacks accounted for 56% of deaths due to HIV in 2009 and their survival time after an AIDS diagnosis is lower on average than it is for most other racial/ethnic groups
  • African-Americans account for 24% of reported HIV cases among gay and bisexual men in the U.S.

Homophobic beliefs may be contributing. It’s important to point out here that the results of the recent study do not prove that homophobia is a factor in the racial disparity in HIV infection among gay and bisexual men in the U.S., according to the study’s authors. It only gives researchers information for further study, while advocacy groups now have a point a focus politically and within community services.

“These kinds of studies are important,” said Francisco Roque, director of community health for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York-based non-profit that provides HIV/AIDS education and services. According to Roque, such research-based data are helpful for gaining support for campaigns to address homophobia, as well as HIV/AIDS prevention.

How would homophobia contribute to the disproportionate numbers of HIV infection among black men? Little known is that MSM among “straight” men (SMSM) in the black community is not uncommon (it happens in all racial and ethnic groups incidentally). Because of the stigma of homosexuality in the African-American community, many infected SMSM are not getting tested, thus acting as an asymptomatic carrier.

With 36% of black MSM who look at homosexuality unfavorably not getting tested, HIV is likely being spread to both men and women in the black community with a big fat, “Huh?!?!” Again, we can’t use this study as proof, but it looks like a plausible explanation.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Nick Campos - All Rights Reserved.