What You Don’t Know About “The Down Low”: The Media Is Wrong For Blaming Closet Cases On African-American AIDS

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Pay attention! This is important:

Last Tuesday on “The View,” during a conversation about the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, guest host D.L. Hughley attempted to school America on why HIV is so prevalent among African-American women. He said with confidence, “They are getting it from men who are on the down low.”

Watch D.L. speak on the subject under the hood and keep reading to find out why he’s actually talking out the side of his neck

Both Shepherd and Hughley were actually inaccurate in their attempts to blame the growth of AIDS in the black community on the “down low” phenomenon, according to a recent article by Kellee Turner, editor of an HIV AIDS publication:

Neither one of these comedians-turned-talking heads is an AIDS expert. I think it’s safe to say that if they were asked to name three antiretrovirals sold on the market or tell us what distinguishes HIV from AIDS, there would be awkward silence and an unexpected commercial break.

Had The View actually asked established experts such as the University of California, Los Angeles’ Chandra L. Ford, White House Office of National AIDS Policy’s Gregorio Millett, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Kevin Fenton to come on the show, all of them would have shut down Shepherd & Company.

They would have said that yes, closeted gay black men exist, but contrary to popular belief, the DL is not a major force in the rise of HIV infections among black women in this country. And to substantiate this, they probably would have cited the mounds of data and research findings from the numerous studies they have conducted over the years.

They might have even shed some light on what really fuels HIV: people having unprotected vaginal and anal sex with multiple partners or even one partner; high rates of incarceration that take men out of the mating pool and create a system of women sharing the same man; intravenous drug use that accounts for 20 percent of all HIV infections among black women; other untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as herpes and gonorrhea, which make people more vulnerable to contracting HIV once exposed to the virus; and people having unprotected sex, unaware that they are positive, who are going untreated while highly infectious.

Most important, any one of these experts would have said that there are heterosexual black men who have HIV, and HIV-positive women who pass the virus to men, and everyone needs to get tested.

Perhaps the hard facts just weren’t sensational enough for “The View.”

Unfortunately, AIDS-related misinformation is not just relegated to silly morning talk shows. Last October, CNN, which bills itself as America’s most trusted news source, ran a segment in its Black Men in the Age of Obama special about gay and bisexual black men.

Instead of discussing pertinent issues that gay and bisexual black men in this country face, CNN anchor Don Lemon, Essence Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt-Murray and a panel of ostensibly straight black men (none of whom possessed HIV or LGBT expertise) used the time to talk about how the down low is killing black women. Once again, there was no proof to back up these claims, just regurgitated homophobic hoopla being passed off as news. No bias, no bull? Yeah, right.

Thanks to J.L. King and Oprah, the breakdown of Terry McMillan’s mess of a marriage, countless newspaper and magazine articles, that Law & Order: SVU episode and our own homophobia, the threat of the down-low man–our generation’s brutal black buck–has been branded onto our cultural imagination and ingrained in our vernacular.

Looking at how AIDS is covered in the media, what are folks really learning? Black women are “learning” that if their man is not “suspect,” then condoms are not really a necessity. Straight black men are “learning” that this disease has nothing to do with them because they are not gay. Meanwhile, the two are having unprotected sex with each other while we act brand new about how and why this disease is flourishing in our community.

If we’ve learned anything from Hughley’s and Shepherd’s erroneous comments, it’s that despite the fact that the information is out there and easily accessible, the media and the average American don’t know what they need to know about HIV (and perhaps they don’t want to). But as we enter the third decade of this epidemic, we don’t have the luxury to continue to be this ignorant. Somehow that knowledge gap needs to be closed. There are just too many lives at stake for it not to be.

This is a big deal people! The media — has been pumping misinformation to our community about the real forces at work behind the spread of HIV and AIDS among Blacks. The real question is whether it’s been done “accidentally” or if there are actually people who want Blacks to believe the “down low” hype and keep having unprotected sex with partners they “know” are heterosexual in order to continue the spread.

Protect yourselves and get tested! Life is precious.

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