Gay black men are still dying of HIV in the UK due to stigma
A campaigner says he’s raising awareness of HIV among gay and bisexual black men in London because he does not want to lose any more friends to the virus.
D’Relle Wickham works at the Naz Project, which provides sexual health and HIV services for the capital’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities.
The 27-year-old told PinkNews the stigma of being gay in the black community had resulted in tragedy for some of his friends.
“The issue is close to home,” he said. “I’m a black gay man and most of my friends are black gay men.
“I’ve lost a lot of friends and I’d like to play a small part in decreasing the prevalence of HIV in our community.
“I believe my friends that were diagnosed with HIV weren’t out about their status so they weren’t getting treated and because they weren’t getting treated they passed away [in London].”
D’Relle thinks his friends would have been ostracised by their families for coming out as gay.
“Most probably, and the way that the gay community and most of the straight community still look at people that are HIV positive – It’s not positive”, the campaigner said.
He stressed it was vital that HIV positive gay and black men seek treatment – but that revealing their status is a separate issue.
“I would never say to anyone disclose your status if you don’t feel comfortable,” D’Relle continued, “I would say make sure you are going to your doctors regularly – that’s not the same thing as disclosing your status.
“If you need to start treatment then you can and you’d actually know about it.
“The black community has a very high percentage of late HIV diagnosis – so it’s best to try and get in there and deal with the issue as it arises.”
D’Relle, who is also an artist, has experienced, at first hand, discrimination from his own family.
His mother, from Barbados, and father, half Jamaican and Brazilian, initially found it difficult to accept his sexual orientation.
“When I first came out they were not accepting, as most black parents are, but after losing my best friend I said to my mum ‘I can either keep burying people or I can be the next person’ [to die] – and since then they’ve come to events that I’ve put on, they have turned around completely.”
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D’Relle believes many gay and bisexual black men continue to face discrimination from within the LGBT community and that the gay scene needs to be more inclusive.
“There is a lot of racism,” he said. “So I just avoid going to certain places now. I used to live in Brighton and I realised how racist the gay scene was and I thought to myself I expected it to be almost accepting when I got there and it wasn’t.”
He also believes the gay press should seek to improve racial representation.
“There are magazines with hardly any black faces in them, unless you’re taking a picture of Dalston Superstore, or if you’re looking at the back section with the personal ads.”