White House conference in Atlanta attracts activists from across the state

Among black gay and bisexual men, the numbers are even more dire, with the CDC reporting a 48 percent increase in new HIV infections ages 13-29 between 2006-2009.

“We’ve reached a time where we only see an increase in HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community. I think together we really have to continue to pursue solutions,” Satcher said.

Dr. Kevin Fenton, who is openly gay and the CDC’s director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said one area that needs more input is sexual health education in the schools.

“This is a critical question. We at the CDC are developing and updating curriculum, but education is really managed and directed and led at the state and more so at the local level,” he said. “There is a lot of work to do at local community levels to integrate sexual health curriculum in schools.”

A panel discussion on “Improving Health Outcomes Through Science, Policy and Practice” included Vel McKleroy, a trans man and project coordinator for the CDC, who explained that only 4,100 transgender people were tested for HIV out of nearly 3 million, indicating a strong need for better outreach to one of the most marginalized communities in the world.

Dee Dee Chamblee, a longtime Atlanta transgender advocate, said she deals on a daily basis with transgender people who will purposefully contract HIV in order to get the medicines they need to transition as well as housing and assistance seeking a job. As healthy trans people, the discrimination faced is unconscionable, she said, and leads to people believing the only way they can get help is to become HIV positive.

Cheryl Courtney Evans, a 60 year-old transgender woman and Atlanta advocate who was diagnosed with HIV in 1981, said she was glad to see the conference addressing the needs of the “T” in “LGBT.”

“I’ve seen gay rights evolve over the years without the T. And this goes across the board and including HIV advocacy. When will funding organizations understand that trans organizations run by trans people often are not able to get funding to serve that community?” she asked the panel on “Overcoming Disparities, Getting to Equity.”

While no direct answer could be given, panelists acknowledged a lot more needs to be done to address the needs of transgender people when it comes to HIV advocacy.

Closing remarks were given by Dr. David Malebranche, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory who is also openly gay. He talked about the intersections of people and what they face and the fact that being LGBT is only one facet of a person’s identity.

“Multiple social identities can combine and swirl to form a system of oppression,” Malebranche said.

To only focus on the LGBT aspect means risking ignoring other parts of a person’s life they see as more important. For example, gay marriage and bullying have become the rallying cries for the mainstream LGBT movement, he said.

But what about the Muslim man who thought he was gay but now is dealing with his gender identity, or the Latino lesbian who just moved to the U.S. from Mexico and needs access to health care and is dealing with a language barrier, Malebranche asked.

“Do these limited agendas [marriage, bullying] resonate with everyone in the LGBT community?” he asked.

Malebranche urged LGBT activists to reach out and include people who face many issues beyond is portrayed in the media.

“We have so much in common as LGBT people but in order for us to unify we actually have to acknowledge the diversity within ourselves,” Malebranche said.

“Which is a hard thing to do but we have to appreciate the racial, class, the gender, the gender identity. And unless we push forth with an agenda that makes sure people’s voices are heard in that collective, we won’t get anywhere,” he said.


Top photo: Dr. David Malebranche, associate professor of medicine at Emory University, gave the closing remarks at the White House LGBT Conference on HIV/AIDS held April 19 at Morehouse School of Medicine. (by Dyana Bagby)