U.S. president Barack Obama’s national HIV/AIDS strategy focuses on 12 American cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Like any public health initiative dedicated to an incurable disease, it’s a fundamentally noble venture.
But the program completely skips over the rural southern states where it’s needed the most, economically.
Filmmaker (and in full disclosure, friend) Lisa Biagiotti writes in an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times that the parts of the American South afflicted with HIV are collectively a hard nut to crack — a potent mix of rural poverty, conservative social views and racial norms that, together, create “a social illness affecting a deeply entrenched underclass.”
I have spent time with and interviewed many black gay men living with HIV in the South, and they tend to tell similar stories. Their families have shamed and shunned them; their churches have condemned them. The schools they attended failed to provide even the most basic sex education.
The culture, they say, has forced them into hiding. Some marry; some have girlfriends. They try to be invisible in a culture that can accept black men as prisoners, drug dealers, gangsters, adulterers, absent fathers — but not as gay.
The product of her work, deepsouth, documents a developed nation’s public services nightmare: high rates of infection, incarceration, teen pregnancies and unemployment. Unsurprisingly, access to healthcare is minimal at best.
A place for innovation? You bet.
AIDS — the South’s shame [Los Angeles Times]
Photo: Lisa Biagiotti/Flickr