Kenny: On February 10th and 12th, the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities (SexLab) hosted two events at Sexpertise that were meant to provide audience members with information on the lives of LGBTQ people of color.
The first, “Gay Men of Color + The State”, consisted of a panel discussion that examined the relationship and engagement that gay men of color have with government. The broader question that the panelists sought to answer was: how does the government create sexual risks and impede progress for gay men of color? The panel consisted of Kenyon Farrow, Gary Harper, Marcus Lee, and Charles Stephens, who are all gay men engaged in grassroots organizing, research and academic scholarship, policy, creative-political activism, and/or community-based engagement. The program began with introducing a framework for understanding what “the State” means. Using definitions from Wendy Brown (1995) and Max Weber (2009), the State was described as not only a set of people who hold positions in different branches of governments but also an interplay of power, laws, exercises, and positions. The State is both an overarching physical entity and hegemonic ideology. In order to locate the sexual risks and high stakes created and fueled by the State, panelists discussed the lives of two Black gay men and a prominent Black gay organization. They were: Michael Johnson, who has been accused of felony HIV-exposure in Missouri; Tarence Mitchell, who has been sentenced for murdering an older man who he was sexually intimate with; and Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), which is an organization providing community forums and support for Black gay men since 1986.
The panelists began by discussing HIV criminalization laws in the United States and their disproportionate and harmful impact on gay men of color. The panelists then discussed how cases, such as Johnson and Mitchell’s, fit within the larger narrative of mass incarceration, policing, and criminalization of Black and Latino/a people in the United States (U.S.). The engagement between mainstream LGB social movements/non-profits and the State was also examined, particularly the lack of organizing around Johnson and Mitchell and the need that non-profits have to present and rally for respectable queer narratives/politics to leverage resources. From there the panel talked about the importance of intergenerational healing and ways to construct transformative political and social movements. The panel ended with a dialogue on how Blackness is used as a political organizing tool and the relevance this has for Black gay men’s communities, if de-radicalizing is necessary to avoid premature death for Black gay men, and how creative and artistic-intellectual efforts help to imagine new ways to restructure or mitigate engagement with the State.
The second event, “Quickies: Short Talks on LGBTQ Health Disparities”, was a series of presentations that covered topics specific to LGBTQ men and women of color.
Hilary Armstrong, a second-year Health Behavior and Health Education (HBHE) MPH student and research assistant in the SexLab presented on lesbian, bisexual and queer women of color’s sexual health. Armstrong discussed the paucity of research and knowledge around lesbian, bisexual, and queer women of color’s sexual health and the need for approaches that use intersectionality as a theoretical framework to examine and create interventions for lesbian, bisexual, and queer women of color. Furthermore, Armstrong gave audience members information about health issues impacting lesbian and bisexual women, such as mental health, substance use, obesity, and cancer. She also gave an overview of studies that have examined multiple minority stress and microaggressions among LGBTQ people of color.
Bré Campbell, a SexLab Community Specialist and HIV Prevention Outreach Specialist for Wayne State University, presented on sexual health and social disparities experienced by trans women of color. Campbell presented on the impact of transgender stigma and discrimination on gender marker policies, the lack of social safety nets for trans women, and the violence and criminalization geared towards trans women of color. She discussed the recent murders of trans women of color and spoke about CeCe McDonald, who was a Black trans woman who was charged and sentenced to 41-months in prison for murdering a White supremacist who violently attacked her. Campbell used these examples to describe systemic issues that impede the ability of trans women to live and thrive in the U.S.
Ryan Wade, a doctoral student in HBHE and the SexLab, presented on sexual health disparities experienced by gay and bisexual men of color. Wade presented audience members with a social-ecological outline for understanding the sexual health disparities experienced by gay and bisexual men of color. Particularly, he delineated the individual (e.g., substance abuse, mental health), community (e.g., social networks, access to sexual health services), and structural (e.g., racism, heterosexism, unemployment, incarceration) factors that may place gay and bisexual men of color at increased risks for contracting and transmitting HIV and other STIs despite lower reported sexual risk behaviors.
Overall, both programs sought to leave audience members with comprehensive and in-depth perspectives on understanding the sociopolitical lives of LGBTQ people of color and how the sexual health issues impacting these communities are symptomatic of larger systemic issues. The panelists and presenters wanted audience members to envision new ways to ground and politicize their engagement with these issues and move towards transformative healing by eradicating sexual health disparities for LGBTQ people of color.
Brown, W. (1995). States of injury: Power and freedom in late modernity.
Weber, M. (2009). From Max Weber: essays in sociology.