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What is Pride to Me By Alexander Martin, Outreach Coordinator, Central Illinois Friends

As I write this article Peoria is approaching its first River City Pride Fest. With the festivities celebrating the diversity and inclusiveness, I have been thinking about pride. Pride in my community, pride in my identity, and celebrating these parts of myself. As a queer man of color I am at the intersection of two identities; two communities. The question of pride and how one shows and communicates it has been on my mind a lot recently.

As a queer and black individual I have always tried to show pride in these parts of myself. This is not always easy, and there can be pushback. Within the lgbtq+ community there is heaps of support and a sense of connection with those around you, but there is also racism. Being a person of color in lgbtq+ spaces can feel alienating at times. Our community is often overlooked or forgotten about. In the fight for equality, people often forget that it is not just sexuality and identity that people get discriminated against for. Within the black community there is a real sense of family and community, striving together for a common goal, but there also exists homophobia. Being gay in the Black community also feels alienating leaving one hiding parts of themselves. This tension between identities, a fear of rejection, can lead to problems. How can one show pride and represent their communities with this fear and pressure? One way is being visible, showing that you exist and do so proudly. Another is getting involved, being a representative for both communities and in both communities. I do this through engagement and public health here at Central Illinois Friends.

Our community is at the most risk for being exposed to HIV. The CDC states that “Blacks/African Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses and people living with HIV compared to other races/ethnicities. In 2017 blacks/African Americans accounted for 13% of the US population but 43% (16,694) of the 38,739 new HIV diagnoses in the United States and dependent areas.” That is a highly disproportionate amount. Why is our community so affected? There are countless reasons, from distrust in medical institutions to the criminalization of HIV. Black folk are reluctant to get tested or get into care for a whole slew of reasons. As mentioned earlier, being at the intersection of two identities can cause tension and a feeling of alienation, which also causes reluctance in getting tested and knowing ones status.

HIV can and does affect anybody, it does not discriminate. That being said though, the highest rate of new diagnoses, according to the CDC, in 2017 were Black/African American MSMs( Men who have sex with Men). The reasons behind the reluctance of Black MSMs to get tested or into care is for much of the same reasons as mentioned earlier; Being in between two communities’ compounds these issues though. A lot of activities within the lgbtq+ community that provide info on sexual health or services can, again, feel alienating for a person of color. That is why many organizations try to represent the communities they work with. Within the black community homophobia and fear of alienation can lead to people hiding parts of themselves because of fear and shame. This means the people who need to be reached the most, those who need access to testing and treatment, do not seek it. It is an intersectional issue that can be really difficult to navigate.

For me, I show pride in my community by doing the work I do here. Being visible, being proud, and engaging with those I care about. Getting tested is a way to show pride in your community. Caring for the greater good of the community, and their health, is so important. Knowing your status and staying healthy is so important. Ending stigma and discrimination so people do not have fear and reluctance when getting tested, is so important. If you want to get tested, you can schedule a free and confidential HIV and STI screening with us at Central Illinois Friends by calling 309-671-2144.

For education and information on free sexual health screenings (HIV/HepC/Sexually Transmitted Infections) in the greater Peoria area contact Central Illinois FRIENDS at (309) 671-2144 to set up an appointment.

HIV testing locations and other information can be also be obtained by calling the IDPH HIV/AIDS & STD hotline at 1-800-AID-AIDS (1-800-243-2437).

If you live outside the greater Peoria area please visit: www.hivcareconnect.com to find a resource near you.