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HIV infections need not be kept on the ‘down low’

Black women: “Are you willing to share your man … with another man?”

Author J.L. King posed the question on a recent episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah devoted the entire hour to men living “on the down low,” a term mostly used among African Americans, in this case referring to men with wives and girlfriends who secretly have sex with other men and don’t consider themselves gay. As King bluntly put it on the show, it’s about gratification, not orientation.

The “down low” world, hidden to most, may have remained underground if the incidence of HIV/AIDS infections among males at historically black colleges in the South weren’t so alarming. Research concerning the infection rate among black women also raises red flags.

Government studies of 29 states revealed a black woman was 23 times more likely to be infected with AIDS than a white woman. Black women accounted for 71.8 percent of new HIV infections in women from 1999 to 2002, The New York Times reported.

Some people would rather not discuss another topic that brings up homosexuality, criticizing the media for focusing too much on gay and lesbian issues in the past year. But when it comes to life and death, gay, straight or questioning, the topic of HIV/AIDS is no fad.

The Times reported on a recent study that found 30 percent of all black bisexual men may be infected with HIV, and up to 90 percent of those infected don’t know it. To the Centers for Disease Control, these men are the “bridge” for infection from gay men to heterosexual women.

Health officials in February found an alarming outbreak of infections among 84 male, mostly black students at 37 North Carolina colleges. Most of them were infected by sex with other men, though one-third said they had sex with men and women, according to The Times.

Ladies, don’t think you can tell if a man has sex with another man by his appearance or mannerisms. King, a self-proclaimed down low brother, writes about his experiences in a new book titled On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of ‘Straight’ Black Men Who Sleep With Men. King told Oprah it still surprises him sometimes when he meets another man on the down low. And he finds them at the supermarket, at the gym, at the church. “Cause we’re everywhere,” King said.

For the love of his daughter, now 29, King broke his silence and wrote about being a part of this secret society. He said that unlike most fathers, he doesn’t want his daughter to marry a man like her dad. Doing so would put her life at risk.

About two weeks ago, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit aired an episode where the victim, a white gay man, was murdered because he refused to end his sexual relationship with a married black man. One of the characters during the episode said a group of straight black guys would meet regularly for what their wives and girlfriends thought was “poker night.” It turned out that the men drew straws to see who would get the bedroom that night. No one ever brought condoms, one of the characters said, because doing so in their minds was admitting why they showed up.

The straight, married black man accused of murdering his gay lover in the episode had HIV. He also passed it to his wife.

White women shouldn’t feel as though things have gotten better for them because the focus has turned to the rise of infection in the black community. If you can’t talk about the sexual history and practices of the person you plan to be intimately involved with, maybe you shouldn’t be with that person.

Jonathan Perry, a black college student infected with HIV, said living with the disease is a daily reminder that he’s going to die.

“We’re forgetting that HIV and AIDS is alive and it’s well and it’s thriving and it’s kicking like a newborn baby in our society,” Perry said on Oprah. “If you have blood flowing through your veins, you are at risk.”

Kevin Graham is a former Oracle Editor in Chief.