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Everyone Deserves ‘A Place to Disclose’

A Special Advertorial Section

6/12/2013, 2:18 p.m.

The room in Codman Square Health Center grew still right before each of the men in the group began to relive the moments that changed their lives forever — the moments when they were diagnosed with HIV and the taxing process of identifying and accepting who infected them. Many times, they were betrayed by someone they cared for deeply.

“The moment I decided to trust him, I felt my vulnerability turn into invincibility,” one member regretfully recounted. “Shortly after, I remember my health began to decline rapidly. I couldn’t hold any food down and I eventually found myself in the ER after I passed out on the floor [at home]. I didn’t know what was happening to my body.”

Another member spoke out about being so depressed after his diagnosis that he stayed in his room for days crying, not eating and not wanting to live. Tears began to stream down his cheeks as he recounted the anger, isolation and hopelessness. Other members quickly consoled him as he dried his eyes.

Each story of love, betrayal, judgment, isolation and fear was released into the room — stories were told that some had never even heard themselves speak out loud before. There was not a dry eye in the entire room.

Then the atmosphere changed once again as one by one, the guys in the room dried their eyes and began to smile as they realized that despite their traumatic experiences battling HIV and its stigma, they were still here. Affirmations began to be spoken to each other and there was a sense of solidarity and brotherhood. Healing had taken place for everyone that night.

As another group meeting came to an end, the members were encouraged to remember what had transpired that evening and why a support group for gay and bisexual men of color living with HIV was so important in light of the impact HIV/AIDS has had on this community, particularly black men who have sex with men (MSM), who are the most disproportionately infected in this country.

According to a recent article in the Huffington Post that was based on a recent study (May 2013), the major factor that may contribute to this disparity among black MSM is not that black MSM are having more unprotected sex than other racial groups, but rather a result of the sexual networks of black MSM. Moreover, black MSM are far more likely to have sex with other black MSM compared to other racial groups.

However, the plight of black MSM is far deeper than just sexual networks and increases of HIV rates among this population. Homophobia within the black community and racism within the MSM community at large also contributes to this plight around the intersections of sexuality and racial identity, respectively.

Additionally, men in general are more likely to internalize their emotion and isolate themselves during traumatic situations rather than express and seek support, according to a Psychology Today article entitled “Expressive Trap” (February, 2011). This fact, compounded by the plight of black MSM in this country, creates a great need for support and affirmation, especially since we are all built to grieve and deal with trauma collectively, not in isolation.

Therefore, groups like Guyz Group at Codman Square Health Center that focus on creating a supportive and confidential environment for MSM of color living with HIV are just one answer to the plight of this population, the stigma around HIV and the lack of acceptance from family and friends. As one group member explained when asked why Guyz Group was important: “Everyone deserves a place to disclose.”

The Guyz Group

The Guyz Group at Codman Square Health Center is a support group for gay/bisexual men of color living with HIV. Codman Square Health Center is committed to providing a wide range of services for their patients. For more information about the Guyz Group, please contact Earnest Simpkins at 617-822-8205 or earnest.simpkins@codman.org, or visit the Health Center website for additional information on our services at www.codman.org.