“There is a perception that high HIV rates in Black communities are due to pervasive homophobia,” Charles Stephens writes in a new op-ed published by RHRealityCheck. “This notion is overly simplistic and does not advance discussions around building bridges among heterosexual and LGBT Black communities.”
Stephens then points his finger at Lee Daniels, the openly gay executive producer of the hit TV show Empire. He recalls a speech Daniels gave earlier this year when he said that, while doing background research for his 2009 film Precious, he was surprised to learn that black women make up the majority of new HIV infections reported in the U.S. each year among women.
“From this observation, [Daniels] arrived at the conclusion that ‘down low’ Black gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with men in secret) are killing Black women,” Stephens writes.
“According to Daniels,” he continues, “Black gay and bisexual men can’t come out about their sexuality because of the extreme level of homophobia in Black communities, so they must engage in secret sex with other men, wherein they get HIV that they later pass on to their female partners.”
In taking this stance, Stephens believes, Daniels is actually contributing to the problem by perpetuating a myth that black men are “hypersexual criminals” who are “complicit in the spread of HIV.”
“These views–associating Black men’s sexuality with criminality, murder, and death–carry dangerous policy implications,” Stephens writes.
He goes on to aruge that negative stereotypes about certain groups of people can lead to cultural stigmas which ultimately impact laws, using HIV criminalization laws as just one example.
“Daniels, in his assessment of ‘down low’ men ‘killing African-American women’ is legitimatizing HIV criminalization laws that perpetuate systemic homophobia and racism as well as dangerous stereotypes against HIV-positive people,” Stephens writes. “These laws are not rooted in science, but rather in stigma.”
Stephens is the co-editor of the anthology Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call. Follow him on Twitter @CharlesStephen2.