Another missed opportunity
GEORGE E. CURRY | 7/31/2016, 9:10 p.m.
(EmergeNewsOnline.com) – DURBAN, South Africa - On my first night here to cover the 26th International AIDS Conference, I had dinner with Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, and three other members of our delegation. During the course of our wide-ranging conversation, Wilson mentioned the unusual circumstances under which we had met in 2003.
At the time, I was serving the first of two tours as editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and had written a column expressing my deeply conflicted feelings about same-sex marriage.
Predictably, the response to my column was quick and furious. I received 200 scorching emails and, subsequently, I published excerpts from some of them in my weekly column without further commentary.
Rather than join the chorus of bashers, Wilson telephoned me and requested a meeting. I immediately agreed and he flew from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. and met with me at my office in the Howard University School of Communications.
Interestingly, neither of us tried to change the others mind. Wilson expressed his view, which differed from mine, and I elaborated on my quandary of not feeling gays and lesbians should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, but that my opposition of same-sex marriage was rooted in my religious upbringing. I emphasized that there are millions of people like me who are not the least bit interested in gay-bashing, but are genuinely conflicted over this issue.
More important than whether either of us changed our position was that when the meeting was over, Wilson had enlightened me how AIDS was ravishing our community. I was struck by the across-the-board disparities, including cases among teenagers and straight women, and was embarrassed that I was unaware of the depth of the crisis in our community.
I wrote a column in 2014 that pointed out:
The rate of new HIV infections for Black men (103.6) was the highest of any group, more than twice that of Latino men (45.5), the second highest group. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for African American women (38.1/100,000 population) was 20 times that of White women and almost five times that of Hispanic/Latino women. And of HIV diagnoses among 13 to 19 year olds, almost 70 percent are to Black teens, even though they constitute approximately 16 percent of the adolescent population in the U.S.
Because of that visit in which Phill shared so much eye-opening data, I developed a heightened interest in covering the disease and an interest and friendship with Phill that has only grown stronger in subsequent years.
More than anyone, Phill Wilson has been the Paul Revere of Black America when it comes to sounding the alarm about the devastation HIV/AIDS has visited upon African Americans. He is a tireless champion determined to curb the impact of this disease and does unmatched work as president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on Black people. I later found out that not only had Phill contacted me, he also reached out to major civil rights leaders, urging them to tackle what he described as a “Black disease.”