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AIDS advocates call for more affordable housing in NYC

Khorri Atkinson | 2/13/2014, 12:14 p.m.
HIV ribbon

For HIV/AIDS advocates, it just boils down to one thing: “Provide more affordable housing for New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.”

This is the message HIV/AIDS prevention advocates echoed across the steps of City Hall last Friday while calling for the de Blasio administration and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take action and tackle the HIV epidemic.

“We can’t have LGBT rights without providing stable affordable housing for those [LGBT] that are homeless,” Maria Lopez reiterated at the rally, which is an ongoing annual initiative led by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) to increase HIV/AIDS awareness, education, testing and treatment in Black communities.

Lopez, who is a transgender female, said she has worked for years as a sex worker on New York City’s streets and said that homeless New Yorkers who can’t get afford to rent an apartment are forced to engage in sexual activities to earn a living. This causes them to get infected with HIV.

The latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that when compared with other races and ethnicities, African-Americans account for a higher proportion of new HIV infections and those living with HIV. On Friday, advocates reported that African-Americans account for approximately 50,000 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States despite representing only 12 percent of the total population. In New York, figures show that approximately 129,000 people are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, with almost 80 percent living in New York City.

“Since we have a new City Council, let’s urge them to insure that Mayor [Bill] de Blasio provide more funding,” charged Bertha Lewis, president of the Black Institute. “HIV is the leading cause of death in the Black community, and there’s work that needs to be done to stop those numbers from increasing.”

Lewis lauded Rep. Charles Rangel’s proposed legislation, the Communities United with Religious Leaders for the Elimination of HIV/AIDS Act of 2013. Under this bill, health agencies, community and faith-based organizations will be dispensed with grants to extend education, outreach, research and testing activities related to HIV/AIDS prevention.

“We’ve found money to treat many other diseases. We’re too strong of a country to be behind with not providing more resources to fight against HIV, that is disproportionately affecting communities of color,” Rangel told the AmNews on Friday. He said he’s optimistic the bill will be passed with the help of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who co-sponsored it.

But as infection figures continue to emerge, other alarming CDC findings show that Black gay men, transgender individuals and other men who have sex with men continue to experience alarming increases in HIV infections each year, particularly among those between the ages of 13-24 (up nearly 21 percent since 2008), while new HIV infections among Black women have declined.

Lopez spoke about a factor “that is being ignored” and is causing some women to get infected.

“Part of the problem that we need to remember is that there are straight men who are having unprotected sex with infected transgenders, which then cause straight women to get infected. That needs to stop,” she cautioned.

Lopez argued that the city should work more closely with the city’s LGBT community in order to be in a better position to combat the problem.

NBLCA President and CEO C. Virginia Fields said the organization will continue to create awareness and to bring to the forefront the importance of HIV/AIDS and its impact on the Black community.