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Forum focuses on reducing stigma of HIV/AIDS

Reducing the stigma of homosexuality and HIV/AIDS was the aim of a wide-ranging discussion that focused on African-American men in the Buffalo area Tuesday.

The forum, which was attended by about 40 people, was held in the auditorium of the Buffalo Museum of Science. It was sponsored by the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS of Buffalo.

Donna Chapman, affiliate services coordinator for the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, said denial, shame and stigma have led to inaction and missed opportunities to deal directly with the growing rates of HIV/AIDS cases in Buffalo's African-American community.

"Hopefully, we'll come out of here with some sure-fire action steps," said Chapman, who noted that, locally, the fastest rising cases of HIV/AIDS transmission are among men who have sex with other men and African-American women.

"There's no sense of talking just to talk, because we've been talking about HIV [for] 30 years. We've had 30 years of inaction, 30 years of misaction," Chapman added.

A three-member panel addressed a variety of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS and African-American men, including poverty, inadequate education, lack of access to health care, unemployment, religion and traditional notions of masculinity.

"We have to normalize people amongst each other. Can we make people normal in the presence of other people?" said L. Nathan Hare, president and chief executive officer of Community Action Organization of Erie County.

Hare was joined on the panel by the Rev. T. Gerard Williams, pastor of Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, and Stephaun Wallace, director of Men of Color Health Awareness.

"One of the shifts that's going to have to happen is the schism between our spirituality and our physicality, oftentimes perpetrated by the black church," said Williams.

The panel was moderated by the Rev. Matthew Brown, who is on the ecumenical committee of the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS of Buffalo, and the event was hosted by Barbara Jemmott, chairwoman of the group's legislative and public policy committee.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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