While concerns over continuing new HIV infections among black gay men have been widely discussed since 2007, the task force that will write the plan to end AIDS in New York is proceeding with no input from any organization with a history of specifically serving black gay men.
“I think the needs of our community require more than one voice,” said Vaughn Taylor-Akutagawa, executive director of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), a Brooklyn AIDS group that was founded to serve gay black men. GMAD is not on the task force.
Taylor-Akutagawa said that when he asked the AIDS Institute, the state health department unit that assembled the task force, about the lack of representation of black gay men, he was told it was an “oversight.”
The task force, which was announced on October 14, has an unwieldy 63 members with an emphasis on large institutions, such as non-profits, hospitals, and clinics. It has many members from New York City, which is not surprising given that the majority of New York’s 3,400 annual HIV diagnoses are in the city.
There are individuals with no organizational affiliation on the task force, including Peter Staley, a long time AIDS activist, and Marjorie Hill, the former head of Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Nathan Schaefer, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), a gay political group, is a task force member.
Zachary Jones, a senior bishop in the Unity Fellowship Church and a former GMAD board member, is on the task force. Jones is a member of the Black LGBT Alliance of New York, a new group that has a board of directors, but no staff and no annual budget. The alliance met with the AIDS Institute in August and lobbied to join the task force.
“We are encouraged by the governor’s task force, however, until we see proof that black LGBT men and women become full partners in this venture and not simply treated as clients and consumers of services provided by others, we’re not convinced that the committee is serious or capable of achieving the stated goal of reducing new HIV infections in the state,” said Gary English, an alliance member, in a statement.
The task force will develop a plan to reduce new HIV infections in the state to 730 annually by 2020 using a mix of drug regimens, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and treating HIV-positive people so they are not infectious, and improving housing, nutrition, and other services for people affected by AIDS. It will complete its work by the end of January so its recommendations can be incorporated in the next state budget. New York’s fiscal year begins on April 1.
The Mocha Center, a health group that was founded to serve communities of color, has offices in Buffalo and Rochester and is funded by the state health department. The Mocha Center is not a task force member.
“I think it would be apparent that in New York there are only two organizations that were founded to serve black gay men,” said Bruce E. Smail, executive director of the Mocha Center. “It’s not as if the AIDS Institute is unaware of the Mocha Center. We’re funded by them.”
The state health department did not respond to an email seeking comment. Noting that he had no role in selecting the members, Charles King, chief executive officer at Housing Works, an AIDS group, who co-chairs the task force, said it would hold a series of town hall meetings around the state to get input from many New Yorkers about the plan. He has been holding unofficial sessions.
“I wouldn’t advise that the task force be about identity politics,” King told Gay City News. “We have the right set of minds to construct the right solutions.”
In a recent complaint filed with the AIDS Institute by a former GMAD employee, Taylor-Akutagawa was accused of sexual harassment. The group also has continuing financial problems. Taylor-Akutagawa said he had no reason to believe that these played a part in GMAD being excluded from the task force.