One of CBAM’s areas of focus is HIV prevention, especially in the context of addiction and communities with health disparities. We sat down with CBAM staff member Chris Blades to get an in-depth perspective on our prevention work with MSM (men who have sex with men) of color. In this 3 part series, we’ll delve into the challenges and experiences of working with the LA community to prevent the spread of HIV.
Part 1: “There is still something being lost in translation.”
How did you get interested and involved in this field of HIV prevention?
It all started when I moved back down here from San Francisco. I transferred schools and around that time I was dealing with my own issues around coming out, and because of that, I was working with a nonprofit agency at the time that was focusing on women’s reproductive rights. I talked to our Executive Director and said, “We should have a program that focuses on young men of color who are struggling with coming out issues and possibly HIV prevention.” So that’s kind of where it started, maybe back in 2006. That [initiative] just turned into a youth leadership program where we trained [young men of color] on HIV prevention and all the counseling techniques that they can take back out into the community to their friends.
How do the people you come into contact with now differ from who you came into contact with at your previous job?
Now, there is a broader scale in terms of age ranges. We’re dealing with guys who are as young as 18 and men who are up to 60, so their life experiences are different. The behavior is still the same, but just how they see things and go through life is different.
How is HIV generally viewed in this community, and how might a person’s perspective of HIV differ based on age?
It’s definitely different. I think HIV is more apparent now as far as socially; people are more aware of it and talk about it and see it in advertisements. For some reason, there is still something being lost in translation between HIV and what it takes to get infected. In the eighties and early nineties when HIV was still new, the side effects were a clear indication on if someone was infected. It gave them more of a visual perspective of what HIV looked like. If someone was HIV positive at the time they might have been dealing with extreme weight loss, skin lesions, and other extreme flu like symptoms. People were dying off sooner then. But now especially with the younger guys, they don’t see that. They see that people are getting infected with HIV; however, they’re not seeing the effects of HIV.
Do you think for the most part, a lot of them don’t see it as a big deal?
It really depends on the situation they’re in. In one of our HIV prevention studies we have men who are more transient. They don’t have stable housing, aren’t really working, nor do they have a primary source of financial income, so HIV prevention isn’t a priority to them because they have other things going on in their lives. However, we also have guys that are working, report being more stable, and who are a bit more educated, and their main concern is becoming infected with HIV.
Is there something that you hear over and over from people who come to the clinic in terms of their beliefs, their concerns, or their barriers to being healthy?
In my experience working here, we do a lot of testing for our [HIV prevention studies] and we’re able to provide a lot of details [to the men] about their overall health—whether it’s how well their liver is functioning or how their kidneys are functioning—letting them know that they could have some undiagnosed condition and that you should get checked out. What we offer a lot of these guys is information, but for some reason a lot of them aren’t really receptive to the medical referrals that are offered. It’s not that much of a priority to them to get their abnormal labs checked out. I’m unsure if that’s because they have other things going on that they consider more important, or if it’s because they’re not experiencing any pain or side effects. So we’re seeing that a lot in this population.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this discussion, and make sure to visit explore our site for more information on our HIV prevention efforts.