George’s is a sports and country music bar in the Montrose that caters to gay men. It’s only a few blocks away from Legacy, a major clinic in the neighborhood that offers free HIV tests.
And yet outreach counselors from Legacy prefer to set up shop here, or in other Houston bars and pharmacies.
Amy Leonard directs public health services for the clinic:
“Some might say that it’s odd to do testing here, but then some find that this is the comfort place because this is the place where the community is and where their friends are.”
The testing at George’s was part of a national day of publicity dedicated to awareness of AIDS among gay men. That may seem odd, because AIDS hit the gay male community first, and awareness grew from there.
But Leonard explains there was a very brief drop in the infection rate among gay men, so many outreach campaigns shifted to other populations like African Americans.
“There was more of an awareness, then, on the other populations. Where we really see an increase in African American women and men. Only to realize that it was not going down, and we needed to highlight the fact it was increasing in gay men, and we didn’t need to rest on our laurels or our efforts that we originally started with.”
Gay men still account for more than half of all new HIV infections, despite the spread of the disease among heterosexuals and IV drug users.
In Houston, Legacy is trying to reach more African-American gay men.
Jason Black is part of the effort. He points out that if current trends continue, 60 percent of black gay men will be infected by the time they reach age 40.
“It’s really, really an alarming and scary statement.”
Black says socioeconomic issues play a part, but so may cultural issues.
“Because HIV was originally tied to the gay community and there’s stigma in our community around being gay and our culture has been shaped around church and religion, I think it feeds into the stigma of us not being able to talk about.”
According to the city health department, 39% of the people testing positive for syphilis in the recent outbreak also have HIV.
But doing a field test for all the major STDs at once can be costly and difficult.
HIV involves a cheek swab, syphilis requires a blood draw, and gonorrhea involves a urine test or body swabs.
From the KUHF Health and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.