Statement of Support for HHS Secretary Nominee Xavier Becerra

NMAC, formerly the National Minority AIDS Council, strongly supports the confirmation of Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra.

“We applaud President Biden for nominating a person of the strongest character and a history of fighting for minority health equity, Xavier Becerra,” said Paul Kawata, Executive Director of NMAC. “Attorney General Becerra has a long record of expanding healthcare to minorities and fighting for vital federal funding to end the HIV epidemic.  As President Biden recommits to ending the epidemic, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will be critically important to not only delivering results, but to ensure those who don’t have access to healthcare will not be forgotten.”

“I’ve had the great pleasure of working with then-Congressman Becerra,” said Joe Huang-Racalto, Director of Government Relations and Public Policy for NMAC. “His forward-thinking and defense of those who have no voice, makes him uniquely qualified at this critical time. Aside from executing President Biden’s promise to end the HIV epidemic, Mr. Becerra must rebuild trust among the minority communities. NMAC looks forward to working with Secretary Becerra and we strongly recommend his swift confirmation.”

NMAC leads with race to urgently fight for health equity and racial justice to end the HIV epidemic in America. Since 1987, NMAC has advanced our mission through a variety of programs and services, including: a public policy education program, national and regional training conferences, a treatment and research program, numerous electronic and print materials, and a website: www.nmac.org. NMAC also serves as an association of AIDS service organizations, providing valuable information to community-based organizations, hospitals, clinics, and other groups assisting individuals and families affected by the HIV epidemic.

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Statement of Support for Assistant Health Secretary Nominee Dr. Rachel Levine

NMAC, formerly the National Minority AIDS Council, strongly supports the confirmation of Dr. Rachel Levine as Assistant Health Secretary.

“We strongly support the nomination of Dr. Levine,” said Paul Kawata, Executive Director of NMAC. “In addition to Dr. Levine’s exemplary and impeccable credentials, she is an historic leader in the LGBTQ community. As Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Dr. Levine led that state’s historic response to COVID-19 pandemic.  She has earned the highest level of respect among her peers and colleagues and President Biden. As the first Senate confirmed transgender American, Dr. Levine is shattering stereotypes and is giving long-overdue hope to transgender Americans. Those of us in the HIV field know the struggles LGBTQ Americans face – especially healthcare discrimination. As Assistant Secretary, Dr. Levine will continue to fight for access to healthcare for underserved minority communities. Her record of fighting for justice is strong and we know she will continue to pave the way for affordable healthcare for all Americans.”

NMAC leads with race to urgently fight for health equity and racial justice to end the HIV epidemic in America. Since 1987, NMAC has advanced our mission through a variety of programs and services, including: a public policy education program, national and regional training conferences, a treatment and research program, numerous electronic and print materials, and a website: www.nmac.org. NMAC also serves as an association of AIDS service organizations, providing valuable information to community-based organizations, hospitals, clinics, and other groups assisting individuals and families affected by the HIV epidemic.

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NMAC APPLAUDS HOUSE PASSAGE OF EQUALITY ACT

NMAC applauds today’s passage of the Equality Act by the U.S. House of Representatives. Protection from discrimination for LGBTQ Americans is a vital component in the success of the federal government’s plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

“We cannot successfully fight HIV/AIDS without ending discrimination against the LGBTQ community,” said Paul Kawata, Executive Director for NMAC. “Overt or perceived discrimination is a major reason why many LGBTQ Americans do not seek out needed health care, including HIV testing, care, or prevention education. It also deeply affects such basic things as keeping HIV medications in their homes or accessing health care benefits through their employer. By ensuring their protection under the law in every state and territory, the Equality Act will have a tremendous impact on our efforts to end HIV by 2030.”

NMAC leads with race to urgently fight for health equity and racial justice to end the HIV epidemic in America. Since 1987, NMAC has advanced our mission through a variety of programs and services, including: a public policy education program, national and regional training conferences, a treatment and research program, numerous electronic and print materials, and a website: www.nmac.org. NMAC also serves as an association of AIDS service organizations, providing valuable information to community-based organizations, hospitals, clinics, and other groups assisting individuals and families affected by the HIV epidemic.

NMAC Statement on Support for REPEAL Act

As a national leader in combating health disparities for minorities, NMAC strongly endorses the REPEAL Act, and applauds Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s determination to eliminate discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.

“The REPEAL Act will advance efforts to finally modernize laws surrounding those living with HIV/AIDS and, if enacted, will afford those Americans the right to privacy,” said Paul Kawata, Executive Director for NMAC. “We know that disclosure laws are rooted in an old model aimed towards punishing HIV-positive Americans. Those same laws create tremendous barriers for Americans living with HIV, including those serving in our Armed Forces. More importantly, these laws deter self-reliance health practices, which we know is the most effective way of stopping the spread of HIV,” Kawata said.

“This legislation is critically important and long overdue,” added Joe Huang-Racalto, Director of Government Relations and Public Policy. “No other medical diagnosis has a criminal element associated with it. Singling out HIV and prosecuting Americans living with HIV is morally wrong and terribly misguided. As we move towards ending the epidemic by 2030, we must continue to eliminate punitive laws and the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS – an important step in that process is to pass the REPEAL Act.”

NMAC leads with race to urgently fight for health equity and racial justice to end the HIV epidemic in America. Since 1987, NMAC has advanced our mission through a variety of programs and services, including: a public policy education program, national and regional training conferences, a treatment and research program, numerous electronic and print materials, and a website: www.nmac.org. NMAC also serves as an association of AIDS service organizations, providing valuable information to community-based organizations, hospitals, clinics, and other groups assisting individuals and families affected by the HIV epidemic.

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Being a Black Gay Man

Jezreal Rodriguez Anderson
Program Coordinator

Anthony J AndersonI am tasked with writing an article about Gay Black men, one of the hardest things I must do to date. If I were asked a year ago, it would be the easiest thing in the world, back when my life revolved around being what I deemed a “Black Gay Man.” However, as of recently, I am at a loss for words when it comes to this idea of Black gay men. As much as I crave the community of other Black gay men, I also fear it. I fear that the relationships I build will hurt me and I fear that the life I always thought I wanted was something that did more damage than good.  


As funny as it sounds, when I got to college, I thought I was an anomaly. I thought as a Black Gay man I was the conundrum that people only heard about in myths. Up until this point, there were no Black Gay men in my life to befriend and as someone who went to a 100% African American school, I never found another man I could find solace in over my sexuality. TV shows like “Queer as Folk,” a program I snuck to watch, did not have Black gay characters and Davey Wavey, the white gay YouTube star I looked up to, did not discuss race, so going to college I was the only Black Gay man in the world and, oh, how that task. 


That all changed when I took a break from my white institution and engulfed myself into the world of the District of Columbia. During my break from school, I built strong relationships with some Black Gay men who became my idols. It was the first time I saw Black men who were fully comfortable in their own sexuality and I wanted it. It was not long after that I realized that the same people I looked up to were also the people who would let me down. 


As humans, we build ourselves based on the relationships we make. In 2021, being gay and being socially expressive is something that is still new in our world. We are in an era where we are still learning what it means to be Gay and what it means to be in a healthy relationship and, sometimes, we fall short of that. We as youth look up to individuals who are still looking for their own identity. The truth of the matter is, we go from being “straight men” to fucking them and there are issues that come with that.  


Even though I have spent four years being in the Black community, I can tell you I still say have no idea what it means to be a Black gay man. For me, sometimes it is putting away my sexuality for the greater good of the community or being so gay that other Black people do not even acknowledge it. For some, it is doing lines of coke in the bathroom with their good friend and for others it is praising God during Sunday worship. None of these experiences are right and none of these experiences are wrong but they are the reality. As Black gay men, we are not a monolith, we are individuals; that is the most important part of this story. 


A lot of Black gay men, including myself, will conform to what society deems a Black gay man is and then spend a lifetime trying to find our own selves. We look for the leaders in our community only to find they still cannot lead themselves. We look for intimacy through sex instead of just learning the importance of being in each other’s presence. It is time for us to find our own idea of what makes us Black and gay. 


Sometimes I say too much and sometimes I do not say enough for fear of judgment. Some days I crave the relationship of other Black Gay men and sometimes I crave the intimacy I never gave myself. This chapter of my life being a Black Gay man means being my own self and having a keen sense of that. If we want to stop HIV, we need to first stop denying ourselves from healing first. Many of us are battling mental health issues, substance abuse, sex addiction, financial instability, and many other demons that are very valid and real. I can say, in the past five years, as strong as my relationship has been with other Black men, I can count on one hand the times someone asked me, “when was the last time you took your meds,” but I can tell you the last time someone asked me for a line of coke, or even the last text received about a “wild” sex party (that I might have gone to). I do not fault any of these individuals because this is their narrative and story. However, right now as a black community, we need to assess what are healthy habits and what are vices we are using to cope with deep hurt.  


When you are searching for love, as all people do, sometimes we are willing to jeopardize our whole self to make that a reality. We will jeopardize our morals, our ideals, and, most importantly, ourselves for fear of being weak or alone. I know that is what I did until I realized that nobody could make me whole but myself. I found that all the unhealthy habits that were just for fun prior to COVID-19 became the same vices that I did alone when nobody was looking. I realized that all the love I thought I needed from others was not the love I give myself. To be honest, in 2021, we are not focused on how to stop HIV; we are focused on how to stop doing our vices before they kill us. If we do not forgive ourselves and understand that we are worth living for, then we will never see the importance of making sure we manage our HIV and take our PrEP. As Black gay men, no narrative is the same and to be empowered is to realize that, as an individual, you find it important to live a motivated life.  


In all, the Black Gay community has so much beauty and many niches that have and continue to shape society. I am really blown away by the Black gay leaders in the community who take noes and turn them into yeses. Even through our hurt and ostracization, we get up each day and try to survive in the best way, in a world that wants us dead. When I first started this journey as a Black Gay Man, I thought I was the only anomaly, but I come to realize every person in my Black Gay community is too. We are all hurt and we have all hurt other, yet we still love and forgive. We ignore our own hurt to let others shine and that’s the beauty of it. In every mess you can always find beauty, and I am just as messy as the rest and it’s what make all of us so great. During this Black History Month let’s work on holistic healing. Let’s work on facing our fears head on and to become the person we are meant to be. Let’s work on realizing as a Black Gay Man you hold the power to move mountains and shape history. That is what I want to see this Black History Month: healing and self-love!  

Are We Ready?

Lauren MillerLauren Miller
Health Equity Program Coordinator

Are we ready to lose the chains of white supremacy that have bound Black folks and prevented us from reaching our greatest potential?

Are we ready to topple, desecrate, and destroy every idol, statue, and name inscribed that caused harm to black folks?

Are we ready remove to white supremacists from their seats of power; unapologetically?

Are we ready to restore the black communities left behind and destroyed by the crack epidemic?

Are we ready to close the jails and privately owned prisons that have capitalized off of black bodies?

Are we ready to right the wrongs caused by the medical community that have led to mistrust?

Are we ready to provide reparations to the ALL the descendants of enslaved Africans?

I am ready. I believe America is ready. And if you ain’t ready, I hope you get there soon or you will find yourself on the wrong side of history.

“We have nothing to lose but our chains”

For 400 plus years in America white supremacy has reigned and kept us all behind. WE all saw what happened at the Capitol. And the world saw it too, live and in color.

The revolution will not be televised……
but the insurrection of disgruntled hateful white supremacist will be
AMAN and AWOMAN

White Supremacy could no longer be hidden, burned, discarded, lynched, and erased from history.

It is now. It is us.

But we are not the same.

Our ancestors have taught us so well.

Marsha, Martin, Malcolm (thank you for your radicalism, your beauty, your sacrifice).

It is their voices that guide us as we fight to liberate every black body, and we don’t intend to leave nobody behind.

Mumia, Matulu, Janine (thank you for your radicalism, your beauty, your sacrifice)

My Journey with PrEP

Terrell ParkerTerrell Parker
Associate Program Manager

A few days ago, I started primary care with a new doctor. I recently relocated back to Indianapolis now that my job is virtual. When my doctor walked into the room, she asked me about the blood pressure medication I take, and then she asked…… “so I see you want to be prescribed PrEP, tell me about that?”

Me: “Well, I’m gay. I have receptive anal sex, and I sometimes don’t use condoms. This puts me at high risk for HIV, so I take PrEP.”

Doctor: “Okay, great.” (trying to mask her shock and surprise).

Me: “Have you ever prescribed PrEP?”

Doctor: “No, this is my first time.”

Me: “Well, you want to do an HIV test on me, full STI screening, check my kidneys, and…”

Doctor: Laughs.. “Thanks, but I asked a colleague and he walked me through the process already…”

Me: “Great, if other people in your practice need some education, I can refer you to a PrEP providers training program.”

The rest of the conversation went pretty well. I walked out of the doctor’s office with an order for PrEP called into the pharmacy less than a mile from my home. A few years ago, this was not my reality. As I drove home, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come. I couldn’t help but recall the days before I had quality health insurance, before I had a car to easily make it to appointments, and before I had the education to advocate for myself.

My journey towards PrEP has been long. I first learned about PrEP attending an HIV prevention conference in 2014. Five years later, I finally began PrEP in November of 2019. Before coming to NMAC, I was a young professional just starting in the HIV workforce. Like many beginning professionals, I worked for a low salary and no health insurance benefits.

After learning about PrEP, I made it my mission to increase awareness in my local community.
I began educating anyone who would listen. I held community talks, focus groups, launched a PrEP campaign, and helped develop internal processes/external partnerships to increase PrEP referrals and navigation for young, Black gay/bisexual men and transgender women.

Even as I worked to increase PrEP access in my community, I faced the reality that PrEP was not accessible to me. No health insurance meant no PrEP. I knew, however, when I did have access to insurance, I was going to start PrEP—period. I just needed to hold on to my negative HIV status long enough to get a prescription.

PreP gives us the power to transform our narratives and rewrite history as Black gay men. Many of us have heard the CDC projection, “½ of Black gay, bisexual men will contract HIV within their lifetime” if current trends in HIV acquisition continue. PrEP is a powerful tool we MUST use to change this trajectory. We will only change this, however, if everyone who wants PrEP has the access, resources, and support to sustain PrEP uptake.

PrEP has been revolutionary for me. I think back to 2011, being madly in love with someone, and having that person tell me they could no longer be with me because they feared transmitting HIV to me. Fast forward 10 years, and I have proudly and openly dated people living with HIV with no fear of HIV transmission. PrEP gives us the power to take control and finally enjoy a health sex life free of fear and shame. I have never enjoyed sex and intimacy as much as I have since starting PrEP.

In honor of Black HIV Awareness Day, we must ensure everyone can be a part of the revolution. My experience today is still not the experience of most Black gay men I talk to who want to access PrEP like my friend, who told me this weekend his primary care doctor first refused to prescribe him PrEP and later tried to dissuade him due to him not “being a good fit” for PrEP. Thankfully, he did not listen. He persisted and now has an appointment to being PrEP this week.

We must ensure everyone has access to adequate health insurance and informed care providers.

Being Nonbinary

Jasmine Florentino - Social Media Coordinator

Jas Florentino
Social Media Coordinator

Happy Black History Month! Having one month out of the year is never enough to exemplify the beauty, complexity, and impact the black community has had on the entire world. However, I will try to compress my thoughts and feelings about this month as a nonbinary Afro-Latinx in 600 words or less. Let me introduce myself. My name is Jas Florentino. I am from Douglasville, GA, a small town 30 minutes west of Atlanta, GA. I come from a beautiful family with healthy, vibrant Afro-Dominican roots. Since I was a child, something always felt a little different between the other students and me. I knew my person, my being, who I was in this world did not fit into the box of “male” or “female.” My relationship with my body and how it translated into outside society did not “fit.” As a young child, I chocked these feelings as acting like a “tomboy” or being “one of the boys” as most of us would. When I entered high-school, things got much more challenging. I realized my identity was much more than a “tomboy” label. I felt loss, like a burden, too complicated to express who I was to my friends and family. Eventually, I started to retreat within myself.

I lost motivation in school, sports, and socialization. I rejected the world because I believed it rejected me. When I got to college, I was blessed with finding black queer community . I was exposed to black leaders that rejected the gender binary and live in their truth. Individuals such as Amandla Stenberg, Indya Moore, Janelle Monae, Angel Haze…. the list is endless, all live in their fact as unapologetically non-binary black people. I knew my strength was within me, to be authentic. To be true to my being.

August 2018, I came out to my friends as a non-binary individual, with they/them pronouns. Immediately, I was met with love…as well as questions.

“Are you a boy?”

“Do you want to take testosterone?”

“How do you know?”

“Why not change your name completely?”

“Any surgeries?”

Although most of these questions are incredibly invasive and should never be asked to any trans person or non-binary individual, these are questions consistently thrown at me. First, gender is a spectrum, a performance, an individual embodiment. What I mean by this is that gender is performed and interpreted by the person exhibiting that gender. You can be a girl, that likes traditionally girly things. You can be a boy, that loves to get their makeup done. You can be non-binary and wear skirts, as well as masculine suits. You can be a woman and prefer male clothes. You can be a man and flow in and out of femininity and masculinity. I do want to note, although I am highlighting man, woman, and non-binary identities, there is a vast and beautiful list of gender identities existing among us. Also, gender is so much more than clothes and interests… it is feeling. Gender is so personal. It is hard to explain the feeling you get after years of feeling misplaced and finally finding the verbiage that sits right with your soul. Its euphoria. Its peace. Its utopia.

My existence is because of the strong black trans women that fought for my existence, like Ms. Marsha P Johnson, Vanessa Warri, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy . My existence is because of the black people that fought to stay alive during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. My existence is because of the queer black love that holds me when I feel like I am too much to carry.
I am so thankful to live this life. Happy Black History Month.

Oops, more than 600 words.

PS: This is my personal experience. Ask your trans and non-binary friends how they want to be loved.

Sincerely Black and Here,
Jas Florentino

Putting PLWH First in Line for COVID Vaccine

The COVID vaccine roll-out is another gift from the Trump administration. They punted to states to implement vaccine roll-outs not understanding or caring that states were already overwhelmed managing COVID testing, healthcare, and deaths. NMAC is particularly concerned about access to the vaccine for people living with HIV. We have already heard reports of PLWH who were turned away from getting the vaccine because they were immune compromised, stories of PLWH who were told that taking antiviral meds was contraindicated for the COVID vaccine. Like so many in this country, people don’t know whom to trust.

Talking with a federal colleague, I was told that “people with HIV should be in the 1c vaccine category, if not 1a or 1b for another reason.” Unfortunately, the state by state roll out currently underway has resulted in different policies and timelines. As a result, NMAC made an appeal to the CDC asking them for clarification. Our movement needs to push to ensure PLWH are classified as 1a so they can have immediate access to the vaccine. This is particularly important because PLWH are aging and too many suffer from age advancement due to meds. There are also too many PLWH who are still immune compromised and need to move to the front of the line.

The Need for National Leadership

For the next two years, local health departments will continue to be overwhelmed by COVID and their roles in managing this disease. As we have seen, you can’t just leave it to states. Ending COVID or ending HIV takes national leadership. The federal government can’t just tell states it’s their responsibility to figure out how to get the vaccine into arms or to put together a plan to end the HIV epidemic in their region. Both movements are crying out for national leaders who tell the truth and who will stand with community on the frontlines of both epidemics.

COVID has shown us what happens when you don’t have the national leadership needed to guide the country through a terrible moment in history. Why should HIV be any different? There are too many people who are afraid to get the COVID vaccine. There are too many people who don’t trust PrEP. Our goal has to be about more than getting drugs into people. It’s also about understanding the systemic barriers that keep people from living their best life. As we have learned from Ready Set PrEP, just because the drug is free does not mean people will take it. While cost is always a factor, there are many other variables that must also be addressed. Ending the COVID or HIV epidemics is not only about meds. Until we understand and address the complex human challenges of race, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, we will fail in our efforts to get herd immunity for COVID or the numbers needed for U=U and people on PrEP to end HIV.

It breaks my heart to think of the people I lost to HIV in 1994-96. The time right before protease inhibitors and combination therapy was the stuff of night terrors. Now that we have a COVID vaccine, we just need to hold on until it is our turn. Unfortunately, that may be months for most of us. I’m fighting to find the courage to stay alive. I need you to fight with me.

Yours in the struggle,

Paul Kawata
NMAC

A Change is Gonna Come

A President’s Inauguration is usually a joyous moment of celebration, at least for the winning party. Because of COVID, unemployment, and the raid on Congress, there is little happiness or the mood to celebrate. I just want this inauguration to be over as quickly and safely as possible. There is lots of work to be accomplished.

The Biden’s administration number one priority has to be COVID and getting control of the pandemic while rapidly getting out the vaccine. If we’ve learned anything from this experience, we learned that we weren’t ready and too many people died because of it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a long way to go to repair its relationships, both internally and externally. I asked the Biden transition team focused on the CDC to make sure the new director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, addresses the toxic culture of racist aggressions outlined in a July 2020 New York Times article. NMAC supports their request that the director declare “racism a public health challenge.” Not only will that go a long way to heal internal issues, but it will also put the CDC in alignment with the Biden administration.

President Biden says racial justice will be a priority for his administration and NMAC says prove it by ending the HIV epidemic. How will this White House priority transform HIV services to align with this presidential priority? What is HHS, CDC, HRSA, HUD, SAMHSA, NIH, et al., doing to meet these new administration’s values? NMAC challenges all federal agencies to show how their HIV funding is addressing the President’s call for racial justice.

NMAC applauds President Biden’s nomination of Dr. Rachel Levine to his Assistant Secretary of Health. She will be the first out transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate. Federal offices with significant HIV funding should follow his lead by hiring people living with HIV, people of color, LGBTQ, and especially people of trans experience as federal employees. If Black Trans Lives Matter, then there should be Black Trans people in leadership positions at HHS, CDC, HRSA, HUD, SAMHSA, NIH et al. NMAC is concerned that too many federal offices with significant HIV funding have too few staff from the communities hardest hit by HIV. How can you build programs that reach community when community isn’t on your team? One of the unfortunate lessons from COVID, like HIV, is that, while the viruses don’t discriminate, the lack of healthcare and prevention infrastructure can kill you.

COVID has shown us that we must call out these inequities. We cannot stay silent and expect things to change. Because the Democrats control the White House and Congress, we have an opportunity to make real change. However, it’s only a two-year window. With Speaker Pelosi’s 2022 retirement, I worry for our future. We will never have another Speaker who will be as friendly to the HIV community as she was. Our community owes her a great debt of gratitude.

Yours in the struggle,

Paul Kawata
NMAC