Friday, June 25, 2010

Sherri Shepherd & D.L. Hughley Spread Misinformation about HIV/AIDS

We already knew that Sherri Shepherd was a fucking moron, but now here's the proof that D.L. Hughley is an idiot too. From the June 22, 2010 episode of ABC's The View:

Basically both Hughley and Shepherd make the (false) claim that the primary reason for the prevalance of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community is that women are contracting the disease from men who are "on the down low".
Hughley: When you look at the prevalence of HIV in the African American Community, it's primarily young women who are getting it from men who are on the down low. That's the thing.

Shepherd: The down low is black men who've been going out. They are having sex with men and they're not telling their girlfriends or their wives that they're gay and their husbands, as well. And it's very prevalent with African American women because they come home and have sex with their wives or their girlfriends. And they're not telling them that they're gay.
Everyone already knows that Shepherd is an idiot, but Hughley actually almost sounds somewhat intelligent as he's discussing this (except for the fact that almost nothing he is saying is accurate or even remotely based on fact). He does not have a medical background, he does not have any knowledge or expertise on the subject of homosexuality or HIV/AIDS... he's an actor-comedian with no formal education on the subject. He's speaking purely from a position of ignorance and homophobia and disguising a very misguided opinion as "fact".

It's very possible that a lot of viewers accepted this misinformation as truth... and the perpetuation of these myths can be damaging to both the gay, bisexual and African-American communities. (It's extra sad that this blatant spreading of ignorance had to come during Pride Week of all times.)

The topic of HIV/AIDS transmission in the African-American community came up as part of a conversation about the FDA's continued refusal to accept blood donations from men who have sex with men. Hughley referenced a editorial that posed the question "If it's OK to reject blood from gay men, what about blacks?"
The FDA bases its MSM policy on simple math. "Men who have had sex with men since 1977 have an HIV prevalence … 60 times higher than the general population," the agency observes. "Even taking into account that 75% of HIV infected men who have sex with men already know they are HIV positive and would be unlikely to donate blood," that leaves a population of MSM blood-donor applicants whose HIV prevalence is "over 15 fold higher than the general population."

So a 15-fold difference is good enough to warrant group exclusion. How about a nine-fold difference? According to the Centers for Disease Control, HIV prevalence is eight to nine times higher among blacks than among whites, and HIV incidence (the rate of new infections in a given year) is seven times higher. For black women, HIV prevalence is 18 times higher than for white women. [Emphasis mine]
For the record - for those of you who don't click the link and read the full article (we definitely recommend that you do) - the author is not actually suggesting that the FDA reject blood donors based on race. Rather, he's just making a point about how rejection based solely on "group membership" like sexual orientation or race - regardless of the general numbers - makes less sense than basing it on actual individual risk factors.

Hughley tried to defend the FDA's ban on gay men donating blood by saying that political correctness shouldn't work its way into the medical field. "We have to defer to medical experts," he said. So let's see what the actual experts have to say about his claim that "down low" men are responsible for the high HIV rates among black women:

Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention debunked this myth. The CDC has studied why the HIV/AIDS rates among African-American women is so extremely high (they make up 61% of all new HIV cases among women). Although 80% of African-American women contract HIV through heterosexual contact, this is mainly from men with high-risk behaviors such as having multiple sex partners (primarily female partners, not secret gay male partners) or IV drug use. There are actually "relatively few" infections coming from male partners who are bisexual.

Fenton also explained, "if there is a high prevalence of HIV in a given community and you have sexual partners from that community, your probability of coming into contact with HIV is much higher than others." He said there is currently a concentration of the epidemic "among the poor, among ethnic minorities and racial minorities in the United States" partly because these are "populations which have been historically and traditionally hard to reach and more difficult to serve". He emphasized the importance of tackling stigma and discrimination about the disease.

Shepherd and Hughley's statements will only make that stigma and discrimination worse. The blog BlackGayGossip made this point perfectly:
For the longest time and still today, the black community as a whole has been plagued by lack of education and at times, intentional ignorance when it comes to HIV, which has allowed it to spread as rampant as it has now. [...]
And while we’re on the subject of down low men, ask yourselves this question, “why are these men on the down low?” Allow me to offer some real life reasons: 1) black culture is heavily rooted in the church and whether these men attend church or not, they are bombarded with the message they are going to burn in hell for their homosexual desires, 2) fear of being disowned by their family or evicted from their households (this pertains to males of minor age as well) 3) battery, assault or murder at the hands of a stranger due to intolerance and homophobia. I could keep going but those are three pretty convincing reasons.
Even the CDC sites one of the reasons HIV/AIDS has hit the African-American community the hardest is due to the stigma (negative attitudes, beliefs, and actions directed at people living with HIV/AIDS or directed at people who do things that might put them at risk of HIV). That last part sounds like code for gay men to me. But it’s true that the stigma is grossly damaging our community. Stating THE reason black women are contracting HIV at such high rates is due to men sleeping with men and not telling these women only perpetuates this stigma. [Emphasize mine]
GLAAD contacted ABC and The View, asking them to retract the statement and educate their audience with actual facts.
"Sherri Shepherd and D.L. Hughley's claim that African American gay and bisexual men are ‘primarily' responsible for increased HIV rates among African American women is inaccurate and dangerous," said GLAAD's Senior Director of Programs Rashad Robinson. "Medical experts, including the Centers for Disease Control have dispelled that myth and ABC has a responsibility to its viewers to correct the information. Shepherd and Hughley's comments fuel a climate of homophobia and racism."The network has refused to correct the false information or take any responsibility for Shepherd's and Hughley's statements.
GLAAD has released a call to action:
Call on "The View" to issue an on-air apology and correct Sherri Shepherd and D.L. Hughley's misrepresentation of African American gay & bisexual men. This program reaches millions of viewers and ABC must ensure that its platforms are not used to perpetuate dangerous falsehoods that put our community in harm's way.

ABC Contacts:

Brad Jamison, Vice President Corporate Initiatives

ABC Television Network


Julie Hoover, Corporate Communications Vice President

ABC Television Network

(212) 456-6641

Bill Geddie, Executive Producer

ABC "The View"

(212) 456-0910

We would like to encourage all of our readers to take part and pass it on!

If you go to the GLAAD link, there is also a petition you can sign that will send an automatic message to ABC. For the extra-lazy activists out there.)

And while we're sort of on the subject of blood donation... if you've ever donated blood - or at least attempted to - you may be familiar with the donor history questionnaire, but not that many people are actually aware of the fact that homosexual men are in the indefinitely deferred category regardless of their actual risk factors.

You are restricted from giving blood if in the past 12 months you have [partial list]:

  • Come into contact with someone else’s blood
  • Had an accidental needle-stick
  • Had sexual contact with a person who has hepatitis
  • Lived with a person who has hepatitis
  • Had sexual contact with a prostitute or anyone else who takes money or drugs or other payment for sex
  • Had sexual contact with anyone who has ever used needles to take drugs or steroids, or anything not prescribed by their doctor
  • Had sexual contact with anyone who has HIV/AIDS or has had a positive test for the HIV/AIDS virus
You are restricted indefinitely if in the past 33 years (from 1977 to the present) you:

  • Have received money, drugs, or other payment for sex
  • Are male and have had sexual contact with another male, even once
So being gay is riskier than having sex with someone who has HIV/AIDS? Really? So basically... if you had sex with just one man... with whom you were in a monogamous relationship... and you were both virgins beforehand... and it was protected sex... and it only happened once... and you were both tested beforehand and afterward. You can't donate blood.

On the other hand, if you're a man who has had sex with thousands of women... always unprotected... and some of these women were IV drug users... who shared needles... and some of these women were HIV-positive... and you have never been tested. You can donate blood as long as it's been 12 or more months.

Does anyone else see some kind of disconnect here?

Also, it's worth pointing out that the questionnaire doesn't even specifically say "sexual intercourse". It says "sexual contact". What exactly constitutes sexual contact? Is it limited to penile-vaginal or penile-anal sex? Does it include oral sex? Does it include any physical contact (kissing, touching) that might be of a sexual nature?

Way back when I was in college, our school refused to host blood drives for many years because of a non-discrimination policy. That is, they would not allow any organization that would discriminate against any of their students based on sexual orientation. I believe the school now does host blood drives, but at the time they were very torn on the issue. Students disagreed on what was more important: Refusing to tolerate homophobia and discrimination or denying hospitals and blood banks of much needed donations?

I was researching the subject, for a potential article for the school newspaper, and questioned a representative of the Blood Bank on why gay men were restricted from donating blood. She informed me that gay men were at a higher risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. I reminded her that not all gay men are at a higher risk, only those who engage in high risk activities like unprotected anal sex with numerous partners. However women who engaged in the same high risk activities could donate. She didn't understand, so I explained further.
Me: The risk factor isn't "being a gay man". Yes, unprotected anal sex is a higher risk activity, but it would be the same level of risk for a woman.

Idiot: Oooh, you're right! She could have had anal sex with a gay man!
At the time, I couldn't believe the idiocy of her answer. However, now Sherri Shepherd and D.L. Hughley are given full freedom to repeat this kind of idiocy on television. And ABC doesn't care.

That might be the most annoying part of this incident... Sherri Shepherd said some stupid shit. That probably happens every day on The View, but when an organization contacts you and says that what she said was not only totally wrong and offensive, but also potentially harmful with really serious consequences - you don't just blow them off. Why shouldn't she and Hughley be held accountable? Why shouldn't ABC take responsibility?

Please contact ABC and let them know that they need to take responsibility for what happened on The View and make a public apology and correction.

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