“We want to connect some of the dots. We believe there is value in individual strength, but there’s also value in community.”
So says Trevor Gray. Gray and others are mounting a weekend summit in downtown Toronto that will bring together more than a hundred black gay men to talk about health, well-being and social justice. There’s a lot to celebrate.
“We have changed the culture, the tone of the city. We are part of that diversity that people talk about, that makes this city so rich and vibrant,” says Gray.
The summit is a free event for African, Caribbean and black gay, bisexual, trans and queer men from across Ontario.
Winston Husbands, another organizer, says the MaBwana study of black gay men and HIV was the genesis of the project. That study came from the African and Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario (ACCHO), which will also play host to the summit.
“When we finished the study, we asked ourselves, How can we move the findings out into the community among the people who should know and who would want to know?” says Husbands.
The study, which focused on HIV and black gay and bi men in Toronto, looked at a broad range of issues — identity, community involvement and affiliation, sexual relationships, sexual health, identification with HIV as a community issue and more.
“Usually studies like this focus a lot on sexual behaviours, on unprotected sex. And that was certainly part of the study, but the summit is not just about sexual behaviour, or even just about HIV. While that’s part of it, it’s about health and well-being in black gay, bi and trans men. Part of that is also about human rights.”
Discussions of black communities in particular, and HIV and AIDS more generally, are often framed in terms of what’s going wrong, says Husbands.
“But one of the things that came out of the study is that, contrary to the way people usually think of black men, black gay men are really invested in their communities. They are aware and knowledgeable that HIV is a community issue, and I think we have to build on these strengths toward community health.”
Akim Larcher, who sits on the project’s steering committee with Gray and Husbands, agrees.
“For gay black men, the summit is going to reflect on the positive and healthy lives we live, bringing voice and visibility to that.”
Toronto’s black queer men’s community has a history of organizing. Gray situates the summit alongside the now-defunct black gay men’s group Aya and the Blockorama event during Toronto’s annual Pride festivities. Husbands agrees.
The summit has space for 120 participants and will provide a limited number of scholarships to permit Ontario residents from outside the GTA to attend. Registration ends Mar 10.
“There is an awful lot of talent in our communities, an awful lot of enthusiasm, and we’re all of us individually and collectively thinking about how we can harness this talent and enthusiasm to move us forward,” says Husbands.