Killing Our Community on the “Down Low”

A subject has piqued the interests of many, from Essencemagazine, to rapper KRS-One, to Oprah Winfrey— men on theDown Low.  The International Herald Tribune recently printedan article entitled, “Black men having HOMO sex on thelow.” This article has led to a new phenomenon and anotherreason why HIV and AIDS are being spread so rapidly in the AfricanAmerican community.


Recently, the African American community hasbeen plagued with stories of black men living life on the DownLow.  The “DL” as it is often referred to describesmen that have wives and girlfriends, but are secretly having sexwith other men.

Many of the men on the “DL” keeptheir wives in the dark about their lifestyle and most of them areunder the impression that they are in monogamousrelationships.  According to recent studies, these men areserious threats to the community because they are spreading the HIVdisease to heterosexual women.


In 2001, according to the Kaiser FamilyFoundation, an estimated 67 percent of black women with AIDScontracted the disease through heterosexual sex, compared with 58percent four years ago.  Some have even referred to men on the”DL” as sexual terrorists, who seek sex and personalgratification without regard to human life.


Some people do not believe that it is fair toblame black men for the rampant spread of HIV in the AfricanAmerican community.


“It’s just further evidence that theaverage woman still can’t take accountability for anything. All the talk about down low brothers is just another excuse forblack women to let out their frustrations on why they can’t keep aman, period. Yet, they refuse to look at themselves,” saidNortheast Washington, DC resident Tony Adams.


The National Center for HIV, STD, and TBprevention reported that 420,790 of all reported HIV cases were dueto male-to-male sexual contact.  Conversely, 135,628 of allreported HIV cases were due to unprotected heterosexualcontact.  The study shows that unprotected heterosexual sex isalso a problem, but male-to-male sexual contact accounts for overthree times the HIV cases that unprotected heterosexual contactdoes. 


It is widely believed that the idea of men onthe “DL” is directly related to the large amount ofhomophobia in the African-American community.


“Obviously homosexuality is in the blackcommunity or this wouldn’t be a problem, but our homophobia as aculture and ignorance towards the subject is why you got grown assman playing the heterosexual role while they secretly lust afterother men,” said Janelle Heard, a nurse at Health Southhospital in Richmond, Virginia.


Homosexuality is in all communities, but blackmen are more likely to be in the closet, while living normal,heterosexual lives.  Timothy Benston, the manager of a GayMen’s Health Crisis Program told The Village Voice, “The whitegay community is built around just that, white gay men.  And,there’s no real support (in the black community) around this sexualidentity.  No places where black gay men can go and be gay. So, we tend (to meet at) cruising places, like parks, whereeverything is undercover, ‘on the down low,’ as theysay.”


Black men come from a very macho community,where manhood is usually connected to the penis.  Manyresearchers have said that persistent homophobia in the blackcommunity leaves many African American men reluctant to pursuemonogamous gay relationships.


“These men feel they must remain a partof the African American community but face stigma if they come out. So they continue to feel negatively about themselvesregarding this part of their life.  This constant anti-gaysentiment — without any alternative to live out their lives inanother community — creates enormous self-denigration and poorself-esteem.  This is very different from what white menexperience,” Georgia State University psychologist JohnPeterson, told WEBMD.


“DL” men feel as though they have togo “undercover” to find a connection that they are unableto find in their day-to-day lives.  It is nearly impossiblefor black women to protect themselves when they don’t know thesexual behavior of their partners. 


Many researches and experts agree thatdecreasing the amount of men having unprotected sex on the”DL” has to start with education. 


“We have to increase the level oftolerance among African American males for all people,”Morehouse College President Walter Massey said to EVIPList.com,”it’s hard to educate gay men about the dangers of recklesssex if intolerance forces them into hiding and denial.”