You may recall reading a post on the resurgence of black LGBT people in San Francisco's Castro district late last year and the organization behind creating a more welcoming atmosphere for gay people of color-The Stop AIDS Project. The video accompanying that particular post caused the comment section to become quite heated as many debated whether or not black gays and lesbians should be fighting to be visible in the heavily white populated gay mecca with a history of racism toward non-whites.
Terry Dyer, program manager for "Our Love" a program within The Stop AIDS Project works to prevent HIV transmission among all gay and bisexual men in San Francisco through multicultural, community-based organizing. The goals of the Our Love Program are two-fold. The first is to bring education, outreach, advocacy and awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention to the community. The second is to address the increasing isolation of the black, gay community.
One of the ways Dyer is changing the face of the Castro is through a monthly event called "Blackout" where black gay men can be seen in large numbers throughout many of Castro's gay bars.
Dyer recently spoke with Poz Magazine about the efforts of Our Love, black gay men and HIV, his own positive status, and diversifying the Castro.
From Poz Magazine
In the videos on the Stop AIDS Project’s website, a lot of people talk about bringing diversity back to the Castro. What is that all about? Why is it so important?
The Castro is really the gay mecca of the world. When people think of moving to places where they feel comfortable and where others are accepting of their sexuality, I think people tend to flock here to the Castro. About 30 to 40 years ago, there was a large presence of African-American gay men here who felt accepted and like they belonged in this community and were a part of it. Over the past 10 to 15 years that has changed drastically.
What happened to change it?
Property values and taxes started to increase. The economics drove people out of the Castro. In addition to that, five to seven years ago, I believe, there was a big scandal. A bar owner in the Castro started carding and, some people felt, specifically targeting black people when they came to his bar. In addition, the same bar owner bought out and took over the only black club in the district. With that establishment gone, [gay black] people stopped coming into the Castro as well.
Is the area now regaining its original flavor as a diverse gay mecca?
We’re trying to. It’s definitely a work in progress. We’ve been developing more allies, people who believe in what we’re trying to achieve, but there still are a few bumps in the road that we have to negotiate. We go out to different bars to help build community. Our goal is to confirm our presence in the area so we can build acceptance. We also do more work outside the bars, too, that focuses on building community. These efforts are inclusive. People from all walks of life are invited to all of our events.
What has been the response to these initiatives?
I’d say that 80 percent of the people who have been to either our community events or other programs have been fully supportive. I have to admit that when I signed on to this position, I didn’t realize the magnitude of it. I receive e-mails, phone calls and text messages from people throughout the community saying, “Thank you so much for what you are doing,” and “This really is changing the face of our neighborhood and our community.”
I get messages from people who aren’t African American stating, “What you are doing is wonderful.” We have different Facebook pages and blogs and Twitters. People post comments that support and thank us for the work we are doing. They tell us it’s needed and it’s nice to see that the diversity is starting to come back to an area that is supposed to be so accepting and comfortable for diverse groups of people. But with the good, we’ve also got to take the bad. We do receive negative comments as well. Black gay people have told us, “If you don’t feel accepted [in the Castro], go somewhere else—go across the bridge to Oakland or move to Atlanta where there is more of a black presence or a black gay community.”
You say that this is from within the black gay community in particular? I don’t understand that.
We receive negative comments from time to time from various members of the black gay community, and those are typically the folks who choose not to come and hang out in the Castro or have decided to move away from the Castro for various reasons. But, to be honest, we welcome negative feedback because that allows us to use it as an educational opportunity, to let them know what our motives are. And what’s driving us is to let people know the common denominator here is we are all gay and we should all be able to work and play together.
Watch the work of Our Love in action in the video below: