Changing the narrative about black gay men

One night in November 2014, Charles Stephens listened intently as black gay men rose to recount their stories — some heartbreaking, some inspiring — about homophobia, racism, HIV and other issues at an event called the Blueprint Dialogue.

There was the Morehouse college senior who expressed a need for unconditional love. Small acts of affirmation, he said, would go a long way toward healing the hurt many of them felt.

The 61-year-old recently retired newcomer to Atlanta, said he felt a sense of loss and had been struggling to find community in this city too busy to hate. Do I have a future here? he wanted to know.

And the man in his 40s who didn’t feel he had adquate time to heal “because we’re so busy trying to make things happen and because so much was going on, especially during the height of the AIDS epidemic.”

By his 30th birthday, Charles Stephens had long been involved in the work he believed was important to Atlanta’s black gay community. As a student at Georgia State University, he co-founded Black Out, a black LGBT student organization. Now he heads the Counter Narrative Project. RYON HORNE/RHORNE@AJC.COM

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Nearly 100 of them, ages 18 to 61, filled the room that cold November night under the auspices of the Equality Foundation of Georgia and the newly formed Counter Narrative Project.

“I’d never seen anything like it before, and I thought this is exactly what we need to be doing, creating a space where we can tell our stories,” Stephens said. “It felt like magic in the room. You could look in people’s eyes and see them engaged.”

Stephens certainly was. Despite bearing the brunt of this country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, gay black men and their stories had been lost in the statistical discourse.

Not only have they been forgotten, the disproportionate share of the U.S. epidemic that they comprise in the black community and the U.S. overall continues to get overlooked.

Read the rest of Stephens' story by clicking below:

The Silent Epidemic: In this series

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5