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United Deliverance, which receives the majority of its $370,000 annual budget from the state health department, helped Love move into a house, get food stamps and medication, and apply for disability benefits. Now, "I'm doing nice. Lovely," he says.
Although he never sees the bill, there's a hefty cost for Love's new comforts. Taxpayers ultimately cover the expenses. His rent is paid by the federal government through a Department of Housing and Urban Development program specifically designed to help low-income people with AIDS, and he receives about $200 worth of food stamps a month. He takes five medications a day, and such pills cost $12,000 to $36,000 a year, according to the Palm Beach County Health Department. Funding for the medicine is provided to states by the federal Ryan White program. (This summer, thanks to budget cuts and rising unemployment, the Florida Department of Health established a waiting list for patients to receive free medication. As of September 3, there were 1,493 people on the list.)
Love doesn't have a job and isn't really looking. He's waiting to hear if his application for social security disability insurance is approved. In his mind, an adolescence spent on the streets has earned him a vacation. "My time has come to sit back and relax," he says.
Eventually, Love says, he'd like to get a clerical job. But for now, he has the same preoccupation as most 25-year-olds: romance. Whenever he meets a new guy, he's frightened. Will the man reject him? Attack him?
Fear of rejection — by lovers, families, and friends — is just one of many reasons that black people continue to be disproportionately impacted by AIDS, says Lorenzo Robertson, regional minority AIDS coordinator for the Palm Beach County Health Department.
Racism and a deep distrust of the white medical establishment also play a role. Local clients still bring up the Tuskegee Syphilis Study when telling Robertson why they don't heed the warnings of white doctors. For four decades beginning in 1932, the U.S. government denied treatment of syphilis to black sharecroppers.
Robertson says that even now, he can walk into a gay-friendly health clinic and be ignored by a white receptionist. And there are no role models — no black Neal Patrick Harris or Harvey Milk — appearing in his favorite gay magazines or neighborhoods.
Finally, there's plenty of ignorance, recklessness, and denial. It's not unusual to hear tales of drug-fueled romps at clubs, where men hook up with as many as six other guys a night. With 1 in 31 black men in Palm Beach County carrying the virus, those hookups become a form of Russian roulette.
Yet, for men like Love in their teens and 20s, the threat may not seem imminent, Robertson says. In 1993, AIDS was the leading cause of death among people ages 25 to 44. Now, drug cocktails keep victims seemingly healthy for years (though the drugs can have horrible side effects). With modern medicine, a black man diagnosed in 2005 can now expect to live 20 more years, according to a recent CDC study.
Parked in front of the air conditioner in Love's living room one August afternoon, Love and a group of his friends discuss the secrets they've grown accustomed to keeping. A Bible sits open on the glass coffee table. Potted plants decorate the corners of the room, and a wooden sign above the TV spells out Happiness in chunky letters.
Today, Love is wearing shorts and a T-shirt, snuggling with his boyfriend on the couch. Another 22-year-old man dresses conservatively — black T-shirt, khaki shorts — but carries a Coach purse. A tall, slender friend they call "Juicy" is perfectly coifed in a short plaid skirt, a tight pink top, and a tongue piercing. He grabs a couple of slices of pizza and flips through the newspaper as the gossip wears on.
All of them say they're out of the closet and proud. "When you feel better about yourself, nothing else matters," the 22-year-old says. But their openness changes depending on the situation.
"I don't like to go over to my family in drag," says Juicy. "I don't know how they're gonna react when I get my implants."
"Me, I'm like the Army," jokes "Miss Tony. "If you don't ask, I will not tell."
Love's 21-year-old brother is confident and flirtatious. He has sculpted arms, copious tattoos, and an enormous wooden cross around his neck. He's also bisexual but would never tell his father: "I ain't telling him nothing. I'm gonna lie to him till the day I die. He'll shoot me."
Some of the men say they don't worry about getting HIV because they don't have casual sex. Still, warns the friend in khaki shorts, "If you go without a condom, you should be afraid. It could happen to just anybody."
But privately, out of earshot of the group, Love's brother says that regular condom use is unrealistic. "You're gonna have sex unprotected," he insists. "That's part of life... Who's gonna get up, honestly, and find a condom?" He says he trusts his partners.
He also says he has plenty of friends who sleep with men but insist they're straight. "I got a phone full of homeboys."