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Calvin Williams Murder: Why Is AIDS Rate So High for Black Men?

This spring's murder of L.C. Swain Middle School teacher Calvin Williams brought to light a harsh truth about AIDS among African-American men. For many in South Florida, sex on the down-low is a deadly gamble.

According to Riviera Beach police reports, Williams' lover, Lawrence Hunt, 20, allegedly shot the teacher because he'd heard Williams had HIV. Hunt told the police he and Williams were arguing in the bedroom, and Williams tried to rape him. Hunt shot him in the head.

An autopsy report does not mention whether Williams, 41, had HIV. But police confirmed that the unmarked pill bottles found in his bedroom contained meds used to treat the virus.

Either way, Williams and Hunt were at a high risk for contracting the disease, simply because of their skin tone. South Florida has long had one of the highest AIDS rates in the country -- but for black men, the statistics are far worse.

In 2008, 1 in 31 black men in Palm Beach County had HIV or AIDS, eight times the rate for white men. In Broward, the statistic was 1 in 41 black men; in Miami-Dade, 1 in 29.

Health educators blame this disparity on a variety of factors: socioeconomic status, the stigma attached to being gay, racial discrimination, longstanding mistrust of health care providers. It all leads to a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude, so that many men hide their HIV status.

African-American ministers tell their flocks they're going to hell if they have HIV. Some people don't believe white doctors who warn them about the disease. And for gay men, admitting their true feelings can mean getting kicked out of the house or rejected by their families.

"If you are a [black] gay man, then you're automatically looked at as being less than," says Lorenzo Robertson, regional minority AIDS coordinator for the Palm Beach County Health Department. "We're not given the opportunity to... not feel ridiculed and not feel alienated by our community."

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab

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