Monday, September 21, 2015

Gay, Sex, and Black Affirming: The Mpowerment Project

This blog-post discusses how the Mpowerment Project (MP) has been adapted to meet the HIV prevention needs and socio-cultural context of YBMSM’s lives.  To read more download the guide 'United Black Ellument (U-BE) Adaptation of the Mpowerment Project for YBMSM.' It is a free download when you register at This document should be used in tandem with the MP implementation manual.

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MP Guiding Principle: Gay, Sex, and Black Affirming

U-BE attempts to enrich and strengthen YBMSM’s pride in being gay/bisexual/same gender loving and nurture their exploration and celebration of their sexuality, focusing not just on condom use but including the variety of sexual activities that are safe. The intervention should also strengthen YBMSM’s pride in being Black and being gay/having same sex attraction. This means supporting Black love, Black gay love and pride in being part of Black gay community. Men who are more out may want to address homophobia, whereas others may feel uncomfortable doing so. 

RELATED: Exercises addressing homophobia

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New Guiding Principle: Cultural Competency and Culturally Affirming

The Project Coordinators as well as the organizations running MP need to be culturally competent about African American issues in order to effectively implement the intervention with YBMSM. While cultural competency is an important issue for any MP to be relevant and accepted by a particular population of MSM, the implementation of MPs targeting YBMSM has focused on making the intervention not only gay and sex positive but also culturally relevant for YBMSM. Those projects have integrated themes, issues, and values relevant to African American culture into their activities, such as the importance of the family. Doing so helps YBMSM identify with the project and promotes community building and acceptability of the project.

Cultural competence includes taking into account that there is not one Black community but considerable diversity among African Americans. Thus, making the intervention culturally relevant includes considering diversity among YBMSM, such as socioeconomic backgrounds, education, and ages of the participants, in order to implement and deliver an appropriate intervention and messages that will be appealing to many different men. For example, the way sexually related messages are approached and delivered likely differ for Black teenagers and men in their late twenties. 

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Thus, successful implementation of U-BE calls for implementing agencies that are culturally competent regarding YBMSM. While a CBO could already serve the Black community, it is important that the agency understands the needs of YBMSM as well as the rationale for MP and what will be required to implement it. Agency buy-in is essential. If that is not the case, lack of understanding and clarity could ensue when the MP Coordinators are not allowed to follow the MP guiding principles and core elements because they do not coincide with the strategic planning or even the philosophy of the organization. 

Because the project will be run by and for Black men, they are likely to bring a certain level of cultural competency and affirmation from the start. In addition, every opportunity there is to have the project emphasize cultural affirmation should be used. Both the content and the presentation approaches need to be culturally affirming. If the project staff, including supervisor, are not well versed in African American culture, then learning this area is extremely important. 

RELATED11 themes to address in implementing Mpowerment for YBMSM

Men who are not open about their sexual activity with other men and who who do not have an identity related to their sexual activities with men may feel completely uncomfortable addressing homophobia; however, it is unclear how many of these men will participate in the project anyway, though hopefully they will be reached through informal outreach. The most out men may want to confront homophobia from their families and society, as well as internally felt, by reading and discussing books such as Keith Boykin’s books, read poetry, write poems, write music and so forth. For men who are not open about their sexual lives with other men, these activities may not appeal at all. Some projects may want to have some discussions about the issues related to disclosing one's sexuality or not, including inviting speakers to talk about their personal experiences. 

The issue of positive sexuality is likely tied to the issues of sexual identity, and self-acceptance as a man who is attracted to and has sex with other men. Projects should strive to increase views that sex can be both pleasurable and safe. But to the extent that men have internalized messages from the church or other parts of society that sexuality is 'dirty' and shameful, and is only acceptable within monogamous heterosexual relationships (and preferably for procreative purposes), this may be a challenge. Men who are more out may be more able to receive and promote messages about sex with men being healthy, pleasurable, and natural, while also being safe. This can be achieved through informal outreach and in the development of promotional materials regarding safer sex. We need to strive to reach all groups of YBMSM with these messages.

The Mpowerment Project at the United States Conference on AIDS 2015

RELATED17 African American & Men of Color Mpowerment Projects

RELATEDCenter for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) UCSF | Resources for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

RELATEDHIV among African American Gay and Bisexual Men | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

RELATED: Why HIV is a crisis for Black gay men and why so little has been done about it

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    READ MORE about implementation of the Mpowerment Project for young adult Black Gay and Bisexual men: 

    More adaptations are addressed in the rest of the manual, United Black Ellument (U-BE): Adaptation of the Mpowerment Project to Young Black MSM. This manual is a free download when you register at Look for the "Adapting Mpowerment" link.