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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview with Benoit Denizet-Lewis

Aired August 4, 2003 - 19:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Sharp increase in new cases of HIV has college officials and health workers in North Carolina worried. In 2000, college related cases made up 6 percent of new HIV cases. Last year the figure jumped to 20 percent. Nearly, all of the new cases nearly are among black men who had sex with other men.
Benoit Denizet-Lewis, reported extensively on the increase of AIDS and HIV cases among black gay men in yesterdays "New York Times Magazine." He joins us tonight from Boston.

Thanks very much for being with us.

BENOIT DENIZET-LEWIS, CONTRIBUTOR, "NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: You look at the figures, this increase in HIV among black gay men. And the question is why, why are so many young gay men who are African-American contracting HIV?

DENIZET-LEWIS: Well, you have to look back at the history of this disease if we go back 20 years it was framed from the beginning as a disease affecting white gay men, and that just wasn't so. Quickly it became a disease that affected...

COOPER: The notion is still implant...

DENIZET-LEWIS: Yes, still implanted. By 1991, a quarter of all AIDS cases were black men. So it is something that there has been a lot of denial in that community. And it really -- Magic Johnson's announcement in 1991 was a wakeup call to the community, but not an entire one.

COOPER: I know we made up a little graphic which talked to you before hand about some of the explanations for this. Let just put that up and talk about some of these things.

Why are so many young black gay men getting HIV? You talked about no dialogue in homosexuality black communities, true.

DENIZET-LEWIS: There is very little dialogue. I mean, it started to happen a little bit more. But from black churches to black schools to black civil rights organizations there is very little dialogue about homosexuality. When it's talked about, it's usually talked about a negative way.

COOPER: HIV spread in prisons obviously have a high population of African-Americans. Less HIV testing than among whites.

DENIZET-LEWIS: Well, black men -- black people in general there has been studies done in the last five to 10 years really staggering statistics come out of that that -- in one study about 50 percent of black men -- black people believe that HIV testing was a ploy to infect them with the virus. There is a lot of distrust among the African-American community about HIV. Many still believe it was a disease created by the American -- the U.S. government to get rid of blacks and gay people. And that's still there.

COOPER: Which is amazing. In yesterday's "New York Times Sunday Magazine, you wrote about what you call the downlow culture among some black -- young black men who don't necessarily identify themselves as gay, but they do have sex with other men. Explain what downlow means and why it is significant.

DENIZET-LEWIS: Downlow culture, is generally black men who have sex with men, but don't identify as gay. Some of them have girlfriends and wives at home. And it is a very interesting subculture. Because men of all races have been having secret sex with men for as long as we've been on this earth. Women as well. So that's not new. What is new is this community that has been formed over the last 10 years that has a real name downlow, that has its own institutions, Internet chat rooms, special nights at clubs, all these ways for black men to meet other black men for sex and relationships without cutting their ties to the black community. So the black community, they're straight, they're macho, they're strong, but...

COOPER: And in fact, and significantly for the spread of HIV, they continue to have sex with women and therefore there is crossover.

DENIZET-LEWIS: Yes. It wasn't until -- I talk about this in my story, it wasn't until women really started getting infected with that the black community and the white community for that part really started to take notice of this problem. Black men had been dying for years of AIDS. But when black women started dying, this downlow culture came to light and everyone started really being interested in this and trying to figure out how we're going to fix it.

COOPER: Well, it's an alarming study and fascinating article you wrote in the Sunday "Times Magazine." Benoit Denizet-Lewis, thanks very much.

DENIZET-LEWIS: Thanks, Anderson.

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