Reliance on Government Dollars Threatens Black Gay HIV Efforts - gaycitynews.com | gaycitynews.com Reliance on Government Dollars Threatens Black Gay HIV Efforts - gaycitynews.com | gaycitynews.com

Reliance on Government Dollars Threatens Black Gay HIV Efforts

Gary English in Fort Greene Park in 2003 at the Pride in the City picnic and health fair sponsored by People of Color in Crisis. | GAY CITY NEWS

BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | On February 22 of this year, roughly 20 New York City AIDS groups gathered at the LGBT Community Center to discuss expected city and state cuts in AIDS funding.

“Some of you sitting here right now are going to see your state contracts cut,” said Soraya Elcock, who was the deputy director of policy and government affairs at Harlem United until 2010 and is now a consultant there.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has eliminated some $13 to $20 million in AIDS grants to the state, and those cuts will be passed to local groups, Elcock said.

The Bloomberg administration cut at least $8 million in HIV prevention funds over the past five years, while it says the City Council slashed another $11 million in such funding during the same period. There are further cuts in the proposed 2013 city budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Toward the end of the February forum, which was titled “Are We Ready to End AIDS?,” Gertrudes Pajaron, the director of development at the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/ AIDS (APICHA), spoke. Some groups would likely close and some of them “should” close, she said.

The cuts come as a city study of 510 gay and bisexual men interviewed at bars, parks, gyms, and other venues found high rates of drug and alcohol use with associated unsafe sex. While the high rates were among all races, one population that remains a serious concern is African-American gay and bisexual men. Advocates first raised concerns about increasing new HIV infections among young African-American gay men in 2007, and there is no evidence that this trend has abated.

In 2011, the CDC released a study that estimated HIV incidence, or the annual rate at which people are becoming infected, from 2006 to 2009 and found that a 21 percent increase in incidence among 13- to 29-year-olds was fueled by a 34 percent spike among young men who have sex with men (MSM). In that population, there was a 48 percent increase among young African-American gay and bisexual men.

“Among people aged 13-29, only MSM experienced significant increases in incidence, and among 13–29 year-old MSM, incidence increased significantly among young, black/ African-American MSM,” the authors wrote. New York was among the 16 states in the study.

While a number of AIDS groups in New York have programs that serve African-American gay and bisexual men, there is just one group –– Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) –– that is dedicated to serving that population exclusively.

In 2010, the latest year for which a financial filing was available, GMAD had a $1.3 million budget. Of that amount, $1.1 million was from government grants, so any reduction in government funding is a significant hit. Relying largely on government dollars is not unusual for smaller AIDS groups. They cannot afford the fundraising needed to win private or foundation money nor can they build the infrastructure that will let them tap into more reliable government funding sources such as Medicaid, the government-run insurance program for the poor.

The risks of being small were evident in the 2008 collapse of People of Color in Crisis (POCC), a Brooklyn AIDS group that once won plaudits for its HIV prevention work. Gary English ran POCC for ten years beginning in March of 1997.

In 2003, the CDC said POCC’s Many Men, Many Voices was a model for proving the effectiveness of HIV prevention programs. The praise came in a conference call with reporters announcing $49 million in HIV prevention grants.

Starting in 2002, POCC produced Pride in the City, an annual black gay pride event that drew thousands to a picnic in Fort Greene Park, various entertainment events, and a day at Riis Beach. Health and HIV testing was always a major component of the events. The last Pride in the City was in 2007.

“No one would show up if we simply held a health fair,” English told Gay City News in 2003. “But combine the screening with a major social event, and you get turnout.”

English was among the founders of the Black Gay Research Group (BGRG), an organization of academics and epidemiologists who produce science and scholarly work on black gay men. In 2003, POCC was a co-sponsor of the first Black Gay Research Summit.

In 2005, the latest year for which a financial filing is available, POCC had a $2.3 million budget, and $2.1 million came from government grants. When English left in 2007, Michael Roberson took over. He went on a shopping spree with POCC’s money, according to a federal audit that investigated the agency’s finances.

The audit concluded that from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008, Roberson spent just under $80,000 on personal travel, hotels, dining out, clothes, gym memberships, and cash transfers to friends. Of that, nearly $50,000 was federal money. He was fired on July 30, 2008.

POCC had already been struggling financially after English left. The fiscal assistant who worked under English left four months after him, and her replacement was not trained. The audit found that POCC was not paying employees or its payroll taxes or maintaining its books. Government agencies simply turned off the money. POCC closed its doors.

Roberson did not respond to a message sent via his Facebook page. Former POCC board members also did not respond to calls and emails.

“There’s no more Black Pride,” English said. “That was a great opportunity to get hundreds of men tested and other agencies used that to do outreach.”

Dr. Sheldon D. Fields, assistant dean for clinical affairs and health policy at Florida International University and a BGRG board member, said the closing reflects the value placed on black gay men.

“I think the closure of not only that agency but a few others that were specifically focused on gay men of color shows the lack of support for the infrastructure that is necessary to facilitate a targeted and effective HIV prevention strategy into these high-risk communities,” he said. “Black men, in general, don’t matter in society. In society, gay men don’t matter, so black gay men really don’t matter. They’re expendable.”

English, who now lives in Atlanta, remains angry at how POCC was treated, and he noted that other non-profits that misused far more money were allowed to stay in business. In the current dire fiscal climate, he is not seeing the kind of fire in the belly that informed his ten years at POCC.

“That’s what the black gay community is missing in New York City, the advocacy,” he said. “People should be very alarmed that that piece is missing.”

12 Responses to Reliance on Government Dollars Threatens Black Gay HIV Efforts

  1. Florence p June 21, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    So why was Roberson no prosecuted for the mismanagement of funds? I guess no one really cared as the article suggests.

    Reply
  2. Bob June 22, 2012 at 10:06 am

    "English, who now lives in Atlanta, remains angry at how POCC was treated, and he noted that other non-profits that misused far more money were allowed to stay in business." This is the most disheartening to read. Gary, went out of his way to hire and convince the board that Michael Robinson was the right candidate for his job. He used Michael's lack of experience as a way to manipulate the agency once he left for Atlanta. Did you happen to ask Gary how long he was insured once Michael was hired? Or how much money he continued to get paid? Or what he did with the money he earned for Pride in the City 2007, a job he didn't even do?

    Gary is just as much to blame for the fall as Michael. Michael learned these bad habits from Gary and with very little control from the self-hired, board of directors, Michael spun out of control.

    Once Michael came into the position of Executive Director, the employee turn-over was rapid and those who replaced the former staff were unqualified for the job. Grants were late, bills went unpaid, and eventually the employees lost their insurance, and eventually their jobs.

    What's sad to me, is that this agency had promise, it was doing good work, but power and money corrupt. The government agencies turned a blind eye for many years and then turned off the money faucet when it became undeniably clear that funds were being mishandled. This audit is a too little, too late.

    Gary and Michael should both face time for what they did to this agency. They should both be held accountable for what they did to their own community.

    Reply
  3. Bob June 22, 2012 at 10:38 am

    "English, who now lives in Atlanta, remains angry at how POCC was treated, and he noted that other non-profits that misused far more money were allowed to stay in business." This is the most disheartening to read. Gary, went out of his way to hire and convince the board that Michael Robinson was the right candidate for his job. He used Michael's lack of experience as a way to manipulate the agency once he left for Atlanta. Did you happen to ask Gary how long he was insured once Michael was hired? Or how much money he continued to get paid? Or what he did with the money he earned for Pride in the City 2007, a job he didn't even do?

    Reply
  4. Concerened June 22, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I feel for Mr. English to blame the Government and walk away with a 'if they can do it, why can't we' shows why funding for black agencies are facing cut in services. I also blame the funding sources for not properly accounting the outgoing of money. I agree with the above poster that Mr. Roberson should have been prosecuted and a message sent. Unfortuntley the current agency GMAD has it's own problems of meeting the public needs and the problem there is a director who is no longer effective unless he's getting press and a board made up of friends who look the other way as the ship is slowly sinking. If these places go under it's no fault but theirs and simply because they are one of the few black agencies shouldn't be an excuse. In my opinion these agiencies such as GMAD need a cleaning of the house and a reboot

    Reply
  5. Yeah I Said It! June 22, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    In addition to Gary’s insane comment about other agencies mismanaging money and being allowed to remain in business is just immature.

    POCC got what they deserved. Gary then Mike just hired pretty sycophants to agree with everything they said. The employees of the POCC knew what was going on and said nothing even when Mike hired boyfriends.

    Many black gay agencies just use their funds as piggy banks. Look at the New York State Black Gay Network they stole money for years too.

    If we are waiting for GMAD to save us then we are doomed. They don’t pay their employees, the director is egomaniac, the deputy director is just as vapid and as full of sugar honey iced tea as a backed up outhouse. GMAD needs to be rebooted and every staff person in charge including the person who watches their money fired!

    Reply
  6. Sheldon Applewhite June 28, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    I am disheartened to read the comments in this article about Michael Robeson and his role in the closing of POCC, but more importantly I am dissapointed and disgusted to read some of the comments written by readers, many who have a lot to say, but do not have the courage to put their full name behind their comments.

    Well, I have the courage to speak the truth. POCC was one of the premiere agencies in New York City and throughout the United States that served people of color infected and affected by HIV. The evidence shows in the amount of money that the organization was given by the federal government to provide HIV prevention and AIDS services to individuals in Brooklyn, NY, but also evidenced in their level of activism, such as Pride in the City and the creation of the Black Gay Research Group. POCC under Gary English's leadership was committed to serving gay men and others affected by HIV. The organization had a long-standing history of excellent work and was instrumental in the development of the HIV evidence-based intervention – Many Men, Many Voices.

    Reply
  7. Sheldon Applewhite June 28, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    On that note, I think it is always interesting to hear people sit on the sidelines and say what wasn't done when they have no idea of what took place and don't contribute to making things better. The only thing these sort of people do is sit around and complain and point fingers, but rarely do they lift up a finger to help, only to use their poison pen to malign others characters. The truth of the matter is, that records don't lie.

    Reply
  8. Sheldon Applewhite June 28, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    We cannot try to rewrite the past as if Michael did not commit the crimes that he did, because it happened. What makes it worse is that Gary English took the blame for mishandling the funds when he didn't even run POCC anymore and the person he mentored, Michael Robeson, let him take the blame. That is really shameful! A man's reputation was ruined (Gary's) because people were took cowardly to tell the truth about what happened.

    Reply
  9. Sheldon Applewhite June 28, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Let me say this, we need to hold Michael Robeson accountable if he committed these crimes (as the audit report from the CDC suggests), but more importantly it is all of our jobs to hold folks accountable (including the CDC) when our community is being misused. I'm not suggesting that Michael be prosecuted, because we do need to forgive folks when they make a mistake. However, the time to speak out about this sort of thing is not when the money is pulled and the organization is closed, but throughout the process. Because when folks misuse funds for gym memberships and gucci shoes, it's not just the Michael's or Gary's that get punished or POCCs that get closed, communities suffer and resources are lost in the form of dollars that could assist people from getting HIV infections or keeping others alive with medications who suffer from HIV. Think about that the next time you point the finger. How about doing something!

    Reply
  10. Concerned June 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I hear your comments Mr. Applewhite but I disagree with your statement "I'm not suggesting that Michael be prosecuted, because we do need to forgive folks when they make a mistake" What happened with finances was not a mistake-it was outright fraud that has rippled and affect communities. People may be on the attack because there is no attempt to change. Even GMAD has had numerous opportunities where people have tried to help the agency but the current director makes it impossible. He doesn't even return or respond to email. As I stated before you can't act like just becasue you're the only gay black agency there should be carte blanche when it comes to funding and respect? I want to see them succeed but with a leader who surprisingly was best buddies with Michael and Gary, the agency won't be there much longer

    Reply
  11. Suz1989 June 24, 2013 at 9:44 am

    If the government won't help people out, they should start looking for new solutions. Look for health insurance plans that help out HIV positive people as well as HIV life insurance to ensure that you have something to leave behind for your partner or family.

    Reply
  12. Pingback: And the Band Stopped Playing | 20+

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