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GMAD, Upstate Mocha Center Don’t Make Cuomo AIDS Task Force

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Vaughn Taylor-Akutagawa , executive director of Gay Men of African Descent, a Brooklyn-based AIDS group. | GAY CITY NEWS
Vaughn Taylor-Akutagawa , executive director of Gay Men of African Descent, a Brooklyn-based AIDS group. | GAY CITY NEWS

While concerns over continuing new HIV infections among black gay men have been widely discussed since 2007, the task force that will write the plan to end AIDS in New York is proceeding with no input from any organization with a history of specifically serving black gay men.

“I think the needs of our community require more than one voice,” said Vaughn Taylor-Akutagawa, executive director of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), a Brooklyn AIDS group that was founded to serve gay black men. GMAD is not on the task force.

Taylor-Akutagawa said that when he asked the AIDS Institute, the state health department unit that assembled the task force, about the lack of representation of black gay men, he was told it was an “oversight.”

Among 63 members, organizational history specifically serving black gay men missing

The task force, which was announced on October 14, has an unwieldy 63 members with an emphasis on large institutions, such as non-profits, hospitals, and clinics. It has many members from New York City, which is not surprising given that the majority of New York’s 3,400 annual HIV diagnoses are in the city.

There are individuals with no organizational affiliation on the task force, including Peter Staley, a long time AIDS activist, and Marjorie Hill, the former head of Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Nathan Schaefer, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), a gay political group, is a task force member.

Zachary Jones, a senior bishop in the Unity Fellowship Church and a former GMAD board member, is on the task force. Jones is a member of the Black LGBT Alliance of New York, a new group that has a board of directors, but no staff and no annual budget. The alliance met with the AIDS Institute in August and lobbied to join the task force.

“We are encouraged by the governor’s task force, however, until we see proof that black LGBT men and women become full partners in this venture and not simply treated as clients and consumers of services provided by others, we’re not convinced that the committee is serious or capable of achieving the stated goal of reducing new HIV infections in the state,” said Gary English, an alliance member, in a statement.

The task force will develop a plan to reduce new HIV infections in the state to 730 annually by 2020 using a mix of drug regimens, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and treating HIV-positive people so they are not infectious, and improving housing, nutrition, and other services for people affected by AIDS. It will complete its work by the end of January so its recommendations can be incorporated in the next state budget. New York’s fiscal year begins on April 1.

The Mocha Center, a health group that was founded to serve communities of color, has offices in Buffalo and Rochester and is funded by the state health department. The Mocha Center is not a task force member.

“I think it would be apparent that in New York there are only two organizations that were founded to serve black gay men,” said Bruce E. Smail, executive director of the Mocha Center. “It’s not as if the AIDS Institute is unaware of the Mocha Center. We’re funded by them.”

The state health department did not respond to an email seeking comment. Noting that he had no role in selecting the members, Charles King, chief executive officer at Housing Works, an AIDS group, who co-chairs the task force, said it would hold a series of town hall meetings around the state to get input from many New Yorkers about the plan. He has been holding unofficial sessions.

“I wouldn’t advise that the task force be about identity politics,” King told Gay City News. “We have the right set of minds to construct the right solutions.”

In a recent complaint filed with the AIDS Institute by a former GMAD employee, Taylor-Akutagawa was accused of sexual harassment. The group also has continuing financial problems. Taylor-Akutagawa said he had no reason to believe that these played a part in GMAD being excluded from the task force.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

@peterstaley says:
Duncan, while I agree black gay men are under-represented on the Task Force, there are more than the one you mentioned. You'll find a short bio for Kalvin Leveille here: http://www.spherelabcolumbia.org/about.html. He's also quite young, another under-represented demographic on the Task Force.
Oct. 30, 2014, 7:33 pm
Charles King says:
As noted in the article, I did not have any role in the selection of the task force. Notwithstanding that, I have received complaints from many quarters about people who were left out of this body. My advice in each case has been the same: Please don't sit on the sidelines. Let's focus on how we can come up with the best possible recommendations to end the epidemic. I would be delighted to sit down with Vaughn Taylor-Akutagawa, Nathan Kerr, Gary English, and Bruce Small and work with them to secure the best possible recommendations for ending the epidemic in the Black MSM community. I firmly believe that unless we end the epidemic among transgender folk and MSM people of color, we will not achieve or goal. I had the same complaint about community representation on the Medicaid Redesign Task Force. And I still think the complaint was valid. That didn't stop Housing Works from submitting some two dozen recommendations, the vast majority of which have been subsequently adopted. There is more than one way to move these processes and I would welcome partnership with those who do not have a seat on this official body to ensure their ideas are heard.
Nov. 1, 2014, 11:22 am
@peterstaley says:
Charles, Vaughn, Nathan, Gary, Bruce, etc. -- please count me in for any meetings on this! We need all the help we can get!!
Nov. 1, 2014, 2:28 pm
Dr. Herukhuti says:
Anyone with any integrity and critical analysis would see that if the task force is to be effective in its espoused mission it will need to be composed of the same demographic distribution as is the HIV population in NYS. The fact that it is not is a function of white supremacy, elitism, status quo-ism, bureaucratic myopia. Audre Lorde's admonishment is quite relevant in this context, "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." These people care more about the maintenance of the status quo than ending HIV/AIDS in NYS. And there are no radical progressive black voices within the HIV Industrial Complex in NYS wiling to risk their already tenuous position to call these folks out as racists and imperialists.
Nov. 2, 2014, 3:32 pm
Terrell Evans says:
There should most definitely be representation for gay black men on this task force and Vaughn Taylor-Akutagawa is an ideal choice. Mr. Taylor-Akutagawa is a proven and effective leader in this community with over 2 decades of dedicated experience in the fields of social services and organizational development. He has always displayed a sincere interest in assisting members of various gay minority groups, many times effectively directing community projects from ideals and concepts to operational and successful programs. A paradigm of integrity and leadership in this community, Vaughn's expertise and vast skill set include institutional psychology, community mobilization, program planning, board development, and community-driven research.....all qualities that would make him an invaluable asset to the task force. In regards to the allegation of sexual harassment, anyone who knows this man personally or even on a professional level would find it hard to believe. What this article fails to mention is that those allegations were thoroughly investigated and remain completely unfounded. The sad reality is that often times many disgruntled employees tell lies in order to somehow harm or retaliate against former employers for various reasons. Regardless of any personal views on this matter, none of it should distract from the obvious need for a black gay man's voice on this task force. I believe that every subgroup of the LGBT community should have representation....to demonstrate true equality and unity within this task force.
Nov. 5, 2014, 9:48 am
Kevin McGruder says:
I was disappointed that Duncan Osborne’s article on the exclusion of the executive directors of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) and the MOCHA Center from the 63- person task force charged with developing a plan to reduce new HIV infections statewide, ended with two sentences that seemed designed to support the decision to exclude GMAD (“GMAD, Upstate Mocha Center Don’t Make Cuomo AIDS Task Force”). The sexual harassment charges noted by Osborne were thoroughly investigated by GMAD’s Board of Directors and found to be without merit. The “continuing” financial challenges alluded to by Osborne are no different than those experienced by many small nonprofit organizations. In less than two years as executive director Vaughn Taylor-Akutagawa and his staff, along with GMAD’s Board of Directors, have made substantial progress in bringing organizational expenses in alignment with revenues by relocating to less expensive, but larger office space, by systematically reducing outstanding debt, and by developing new revenue sources. Rather than include unconfirmed, speculative information in the style of a “parting shot” regarding the reasons for GMAD’s exclusion from the task force, the article would have been more accurate if it had remained focused on what is known about the decision regarding task force membership and about GMAD. Kevin McGruder Secretary GMAD Board of Directors
Nov. 5, 2014, 12:54 pm
AJHinkson says:
Interesting article pointing out the curious omission of two relevant agencies. However, I fail to see the point of including the sexual harassment issue as an addendum without attempting to clarify whether the case is ongoing or resolved. It instead comes across as a 'swipe’ in a bid to suggest that Vaughn is a liability to the character and integrity of the agency. My empirical understanding of the situation at GMAD is that Vaughn has been doing an outstanding job in trying to repair the dreadful financial situation he inherited while trying to expand and improve upon the range and quality of services which GMAD provides to a generally neglected segment of the community.
Nov. 5, 2014, 2:17 pm
Jonathan Ystad says:
Mr. Osborne, I find it ironic that to post a moderated comment here, I must be both on subject and respectful. Perhaps you could learn to do the same with your special blend of red journalism. Otherwise, I'd recommend you take your considerable talents to the Enquirer. I found your story upsetting in that there are to be no Black male voices on this task force, but it appears you felt the need to blame Mr. Taylor-Akutagawa for this injustice. I would highly suggest rethinking your storytelling strategy and think twice before you hit submit when someone's reputation other than your own is called into question. Then again, if you want to turn your weak ledes into tabloid gold, be my guest.
Nov. 5, 2014, 11:16 pm
M.Saidia McLaughlin says:
It's the same old mess, identity politics is alive and well as it should be in the field of HIV/AIDS or else interventions could not be designed. Refer to my lengthy rant on Facebook.com/m.saidiamclaughlin. What about Audrey Lord Project or GRIT Circle, etc. Why were they not consulted. Sure folks would like to talk to these agencies and/or directors because they have been called out.
Nov. 7, 2014, 12:50 pm
Antoine Craigwell says:
I was fortunate to see this article in a Facebook news feed, and found it quite interesting from several points: 1. The Governor's 63-member task force may be constituted by people who are truly capable of advancing change in mentality, culture and practically, however, one wonders how many are on the task force for what mileage they could get out of it, including being able to boast that they are on a "Governor's Task Force", similar to the many for whom the prestige of being on a Presidential or White House panel, is more important than the actual work to be done; 2. That MOCHA and GMAD, and not even considered, DBGM, were left out of such a task force, to advise and provide recommendations on the more effective modalities for intervention and prevention is truly shameful, and as has been stated in previous comments, reeks of the blatant racism that shrouds and stifles a true response to HIV/AIDS in the Black gay community (disproportionately affected), and once again, others are speaking for the Black gay community. 3. Let's remember that many of the large non-profits who may be on the task force are White owned and operated and through politicking and their networks - including greasing palms in various forms - ensure they have a seat at the table, so that their grant requests would be approved when they come up for consideration; 4. One aspect of HIV treatment not being considered is the mental health component, with particular reference to the neuro-psychological effects of HIV and the medications used to treat it. DBGM has been working in this area, including, with the support of GMAD, it held two six-week support groups for Black gay men who didn't have their mother's acceptance (a fundamental aspect of self-acceptance) and holding the first -ever mental health summit for LGBT people of color, which was attended by more than 100 people from across the mid-Atlantic region and supported by several NY and NJ-based organizations. Yet, the larger issue needing to be addressed is how can the mental health of Black gay men be addressed to prevent HIV infection, and post infection, how can they be encouraged to see themselves as just as whole and complete, and not damaged, rejects to want to or not care about themselves to help reduce the infection pool? 5. I'm once again concerned that this "task force" may be just for window dressing, as a way for the state to show that they are progressive in the HIV fight, to get more funds from the CDC and Department of Health. What, instead, are plans to restore funding for mental health services, to encourage mental health professionals in NY-state to accept Medicaid and reduce the associated bureaucracy and paper work? 6. It is true, and it won't stop being referred to, that there has been mismanagement and other types of malfeasance in Black and Black gay organizations, yet, what about those White organizations, are they as lily white and free from blame? What have they done differently to allow them to become qualified for a place on this task force? 7. Duncan Osborne at Gay City News is capable of executing competent journalistic reporting. The fact that he resorted to the last comment in the final paragraph (should have been removed in the editing process, using the inverted pyramid), is totally without context and very damaging, especially to an organization that has been around for more than 30 years, is at the forefront of the fight against HIV in the Black gay community; it suggests that Vaughn's behavior is the reason for GMAD not being represented on the task force. Just my few thoughts on this article... Antoine Craigwell President & CEO DBGM, Inc. www.dbgm.org
Nov. 8, 2014, 12:36 pm

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