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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
May 18, 2007

Hospital reveals the 'down low'
and other secrets


Cleveland--The “down low” is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an exclusively African American one, and most importantly, it is not the cause of the high rates of HIV infection among African American women.

This was part of the message from black gay activist and author Keith Boykin, who spoke on May 11 as part of MetroHealth’s Medical Center’s two-day conference, “Secrets: Why We Have Them, Why We Keep Them, and What They Mean.”

Other speakers at the event were Dr. Evan Imber-Black, a psychologist and expert on the impact of secrets, June Cross, a biracial journalism professor at Columbia University whose white mother told strangers she was adopted to protect her husband’s reputation, and folk singer Judy Collins, who wrote Sanity and Grace about the suicide of her son and its aftermath.

Boykin, a former Clinton aide, expounded on the themes in his book Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies and Denial in Black America, in which he debunks several myths pervasive in American culture.

He pointed to J.L. King’s book On the Down Low as one of the main culprits in perpetuating misunderstandings about the “down low,” which in many people’s eyes consists of African American men who identify as heterosexual and are in relationships with women, but have sex with men in secret.

King’s theories, however, are faulty, as Boykin pointed out both in the presentation and in his book, on sale at the conference along with those of the other presenters.

He pointed to one specific figure as telling of King’s fallacies: his claim that 70 percent of newly-reported AIDS cases are in African American women.

Boykin noted that African Americans--male and female--only account for 50 percent of all newly-reported infections.

King has misunderstood or willfully misreported the statistic, Boykin said: African American women account for 70 percent of newly reported infections among women, and contrary to King’s claims, there is no empirical evidence to indicate that men who have sex with men have anything to do with that.

Boykin did note the emotional consequences of life “on the DL,” though, but pointed out that an affair is an affair, cheating is cheating, and the ramifications are similar, if not the same, no matter who the affair is with.




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