African American men are one of the main groups impacted by the HIV/Aids epidemic.

What’s even more alarming is that gay men are affected in larger numbers than their straight counterparts. According to the CDC, the largest number of HIV infections in the United States were among young Black males. Unfortunately, 81% of those cases were same-gender-loving men.  

Island City Stage recently hosted the "Behind the Red Curtain," which was a free open forum that dived into topics about social issues of being African American, and the impact of AIDS in the Black community. The forum was held at Art Serve in Fort Lauderdale.

BTRC featured a panel of distinguished members from the LGBT community. The panelists were Lorenzo Robertson, who serves as the founder of the Ujima Men's Collective, Jim Jones who is the CEO of the Rapha Center, and Ederick Johnson, HIV specialist for Florida Department of Health. They were joined by HIV activist, author and photographer Jesse Brooks, a native of California. The forum was moderated by Worlds AIDS Museum Educational Center Director Terry Dyer. One of the topics that came up in the discussion was geared towards the gays in the Black church. Audience members and the panel had plenty to talk about when it came to this oh-so-familiar hot topic.

"Some of the messages we received when we were growing up indicated that we were not worthy,'' said author Jesse Brooks. "I was raised in the church and I was taught that I was going to hell because of who I was. Those thoughts were something that my mind consciously had to work against.”

The open forum was hosted in conjunction with the opening of the production of "One in Two," which will debut in South Florida on Aug. 4 at the Island City Stage. This captivating production is written by Donja R. Love and directed by NAACP theater award-winner Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. "One in Two" tells the story of the current HIV projection rate that indicates how one in two Black men who have sex with men, and one in four Latino men who have sex with men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime. This statistic comes according to a study done in 2016 by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Furthermore, this production will be extremely unique. For instance, the audience chooses which actor will have the coveted lead role each night. Lead role duties require the actor to play the role of a Black man who is diagnosed with HIV.

Directed by Moxie Theatre in San Diego co-founder and NAACP theatre award-winner Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, “One in Two” refers to the current HIV projection rate that 1 in 2 Black men who have sex with men (MSM) and 1 in 4 Latino MSM in the U.S. will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime, according to a 2016 analysis by researchers at the CDC. Unlike other plays, in this production, the audience chooses nightly which actor must portray the lead character in this unforgiving story of a Black man diagnosed with HIV. Through humor and pathos, Donja R. Love has written a deeply personal call to action and created an unflinching portrait of being Black and gay in America today.  

Open and genuine conversations about HIV/Aids are not easy sessions for people to sit through. BTRC was a forum that allowed the panel to discuss these topics in a safe place that was dedicated to transparency and awareness. Audience members were also able to ask any questions, or discuss any issues that were adjacent to the issue of HIV/AIDS in the Black community.

"Some people don’t want to talk about HIV and some people don’t want to talk about being gay because they don’t want to lose their families,” said Lorenzo Robertson. "It becomes the over-arching reason why a lot of gays don’t talk about certain issues. It ultimately boils down to do I want my family, or do I want to be open.”

For more information, call (954) 928-9800 or visit islandcitystage.org. The show will run until Sept. 4.