A new generation of young Brooklyn black males, many hiding their sexual identity, is worrying doctors who say they are fueling the borough’s HIV epidemic.
HIV cases among men under 30 who sleep with men rose from 232 in 2001 to 491 in 2011.
“We are seeing more young men,” said Dr. Yusef Afacan, director of the AIDS Center Program at Woodull Medical Center in East Williamsburg. Afacan said he has even treated boys as young as 14 who contracted HIV after sleeping with another male.
“We never saw that a decade ago,” Afacan said. “Young gay men are not using protection.”
Men who have sex with men, or MSMs, include males who identify as gay and also those who hide their sexual preferences for other men.
Doctors believe these men are infecting their black female partners, who made up 79% of all new HIV cases among Brooklyn women in 2011 .
Hoping to stem the disturbing trend, advocates are zeroing in on central Brooklyn neighborhoods, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Williamsburg, Bushwick and East Flatbush, which are home to the city’s largest group of those living with the disease.
More than 15,000 reside in central Brooklyn, where about 3,600 identify as MSMs. Those 15,000 make up 10% of the citywide HIV/AIDS cases.
The Brooklyn AIDS Task Force opened a small store-front office called Brooklyn Men Konnect on Utica Ave. in Crown Heights, which reputedly has some strong anti-gay attitudes.
Workers troll gay dating sites posing as singles who give graphic intimate advice and push the message of practicing safe hookups.
“It’s too much casual sex. People don’t care. They are not wrapping it up,” said Steven Holmes, 23, a Konnect volunteer who was born with HIV after getting it from his drug-addicted mother. “They aren’t using condoms. They are being reckless.”
“Our lifestyle is taboo,” said a 22-year-old Bed-Stuy man who contracted HIV at 17. He had been struggling with his sexuality and didn't ask his partner to use a condom. “The first time I got a STD, it was HIV.”
Doctors are complaining that Brooklyn's federal aid for young HIV/AIDS patients has dropped from $2 million a year to $350,000.
“Brooklyn is getting screwed,” said Dr. Jeffrey Birnbaum, head of the SUNY Downstate’s Family, Adolescent and Children's Experience program, which had to let go 26 staffers across the county, including three doctors, because of the cuts.