The “golden rule” in Sacramento still applies two decades later • Sacramento News & Review
HIV / AIDS crusader Clarmundo Sullivan continues to educate and elevate services to underserved community in southern town and county
By Genoa Barrow, The Sacramento Watcher
While many focus on a pandemic that has wreaked havoc over the past year and a half, a local health advocate is still battling a virus that has been around for much longer. Clarmundo Sullivan fights against HIV / AIDS and people’s perceptions as the founder of Golden Rule Services. African Americans, says Sullivans, need ongoing education and awareness about HIV / AIDS.
Golden Rule Services provides case management for the county and offers free HIV testing and free STD screenings and other culturally appropriate services. The organization is
located in South Sacramento, having moved from Oak Park 15 years ago. âThe data showed there was still a great need in South Sacramento and we’ve been here ever since,â Sullivan said. “We always want to follow the epidemiology, not only where we see a high incidence of HIV and STDs, but we also want to be in predominantly colored communities, which remains our target population.”
When it comes to HIV in the black community, “about 70% of all infections are our men.” Sullivan said. âUnfortunately, when it comes to living with HIV and AIDS in Sacramento County, we find that African American women are the majority, they are disproportionately affected. Even though they represent only 30% of the total of African Americans living with HIV and AIDS, they are considerably high when it comes to being still at risk. We still see about 120 to 115 new HIV infections here in Sacramento County every year.
There is still a stigma surrounding HIV / AIDS in the black community. There is also a culture of silence.
âWe’re not talking about it,â Sullivan said. “Even though we do a lot of marketing, we do a lot of promotion and advertising and all kinds of interventions, it seems like people just don’t care.”
A few years ago, the black community was interested in HIV / AIDS and made sure that people knew the status of the people they were dealing with.
Today, black people across the country are still disproportionately affected by HIV.
âOur infection rates are higher, our death rates are higher than any other racial group in Sacramento County. So while people don’t talk about it, we die. Every year we get infected and die because of the silence around HIV.
Adding to the problem is what Sullivan calls âsexual silenceâ.
âWe don’t like to talk about what’s going on in our rooms, especially because most of us are faith-based,â he explained. “We are taught not to share our things, not to talk about our sexual situations and so that’s what drives the epidemic forward.”
People need to talk to their children about the risks of getting HIV / AIDS, says Sullivan. People need to have candid conversations with their partners about the test and their status. All too often, Sullivan shares, the black community has stuck its head in the sand.
âThere is a lot of denial and HIV still disproportionately affects us here in Sacramento County,â he said.
People need real information about what is going on. While it’s true that men who have sex with men are the number one risk group locally, heterosexuals are not far behind.
âWe have what we call ‘high-risk heterosexuals’ who engage in high-risk sexual activity,â Sullivan said. âWe have African Americans who inject drugs and share needles. We have âsex for payâ. In our community, we don’t talk about it, but it does exist.
Whenever a person tests through them, Golden Rule Services performs a screening. They ask questions about the types of activities a person engages in that could put them and others at risk. It is common to hear people say that they don’t use protection because they âdon’t like condomsâ or because they are too expensive or inaccessible.
Sullivan doesn’t buy it.
âYou would think that after 40 years of this epidemic we would be in a different place, but now because of life issues, because of social and cultural issues, because of the economy, we are still at risk. very, very high. It’s not that we are engaging in riskier behaviors than any other population. This is not the case. It’s just that we have these other socio-cultural issues that put us at a higher risk that maybe other communities don’t have to deal with. This is what still drives the HIV / AIDS epidemic.
There is hope
Golden Rule Services has matured since its inception in 2003.
âWe were just doing groups for black homosexuals. That’s all we focused on, because they deserved it; it was the black community population that had the highest incidence and prevalence of HIV / AIDS.
In these groups, participants learned about safe sex and the cultural issues that are at the root of the epidemic and strategies and how to tackle homophobia, racism and classism.
Sullivan often worked with little or no outside resources.
âIt was not a question of funding. If you were HIV positive you deserved the same care, treatment and attention as anyone else. We have been doing this for almost 18 years without funding.
It wasn’t until 2013, when there was an increase in gonorrhea and chlamydia in the local African African community, that Sullivan was approached by Sacramento County to partner up. Prior to that, Sullivan said he and his team had to “get creative.”
“We have been fundraising and raised enough money to start giving free testing to people of color here in Sacramento County.”
It also fights against stigma.
âWe serve the gay and LGBTIQ community. We serve prostitutes, we serve ex-criminals, we serve sex workers, we serve transgender people. Because these communities are not very romantic in the community, you say to yourself, âWhy should we support these people, they deserve what they get. Why are they engaging in high risk sex? There is a lot of stigma surrounding the populations we have always served.
Things are improving, he says, as members of the LGBTIQ community become more prominent in society. Advances in medicine also give Sullivan more hope than ever that there will be an end to HIV / AIDS during his lifetime.
âI had a young black gay man who was on his deathbed, I went to the hospital and they were doing the last rites,â Sullivan said.
âThey put him on HIV treatment and a month later he was back to work. He has put on the weight and he is now very, very well, he looks healthier than me, âhe added.
A drug called PReP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, also makes a difference.
âIt’s something you can take, either on a daily basis or when you know you’re going to be dating. This will prevent you from contracting HIV and AIDS, âSullivan explained. “We are about seven to 10 years old with great data proving that PREP actually works.”
Golden Rule Services offers navigation preparation aid and educates people on its purpose and benefits. Sullivan also touts another approach, the U = U strategy or intervention.
âU = U means undetectable is equivalent to non-transmissible. If we can get people living with HIV to take medicine and make their virus undetectable, it is impossible for them to spread it, whether or not they use condoms. These two strategies alone can end this epidemic. “
Sullivan wants to see HIV testing become more routine.
âA lot of people don’t feel the need to get tested for HIV. They don’t think they are at risk. If we can encourage all sexually active people to at least get tested for HIV, maybe once a year, we can find those people who don’t know they are HIV positive and who are spreading it in the community.
The work is personal
Golden Rule Services recently added a mobile HIV testing unit to its services. Sullivan says the converted RV will go a long way in removing barriers that prevent people from going to a traditional clinic for testing.
Testing at a booth did not work with the issue of privacy and confidentiality. Now they will be able to offer that. The mobile unit will park at events, low income housing complexes, homeless camps, bars and clubs.
âI have always wanted to end the HIV / AIDS epidemic for several reasons, one because it affected us disproportionately 30 to 40 years ago and two because it personally affected us. affected my family and personally many friends and colleagues. “Sullivan said.
âI have made a commitment to all of those people who have died of HIV or the lack of HIV care and education that I will continue to work on until we end this epidemic. “
For more information, visit www.sacgrs.org.