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Tim Barrus: HIV’s Grip on the American South: New Yorker Magazine

Tim Barrus: HIV’s Grip on the American South: New Yorker Magazine

Tim Barrus

I work in the South with adolescent boys living with HIV who are homeless, sick, and doing survival sex. We have created our own safe house. The POINT is to get off the street. The boys run it. We do not disclose our location because there is NO DOUBT in our minds that violence would find its way to the front door. We do not ask for one penny in funding. It would be absurd. Why bother. Enough people in the community hate us. It’s amazing that Americans find that so difficult to believe. That hate and violence would be such a part of everyday reality. How do we know this. Easy: The tricks (all white men in cars) commonly throw boys into ditches and leave them there, or they just beat them up. There are bodies buried all over the South. This is the deep South, not the new South whatever that is. The boys have faced everything from knives and guns to baseball bats. When the trick is through using you, he attacks you. This is the rural South. The church South. The HIV clinic the boys use is not much different. Often, the pharmacy doesn’t have the meds anyway; why bother to get tested if treatment is so inadequate or nonexistent. These are common things down here that people who do not live here find difficult to absorb. That an HIV clinic would have a pharmacy that treats you like a criminal and never has the medication. We hear slogans like AIDS FREE GENERATION, and we think: Maybe for you, but not for us. If we walk down the sidewalk, men come up to us, and spit in our face. On one hand, the locals want to have sex with the boys, but at the same time hate them. Funding is not an issue because no one here has time for it. The boys would laugh. We are just trying to stay alive. On a moment to moment basis. We call it Smash Street Safe House because everyone who comes here is so broken. We have our own collection of baseball bats, and we keep them by the front door.

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