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HIV Rate Among Black and Latino Gay Men Continues to Rise

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Black and Latino gay men continue to make up the majority of those contracting HIV, as 58 percent who tested positive in 2010 were black and Latino, according to the CDC. NY1 health reporter Erin Billups filed the following report.

Jahlove Serrano knew from the time he was little that he was attracted to boys.

"Being raised in a heterosexual, Catholic, Latino household, gay is not an option," says Serrano.

In the week leading up to his 16th birthday, everything changed. He was kicked out of his house for being gay and had a risky first encounter.

"I never would have thought in a million years that I would contract HIV my first time having sex," Serrano says.

Serrano is now an HIV-AIDS activist by day and a dancer and drag queen by night. He's working to end the persistent upward trend in HIV infections among black and Latino men who have sex with men.

"Had I had the conversations with my mother, with my father, proper education in high school, I definitely do think that I could have prevented contracting HIV," Serrano says.

Patrick Wilson, a professor at Columbia's Mailman School, has been looking into the patterns and practices among HIV-positive men.

His recent study of more than 100 men revealed that depression tripled the probability of them engaging in risky sexual behavior.

'When participants were feeling better than they normally were, they had about a 34 percent chance of having an unprotected sexual risk episode. In times where they were feeling worse, that went up to about 75 percent," Wilson says.

It's just the beginning of his research into the link between mental health and behavior and its connection to the growing number of young black and Latino men contracting HIV.

Still, he says that cultural stigmas remain the biggest challenge.

"Those stigmas are embedded in poverty. They're embedded in racism. They're embedded in these social conditions that make it really hard not to think about illness as something that makes you lesser as opposed to really addressing the key issues," Wilson says.

Those issues include getting people tested and into care.

"The Latin community and the black community, we're all family-based. That's where we get our strength from, is our family, and to not have that, I was looking for lust and love in all the wrong places," Serrano says.

He believes the cure will come with targeted education in homes and LGBTQ-sensitive sex education in schools.

"Tell us that we're the future, even though we're black, we're gay, we're HIV-positive," Serrano says.

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