Using an intersectional framework, this paper analyzes the behavioral and interactional responses to anti-gay religious teachings among young Black gay men. Drawing on 26 semi-structured interviews and 18 months of ethnographic observation data, I highlight the role non-religious youth development organizations play in the negotiation of contradictory religious and sexual identities among young Black gay men. My findings illuminate new patterns in the understanding of personal narrative reconciliation while simultaneously highlighting new directions for research in the roles that youth-led spaces play in socialization practices. While previous research on religion and sexuality has relied primarily on interview data, this study uses ethnographic data to supplement interviews with youth to further elucidate the community building and collective negotiations of religious teachings. Ultimately, I argue that these young Black gay men work collaboratively to repurpose religious messaging in order to justify their sexualities; to reinforce positive behaviors and explain everyday occurrences with religious exclamations (e.g. call and response, shouting); and to create new religious communities. 


Keywords: sexuality; religion; identity development; community; organizations


Biomedical HIV prevention strategies, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), represent new opportunities to reduce critically high HIV infection rates among young black men who have sex with men (YBMSM). We report results of 24 dyadic qualitative interviews (N=48), conducted in Los Angeles, CA, exploring how YBMSM and their friends view PrEP and PEP. Interviews were analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Participants had widely divergent levels of knowledge about these prevention methods. Misconceptions and mistrust regarding PrEP were common, and concerns were expressed about PrEP-related stigma and the potential for gossip among peers who might assume a person on PrEP was HIV-positive. Yet participants also framed PrEP and PEP as valuable new options within an expanded “tool kit” of HIV prevention strategies that created possibilities for preventing new HIV infections, dating men with a different HIV status, and decreased anxiety about exposure to HIV. We organized themes around four main areas: (1) information and misinformation about biomedical HIV prevention; (2) expectations about PrEP, sexual behavior, and stigma; (3) gossip, disclosure, and “spreading the word” about PrEP and PEP; and (4) the roles of PrEP and PEP in an expanded HIV prevention tool kit. The findings suggest a need for guidance in navigating the increasingly complex array of HIV-prevention options available to YBMSM. Such “prevention navigation” could counter misconceptions and address barriers, such as stigma and mistrust, while helping YBMSM make informed selections from among expanded HIV prevention options.



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