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Monday, December 3, 2007

Fighting AIDS with openness

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THE REV. DENNIS MEREDITH TAKES AN HIV TEST IN FRONT OF PARISH: “Open up and say ahhh-men.”

(photo by Sarah Harms)

Pausing between praises at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Old Fourth Ward, the Rev. Dennis Meredith stood before his packed and passionate congregation on Sunday, the day after World AIDS Day, opened his mouth and took an HIV test.

Meredith’s aim: to shatter the stigma associated with a disease that has hit African-Americans, especially in Fulton County, devastatingly hard. African-Americans make up 74 percent of HIV cases in Georgia, according to state health reports, with most cases stemming from men having sex with other men. After the service, volunteers handed out condoms and administered free HIV tests to interested parishioners. Meredith’s church has adopted an open-arms policy to gays and transgendered people in an effort to change the church’s traditional role as, what Meredith considers, “a vehicle of shame.”

“If we collectively do our job as pastors and ministers, we can turn this thing around,” Meredith said. “If we eliminate the shame, we can do so much. But if you don’t do radical stuff, nothing’s going to be done.”

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