Human Rights Campaign Pres. Alphonso David and Activist Emil Wilbekin Are Fighting to Save Black Lives Amid COVID-19

The global COVID-19 pandemic has upended the U.S. economy, put 30 million Americans out of work, and brought the entire world to a standstill. Yet, even in light of the mass devastation and disruption caused by the coronavirus, it’s marginalized communities of color that are suffering the most.

According to a research report from McKinsey & Co., African Americans are about 30% more likely to develop a severe illness from COVID-19 compared to white Americans. In addition, black Americans are more likely to be at increased risk for contracting COVID-19, have lower access to testing, experience more severe complications from the infection, and suffer from more secondary effects. In order to protect the black community from the novel virus, activists are calling for racial data transparency related to COVID-19 infections and access to testing.

Last month, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) partnered with Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, and Native Son, a platform for the black gay male community, to demand race-based COVID-19 data. Together, they launched the #WEDEMAND campaign, calling on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to release demographic data on the impact of COVID-19 on disenfranchised communities and testing equity.


In an interview on BLACK ENTERPRISE’SThe New Norm with Selena Hill,” HRC president Alphonso David and Native Son founder Emil Wilbekin argued that racialized data is critical to ensure that marginalized people receive equitable treatment during the pandemic. This information, they said, is needed to combat the bias in our healthcare system and systemic barriers that have put black people at greater risk. These issues include disparities in rates of unemployment and underemployment, incarceration, and access to safe housing and healthcare. The increased risk factor is also compounded by structural disadvantages that make social distancing and other recommended practices more difficult for black Americans.

In addition, the activists noted that the public health crisis will disproportionately impact LGBTQ communities and, particularly, queer people of color. The wide-ranging conversation went on to touch on the similarities between COVID-19 and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and the 2020 election.

COVID-19’s Impact on Black America and the Need for Data

There are a number of underlying issues that make marginalized people more vulnerable to being infected and dying from the virus, said Wilbekin. “Some of the issues at hand [include] lack of health care; living in households where there are a lot of people living together, which is very common with black families and black communities with blended families; and a lot of black, brown, and queer people are essential workers who are more prone to be exposed to the virus.”

“Demographic data will highlight the truth,” stated David. “The reason why people don’t want to release the data is that it will reflect the truth. People of color are disproportionately impacted by this virus. It illuminates a legacy of bias in our health care system,” he continued.

COVID’s Impact on LGBTQ Communities

According to a recent study published by the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ people are more susceptible to the novel coronavirus.

“The LGBTQ community is more vulnerable to contracting the virus for both economic and health reasons,” said David. “17% lack health care. One in five LGBTQ people have not seen a doctor when they needed to because they couldn’t afford it. One in five LGBTQ people live in poverty.”

On COVID’s Similarity to the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

Wilbekin added that high rates of HIV/AIDS in the black gay community is another factor that puts queer black men at greater risk for contracting the coronavirus.

“Black gay men are infected with HIV/AIDS at much higher levels than any other group,” he said. In fact, before COVID-19 imploded into a global pandemic, “the CDC had predicted that by this year one out of two black gay men would be living with HIV. When you hear numbers like that but nothing has really been done, it gives us pause to think what’s going to happen with the COVID-19 pandemic when communities in the South are being wiped out and there’s no help in sight.”

The media executive, who has spoken publicly about living with HIV, went on to say that COVID-19 is “triggering” for those who lived through the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the ’80s.

“I came of age when the AIDS epidemic had kind of wiped out a whole community of gay men,” he said. “And so a lot of black gay men, who are a certain age who are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, are very triggered by COVID-19 because there is a lot of people dying, you can’t say goodbye to them, we don’t know what the real reasons are, [and] there’s a lot of shame if you’re positive.”

Plus, neither disease has a vaccine, he added.

On the 2020 Election

Unlike Sean “Diddy” Combs’ charge that black people should hold their vote “hostage” until a presidential candidate proves themselves worthy of the black vote, David said African Americans don’t have a choice but to vote for Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic candidate.

“The Trump administration [is] refusing to really treat people of color as people. Year after year after year, they have issued policies that completely attack marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ community,” he said. “We have an opportunity in six months to change the trajectory of our country. And if we register to vote and we vote, we can actually have a pro-equality president and other pro-equality candidates in office.”

On the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery

The two activists also addressed the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old black man who was gunned down while jogging in a suburban neighborhood in Georgia.

“I spoke out publicly and I will continue to speak out publicly on this and many other issues of racial justice because we need to confront the systemic racism and bias in our country,” said David. “It is here. We have to look it in the face and we have to confront it. We have to force people to confront the lack of humanity that they have when it comes to certain people of color. And we have to make sure…that people use their voices for change because we cannot continue to live in the way that we have.”

Watch their interview on “The New Norm with Selena Hill” below.