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Special Assignment: Secrets of the Down Low

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Tuesday, November 30, 2010

AUGUSTA, Ga. --- It's a deadly secret. One that could be creeping into your relationships and even affecting your health. And it's more common than you might think.

It's known as the Down Low: men leading straight lives, but cheating on their wives or girlfriends with other men.

Author J.L. King has sold millions of books worldwide. A New York Times bestselling author, he's given speeches, produced DVDs and even appeared twice on Oprah.

"I was at this point in my life where I was living a double life," King says. "I had guys that I was having sex with. I had females."

His bestselling book, "On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of Straight Black Men who Sleep with Men," comes from a very personal perspective: his own.

"I was successful. I was active in my church. I was a good father, a good Christian, a good son, a good brother. And I thought I had it going on," King recalls.

"But in the midnight hour, I was creepin', I was movin', I was groovin'. I had all these black men who were like me, who were having sex and doing our thing, yet leading this straight, perfect life during the daytime. It was dangerous."

Though controversial, Pastor Joyner says King's story is one that needs to be spread. He says it's about protection, to warn women about down low men, and to be on the lookout.

That's why, for the second time in seven years, Pastor Joyner has invited King to speak on the topic at Broadway Baptist Church.

"Sticking my head in the sand and saying 'oooh, I can't talk about this in the church,' no one's going to get saved. No one's going to realize, I can stop this," he says in response to other pastors who may question having King, a gay man, speak in church.

Joyner says his approach is to educate and talk openly about taboo subjects, like homosexuality.

"It's up to me as a pastor to make known to my parishioners the information that's available and how to avoid some of the situations," he says. "And if we don't ever talk about it, we can't educate them. If we don't ever open up the dialogue."

King says that silence leads to homophobia, and is what gives birth to a down low culture.

"Even here in Augusta, we can go to the hood and there are a lot of young, gay boys who are living in houses that hear their daddy, their mama, their uncle talking about 'faggots, faggots,'" he says.

"So this little boy is saying oh my God, I know I'm dealing with this, I know I have this desire, but who do I tell? So I'm gonna keep it in the closet. I'm gonna get a girlfriend and I'm gonna try to play the straight role. And what does that do? It destroys two lives, three lives, four lives."

Now Pastor Joyner is bringing the conversation to a new forum - church - with hopes of tackling the issues head on.

But King says just because he speaks, it doesn't mean people will come out to listen. During his most recent trip to Augusta, men are overwhelmingly absent from the room.

Following the book's 2004 release, for many women, the "down low" became code for fear. Stories surfaced of down low men bringing STDs, even HIV and AIDS, home to their wives.

King says he's talked to hundreds of men of all different races who confess to living secret lives. Now, King is openly gay and his message is geared toward both women and men, to help them understand the damage down low behavior can cause.

"One day you get the call, or she gets a call that she's infected with a virus," he says. "Then all hell breaks loose. And all the lies, all the cover ups, all the deception comes out like Katrina. Hurricane Katrina."

"And it happens every single day where lives are destroyed, women are destroyed because they thought they were in safe relationships."

And at Broadway Baptist Church, Pastor Joyner says when it comes to information, there's no separation from the church and what's happening in the rest of the world.

"I don't believe there's anything Jesus would not talk about," he says. "He dealt with prostitutes, you know? So who am I to be less than my savior in dealing with AIDS? It's a killer. It's something that will destroy a race of people."

In part two, News 12 will examine the rising rate of HIV and AIDS infection in the CSRA, spread not only by down low men, but all unfaithful partners and unprotected sex. That airs Wednesday night on News 12 at 11:00.


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