• Black Bear Brotherhood founder L. Michael Gipson and community activist Ka'Juan Hill talked candidly about having both engaged in sex work. BTL photo: Jason A. Michael

Black Bear Brotherhood Forum Examines Intersections of Sex Work and Increased Usage of Crystal Meth Among Black Gay Men

Jason A. Michael
By | 2019-02-16T16:02:46-04:00 February 16th, 2019|Michigan, News|

The Black Bear Brotherhood is a Detroit social collective aimed at connecting black LGBTQ men of size and their allies. Part of the group’s mission is furthering the wellbeing of its members and on Feb. 7 presented a community forum at the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park called Are You Generous: BGM, Sex Work, and Crystal Meth. The forum, which was co-sponsored by the Counter Narrative Project and presented in collaboration with Adodi Detroit, LGBT Detroit and Onyx Great Lakes, was a part of concurrent events scheduled in other cities in support of both National Black AIDS Awareness Day and the #Justice4Gemmel movement that honors the death of Gemmel Moore who died of a crystal meth overdose in the home of wealthy Democratic donor Ed Buck.
The evening, which featured a conversation with two former sex workers and the Detroit premiere of “Party Boi,” a documentary by director Michael Rice that examines the intersections of race, crystal meth and sex work, also included a community Q&A and a networking reception.
“It is critical that we as a Detroit community stop ignoring the fact that crystal meth dependency is in the black gay male community and is no longer primarily a white, gay issue,” said L. Michael Gipson, founder of the BBB. “We also have many Detroit area young people who are turning to survival sex work out of economic necessity and who sometimes find themselves caught up in situations like Gemmel Moore’s that are dangerously out of their control and even cost them their lives.”
Gemmel Moore was a 26-year-old black gay man from Texas involved in commercial sex work who was found dead in West Hollywood, California. In Buck’s home there was a tremendous amount of drug paraphernalia found on the scene and multiple reports said that Buck enjoyed bringing young men to his apartment and injecting them with crystal meth to heighten his sexual enjoyment. Despite this, no charges were filed. Soon after a second black gay man, Timothy Dean, was found dead in Buck’s home from an overdose of crystal meth just last month. And still, as of now, no formal charges have been brought against Buck.
Moore’s death is heavily depicted in “Party Boi,” which includes a candid interview with Moore’s mother.
“What happened to Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean were preventable tragedies that deserve a real investigation and ultimately justice so no more die at the hands of this potential serial predator,” Gipson said. “We also wanted to ensure we don’t experience this level of tragedy in Detroit. So, not only did we make sure we discussed the unique ways these concerns play out at home with those who have lived this life, but we also brought in All Well Being Services, where chemical dependency services are available for meth users, to further engage the community on harm reduction practices and pathways to drug abstinence for users. Lastly, we also made sure to highlight the services and resources available for those looking to leave commercial sex work and its inherent dangers.”
Two former sex workers who shared their stories, Gipson and community activist and social media personality Ka’Juan Hill, spoke of their contradicting experiences in the area. In Gipson’s case, he’d fallen into sex work after being kicked out of his family’s home in 1991 as a 16-year-old in Chicago. It took him three years to initially leave, though it took a relapse into sex work at 20 for him to walk away once and for all.
“As someone who struggled financially on my own at too early an age, undereducated and unable to make ends meet even with a respectable full-time, just above minimum-wage job, walking away from $75 to $100 an hour in the 1990s was a Herculean feat, one I couldn’t have done without older mentors carefully leading me down a different life path,” said Gipson, who has since gone on to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree and launch various businesses and community based projects.
“It was not a joyous experience for me and there have been mental health and relationship ramifications from that time that I still live with to this day,” he said. “But it was what I felt I needed to do at the time to survive and I have no regrets about surviving the best way I knew how at that time.”
The generational divide explored at the event was stark, with 20-plus years separating Hill’s and Gipson’s experiences. Though neither reported suffering from any chemical dependencies while engaging in sex work, Gipson’s story was a traditional one depicting how family estranged or drug dependent young people became caught up in sex work. Hill’s story was one of a highly romanticized and more socially acceptable view of sex work, one that included escort tours, high fashion and considerably more lucrative client rates than what was available in Gipson’s time.
“It wasn’t a bad experience,” Hill said. “I used the money I made to invest my brand so I could get out. I don’t encourage it, but I don’t regret it. It was an interesting chapter of my life.”
Hill did describe acquiring gonorrhea and how that experience was something of a wake up call for him. He said it was then he became aware of the short shelf life of a sex worker who hasn’t prepared for any other lifestyle. Gipson, who has had 24 years to reflect on his past lifestyle, left the crowd of roughly 60 in attendance with a final thought.
“When you’re in it or still in close proximity to it, you think no one is getting hurt, that it’s a victimless crime,” he said. “The thing you later come to realize that you’re the victim in a crime where you’ll be the one to most likely pay the higher price, especially if you don’t get out of it before it consumes you. Everything that glitters is most certainly not gold.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.