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Fenty announces HIV initiative for youth: Activists seek boost in prevention programs at city schools




 

Washington Blade - July 13, 2007

Local gay and AIDS groups are calling on Mayor Adrian Fenty and his new public schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, to more aggressively target gay and transgender youth in a proposed new initiative to curtail the spread of HIV among teenagers.

Fenty and city health director Gregg Pane announced the initiative during a June 27 ceremony to commemorate National HIV Testing Day in the District. Pane said one of the goals is to increase by 25 percent the number of youth who come forward to get tested for HIV.

"HIV infection rates among District young people tripled for the period 2000 to 2005 compared to the previous five years," according to a statement released by Pane's office. "Mayor Fenty directed DOH to develop a plan that will effectively reduce transmission of HIV among young people and ensure that proper services and treatment are available to them," the statement says.

Pane's office said the Youth and HIV/AIDS Prevention Initiative would "strengthen collaborations inside D.C. government and with community partners" and "enhance education and awareness efforts to reach more D.C. youth." It said the city also would "expand science based interventions" in its HIV prevention effort.

Gay and AIDS activists have noted that the term "science based intervention" often is used by cautious school administrators and city health officials to counter calls by conservative religious groups to restrict HIV prevention to "abstinence only until marriage" programs.

Studies cited by AIDS advocacy groups show that abstinence only programs fail to significantly curtail HIV transmission among various population groups and that a combination of abstinence education instruction about the use of condoms have proven to be the most effective way to reduce HIV transmission.

Representatives of the local groups Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, Metro Teen AIDS, and Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays/D.C. Chapter said they have worked with the D.C. public school system in a variety of ways to boost HIV prevention programs aimed at gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

While praising school officials for including at least some information about gay and transgender youth in school sex education and HIV prevention courses and programs, officials with the three groups noted that specific information about sexual orientation and gender identity was not mandatory for these programs. Thus it is often left to individual teachers and administrators to decide whether to include that information, the officials said.

"To a large degree, the D.C. public schools are a crap shoot from school to school or classroom to classroom on what kids get in health education," said Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen AIDS, which promotes HIV prevention programs for gay and transgender youth.

Tenner praised the school system's AIDS education office for arranging for groups like Metro Teen AIDS, SMYAL, and PFLAG to train teachers and, in some cases, students, on AIDS prevention and sexual orientation related issues.

But Tenner and Linda Garnett, executive director of the D.C. PFLAG chapter, urged Fenty and schools chancellor Rhee to follow in the footsteps of the Montgomery County, Md., public schools system, which recently made it mandatory for sex education and HIV prevention classes to include "science" based information about sexual orientation and gender identity.



 


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Information in this article was accurate in July 13, 2007. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.