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
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
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
"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
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.