Openly gay CDC HIV chief reflects on ‘humbling’ journey
Fenton: Much work remains to protect young gay men from HIV
Dr. Kevin Fenton has much to be proud of during his eight years at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, especially the strong relationships he and the federal agency forged with local and community-based organizations.
Fenton steps down from his position as director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention after a seven-year tenure on Dec. 21 and returns to his home in the U.K. on Dec. 31.
Dr. Rima Khabbaz, director of the Office of Infectious Diseases, will begin serving as acting director of NCHHSTP on Jan. 2, 2013, while a national search is conducted to select a permanent director.
Prior to holding the top HIV division post, Fenton worked as chief of CDC’s National Syphilis Elimination Effort.
In April 2013 he begins his new job as Director for Health Improvement & Population Health for Public Health England.
“It really is bittersweet,” Fenton said in a phone interview with the GA Voice about his leaving the CDC.
Working with so many dedicated professionals — in the CDC, local health departments, community groups and the private sector — has been a humbling and powerful journey, he said.
But Fenton looks forward to returning home, reuniting with his partner who moved back to England two years ago, and beginning a new chapter in his professional career.
Implementing the first United States domestic national HIV strategy is at the top of Fenton’s list of proud accomplishments with the CDC.
Still, he remains worried about the trend of gay men, especially young gay men and young black gay men, continuing to be the population with the highest rates of HIV infections each year.
“It’s not only HIV but also increases in STDs such as gonorrhea and syphilis,” Fenton said. “That really suggests to me that we need to be ensuring that we are both identifying young people who might be at risk before they become sexually active in our schools and ensuring that we are equipping them with the right information so they can make informed choices when they do become sexually active.”
And when young people do begin having sex, it is important for the CDC and other agencies and organizations to meet them where they work, study, play and socialize “in ways that are meaningful so they can continue to protect their health,” Fenton said.
“Part of that engagement of young people will involve working with our community partners and focusing on strengthening access to HIV screenings,” he said.
A gay man and a gay leader
Hard-hitting campaigns such as the CDC’s “Testing Makes Us Stronger,” an effort that specifically targets young black gay men about knowing their HIV status, are also invaluable to ensuring a healthy gay male population, Fenton said.
“As a gay man and gay leader, I’m always been committed to ensuring we can do the best we can for the communities that are hardest hit,” he said.
Over the last seven years the CDC has ramped up HIV testing, creating culturally competent resources and utilizing social marketing campaigns such as “Testing Makes Us Stronger” to reach populations most at risk.
“The Testing Makes Us Stronger” campaign is the first time the CDC really showed strong images of black gay men and also showed that caring about one’s health is valuable.
Schools — yes, public schools — need to put aside homophobia when teaching sex ed and make sure LGBT students are also consid-
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Kevin Fenton steps down this month after seven years as the director of the National Center for HIV/ AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention. (Photo courtesy CDC)