Fen­ton: Don’t for­get HIV in fight for LGBT equal­ity

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ered and given in­for­ma­tion they need to know to stay safe, Fen­ton said.

Ab­sti­nence may be the best way to re­main HIV neg­a­tive, but school ad­min­is­tra­tors are bet­ter serv­ing their com­mu­ni­ties when they re­al­ize some teenagers are sex­u­ally ac­tive and take that into ac­count when de­sign­ing cur­ricu­lum.

But it is also the role of gay or­ga­ni­za­tions, par­tic­u­larly na­tional gay or­ga­ni­za­tions, to en­sure HIV/AIDS preven­tion re­mains at the top of the list of pri­or­i­ties, he said.

“I think for many gay or­ga­ni­za­tions, na­tional ones, we have been nec­es­sar­ily fo­cus­ing a lot on mar­riage equal­ity and other big is­sues that I think are im­por­tant to our com­mu­nity,” Fen­ton said.

Those is­sues re­main im­por­tant, but HIV/ AIDS can­not be for­got­ten in the fight for equal­ity by those it im­pacts most, Fen­ton stressed.

“We have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect our health,” he said.

Un­der­stand­ing all ‘drivers’ of HIV

Fen­ton said that he is proud the CDC is also tak­ing a lead­ing role in un­der­stand­ing that be­hav­ior is not the only rea­son some peo­ple, in­clud­ing gay men, take risks with their health and be­come HIV pos­i­tive.

Poverty, racism, ho­mo­pho­bia, high rates of in­car­cer­a­tion, stigma, dis­crim­i­na­tion — all of th­ese also can lead to in­creases in HIV in­fec­tions.

“We’ve ac­cel­er­ated our ef­forts to fo­cus on not just the in­di­vid­ual be­hav­iors ... but the so­cial, cul­tural and con­tex­tual drivers of HIV,” he said.

Dur­ing his last year at the CDC, Fen­ton trav­eled the coun­try to hold town hall meet­ings about how to com­bat HIV, es­pe­cially among young gay men. The mes­sage from lo­cal health de­part­ments and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions was clear.

“The con­sis­tency of the mes­sag­ing we heard was heart wrench­ing — whether it was ho­mo­pho­bia and racism, es­pe­cially by black and Latino gay men, or is­sues re­lated to re­jec­tion by fam­ily or church,” he said.

“To hear sto­ries of young gay men kicked out of their homes be­cause they came out to their par­ents and then were home­less and turned to drugs or sex and se­ro­con­verted in the first year — this really il­lus­trates the depth of the work we need to do,” Fen­ton said.

Safer sex is no longer seen as some­thing that should be prac­ticed con­sis­tently and there is no sense of ur­gency in stay­ing safe, he said.

“We have to fo­cus on is­sues re­lated to eq­uity and so­cial jus­tice and en­sur­ing lives of LGBT peo­ple are val­ued and sup­ported by com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies across the coun­try,” he said.

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