HIV-pos­i­tives youth in­spire politi­cians

World AIDS Day pre­sen­ta­tion aims for change

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUNDERS psaun­ders@the­

Da­monte Pet­ty­grue was re­ceiv­ing treat­ment from his physi­cian at Grady’s Ponce De Leon Cen­ter ear­lier this year when she asked him what he was in­ter­ested in do­ing for a ca­reer. The openly gay, HIV-pos­i­tive At­lanta Met­ro­pol­i­tan State Col­lege fresh­man re­sponded that he would love to get in­volved in HIV-re­lated is­sues ei­ther as an ac­tivist or lob­by­ist.

“I have a friend,” the physi­cian re­sponded. “She’s start­ing an in­ti­mate pro­gram and she’s with Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, why don’t you give her a call?”

The friend was Emily Brown, and the pro­gram she was co­or­di­nat­ing for the Equal­ity Foun­da­tion of Ge­or­gia (the ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing and anal­y­sis arm of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity) was the Youth HIV Pol­icy Ad­vi­sors Pro­gram. The pro­gram matches elected of­fi­cials and clergy with HIV-pos­i­tive youth ad­vo­cates who serve as their spe­cial ad­vi­sors on the is­sue.

The pro­gram, which Brown says has an es­ti­mated bud­get of $20,000, of­fered train­ing to the youth ad­vo­cates through a se­ries of sum­mer ses­sions, fol­lowed by an HIV lunch-and-learn with the of­fi­cials in Oc­to­ber led and fa­cil­i­tated en­tirely by the youths, and will cul­mi­nate on World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 with the sec­ond an­nual World AIDS Day At­lanta Pol­icy & Ac­tion Luncheon.

Youth get pub­lic speak­ing, me­dia train­ing

Pet­ty­grue and the other youths gained valu­able train­ing through the sum­mer ses­sions, which cov­ered pub­lic speak­ing, shap­ing and mold­ing their sto­ries, in­ter­act­ing with the me­dia and more.

“I’ve learned how to deal with sen­si­tive ques­tions, not only just from the me­dia but telling my story,” says Pet­ty­grue, the youngest youth ad­vi­sor tak­ing part in the pro­gram. “I’ve learned that ev­ery­thing that has to be said should be said in a proper man­ner and not in a rant. I’ve also learned that really the only peo­ple that understand what I’m go­ing through are the peo­ple who are deal­ing with [HIV] as well. It’s very im­por­tant to in­ter­act with the com­mu­nity and the peers around you be­cause you don’t know who has it.”

Ful­ton County Com­mis­sioner Joan Garner, while un­able to fully par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram due to her con­tin­u­ing treat­ment for breast can­cer, was ea­ger to be a part of it and will be present for the World AIDS Day luncheon, which is in­vi­ta­tion only.

“I think that hav­ing emerg­ing lead­ers par­tic­i­pate and really take some lead­er­ship in own­ing that pro­gram is good be­cause peers lis­ten to peers,” she told Ge­or­gia Voice. “So try­ing to get that mes­sage out, es­pe­cially with Ful­ton County be­ing num­ber one in newly di­ag­nosed cases of HIV, we have to do ev­ery­thing we can to mit­i­gate that. So I think Ge­or­gia Equal­ity is be­ing very ag­gres­sive about it along with other AIDS or­ga­ni­za­tions around the state so I am a big sup­porter of what they’re do­ing.”

Pro­gram cul­mi­nates at World AIDS Day luncheon

The youth ad­vi­sors have crafted a doc­u­ment of “pol­icy asks” for the elected of­fi­cials re­gard­ing HIV preven­tion and care, which they will present along with their per­sonal sto­ries and a video at the World AIDS Day luncheon on Dec. 1.

“We’re try­ing to cut out the stig­mas, one of which is God’s re­venge for gay peo­ple,” says Pet­ty­grue, who says he is ner­vous but ex­cited about the event. “Not all gay men have HIV, it’s not just a gay virus. We have moth­ers, we have daugh­ters, we have blood trans­fu­sion vic­tims. We’re just try­ing to cut the stigma and we feel like once we get rid of the stigma, then we can ac­tu­ally get peo­ple to lis­ten and understand that it’s se­ri­ous and it’s not what ev­ery­body thinks it is. If we can get a few peo­ple to open their eyes and take it back to where they’re com­ing from then I think we can [find a so­lu­tion].”

The luncheon will be at­tended not only by the 11 elected of­fi­cials and clergy tak­ing part in the pro­gram (see side­bar) but also other elected of­fi­cials, com­mu­nity mem­bers, clergy and CEOs of large health care foun­da­tions as well. The tim­ing is right as the or­ga­niz­ers and youth ad­vi­sors hope the elected of­fi­cials take what they learn at the luncheon and spread the word at the Capi­tol when the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gins in Jan­uary. And Brown con­firms that they have al­ready re­ceived a grant to do the pro­gram again next year.

“I’ve just learned how to ap­pre­ci­ate the help that I’m re­ceiv­ing, be­cause be­fore this I really wasn’t open to talk­ing about [his HIV sta­tus] to any­one,” Pet­ty­grue says. “[Brown] has taught me to ac­cept, own and speak about it and that’s some­thing I would have never done with­out [Brown] and this pro­gram.”

(File pho­tos)

Da­monte Pet­ty­grue (l) is one of the Youth HIV Pol­icy Ad­vi­sors tak­ing part in the pro­gram, which in­cludes Ful­ton County Com­mis­sioner Joan Garner (r) among the 11 elected of­fi­cials and clergy.

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