GMHC Youth Summit Combats HIV and Homophobia

By Meredith Hoffman on July 19, 2011 8:40pm 

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The "Kiss & Tell" campaign is part of GMHC's program to combat homophobia and HIV in youth.
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Gay Men's Health Crisis

CHELSEA — Gay Men's Health Crisis will hold its First Annual Youth Summit Friday in hopes of combating ongoing HIV and homophobia.

The day-long, free event at the center on 446 West 33rd Street will serve as a "safe space" for young men under the age of 25 to discuss their own questions of sexuality and homophobia, and to learn the importance of safety measures in preventing HIV.

"Our program is not [just] for people who've come out of the closet ... it's for questions," said Julissa Vasquez, GMHC's manager of community health and research.

She emphasized that teenage men of color are at an especially high risk for both homophobia and HIV. The GMHC has been doing outreach in an effort to raise HIV prevention awareness among young men, including a "Kiss & Tell" campaign on bus shelters and phone booths in which Black and Latino men aged 13 - 19 are urged to discuss their HIV status with their partners.

Over half the reported cases of people with HIV in New York in 2009 were young men of color, and about 43 percent of the cases were caused by male-to-male sexual contact, according to a study released by the Department of Health earlier this year.

"We discuss healthy relationships, sexual health, and self awareness," said Vasquez, who hopes about 100 people will attend Friday's summit. In her year-round program called Class 13-19, she and her students produce a show called "The Lunchbox" addressing different sexual and health questions young men might have.

"Two days ago, one of the kids who watched the show wrote a letter to us...saying 'I'm crying watching this,'" recalled Vasquez, "because of how supportive the video was."

The program, requiring no prior reservation, is from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Friday.

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