Why Michigan's LGBT Newspaper Launched Its Own HIV Testing and Prevention Initiative
One of my gigs is working for Michigan's LGBT newspaper Between The Lines. For two years now, we have used our editorial space to scream about the ongoing crisis of new HIV infections among young men who have sex with men and transwomen. We've reported on advances in prevention, like PrEP; we've done indepth interviews with policy makers in the state of Michigan looking at HIV policy and funding. And we have challenged our communities to rise up to the crisis and challenge it.
The team at the newspaper, lead by Susan Horowitz, understands that science has plotted a course to end the HIV transmission crisis among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men as well as trans women. But we also are aware our own health department is less than supportive of the queer- and trans-specific conversations that must be had in order to address this science and empower people to make choices to prevent infection. So Between The Lines is using its editorial outreach and community commitment to push a new HIV testing and prevention initiative.
The initiative, PrEP4ITNow.com, arose from my experience in the field talking to young queer men and women about HIV. While there is overwhelming evidence on how to prevent infection, that scientific consensus has not translated to useable formats for people. There is something terribly troubling when I have to give 19 and 20 year old college students the basic anatomy of the anus and rectum. These youth are also so misinformed about HIV that, when asked, they will tell you the probability of being infected during a one time sexual episode as bottom with a condomless HIV-positive top is 100 percent. We know that's not true. The CDC says it's only 1.32 percent -- and then only if the person has an uncontrolled viral load. It decreases significantly when the HIV-positive person is in treatment, has no other STI, and has a suppressed viral load.
Several weeks ago I spent the evening talking to young MSM at the local gay bars and asking about PrEP. Out of 26 people I interviewed, three had heard of PrEP, and only one knew what it actually was. In addition, a new study released June 17 found that among men who have sex with men who attend commercial sex venues in NYC, 80 percent would have met the criteria to become participants in the iPrEX study of PrEP, but 78 percent of those men did not perceive they were at risk for HIV infection.
PrEP4ITNow.com starts with a simple premise: we stand on the edge of revolution in HIV prevention. The various communities of MSM, however, must determine how that revolution looks, how it is applied and where it goes. PrEP4ITNow.com provides information on the new tools in the prevention tool box, and addresses why HIV testing is a key to using those interventions. The program is clear in that it focuses on real science and its application today for anyone -- positive or negative.
And it includes a video series of what sociologists call "opinion leaders" in the community. These are people who are regularly seen in the community -- drag queens and bar staff, HIV prevention team members and LGBT leaders. Each of them has done a short video, less than 30 seconds, announcing that they have taken the HIV test, they know their status and they have joined the rEVOLUTION in prevention. The videos feature people regardless of HIV status, and do not disclose what the status is of the participants -- and for a reason. The goal is to know your status, not to know some one else's. Because with knowledge of your status, you are able to engage the prevention tools.
We aren't pushing any one prevention option, we are presenting options and telling our community -- it's up to you to adopt the options which best suit your life. This is about empowering a community to make choices that are informed by science. And it is about a community rising up and saying it will end HIV.