When he was in fourth grade, Steven Emmanuel learned that boys with dark skin have limited options in life. It was career day. A visiting police officer asked him and three of his classmates to stand up. One of them would not make it to 18, the officer informed the boys.
That day taught Emmanuel, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., of both African and Latin American heritage, to resent statistics and the fear they can instill. Now 18 years old and an outspoken budding activist, he is anything but a statistic. He founded a blog, QueerKidofColor.com, which he uses to reach a growing audience of teens and to serve as an incubator for his increasingly vocal opinions about HIV. He is also a staff writer for Clik magazine and is helping to produce an independent television series, Christopher Street, which chronicles the lives of young gay men of color, including one character with HIV. He plans to start at Hampshire College this fall to study media.
When it comes to discussing HIV prevention on his blog, he doesn't mince words: 'The only method for preserving the human race'the only method to ensure safety'lies within the context of one word and that word is responsibility. And guess what? It's free.'
Emmanuel says he has never had sex and proudly practices abstinence. 'I feel that right now I'm just discovering myself, my identity, and am still discovering the depth of my character,' he explains. 'I believe that [sex] should be shared only by two people who have an emotional connection with one another and are ready to partake in a monogamous and strictly exclusive relationship.'
He says he's weary of anti-HIV public-health messages, which he feels portray gloomy doomsday messages: 'I have grown exhausted of having to look at statistics. Although they are important, I find that this is just another ploy to put fear into the minds of people, especially our young people.' And he resents health organizations that offer him incentives'such as movie tickets or coupons for fast food'to get an HIV test. The impulse to get tested, he explains, should come from within. He is also concerned that messages about AIDS are eclipsing the battle against other STDs.
Not one to simply let sleeping dogs lie, he has his own plans on how to make things right.
He has planned a media campaign he calls '25 and Under' and is looking for sponsorship. He envisions posters that portray life-affirming images of gay men of color along with slogans such as, 'Trust fails. Get responsible' and 'Condoms are not a theory for protection. They're a method of preserving the human race.'
'We can get young people excited about their sexual health by stimulating their interest,' he says. 'Organizations should do so in a way that isn't dread, tired, or clich'd.'