PrEP, the strategy that prevents HIV, has existed for seven years. And statistically, as a young Latinx queer person, I’m in one of the groups that could benefit from PrEP. Yet I didn’t even hear about it until 2017 — and then, only because I was lucky to have informed people in my life. That’s just one small example of how when it comes to HIV prevention, queer Latinx youth are facing so many barriers, including a lack of comprehensive sexual health education, and stigma both within the Latinx community and in our society as a whole.
On October 15th, National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day, we need to remember that there are still barriers to HIV prevention, treatment, and care for young Latinx youth — and work to break these barriers down.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a strategy that when taken daily can be up to 90 percent effective at preventing HIV. Currently, the only FDA-approved drugs to be used as PrEP are Truvada and Descovy. Introduced in 2012, Truvada has been extremely effective at reducing HIV rates overall, yet it is underprescribed among young people, and HIV rates among young Latino men are rising.
It’s clear that there are discrepancies in the support young men of color have when it comes to accessing key sexual health services. So, what can we do to change this?
One way we can help young people prevent HIV is through providing PrEP on college campuses. Providing PrEP on college campuses gives young people the tools they need, while also eliminating the stigma around HIV. Navigating college as Latinx students can already be difficult enough, especially for first generation students like myself. In my experience, feeling supported by your school is key in creating an environment where all students can thrive, and having your health needs met is a part of that.
Providing PrEP on college campuses also eliminates another barrier many students face in accessing PrEP: transportation. Given that not all schools are located in metropolitan areas, some young people may have to travel unrealistic distances to the nearest clinic to find PrEP. Students attending college outside of their hometowns might not even have access to a car, eliminating the option of transportation altogether.
PrEP is also not only for gay and bisexual men. Anyone who might be at risk for contracting HIV is a potential candidate for PrEP, including trans people, women, and non-binary folks. So, while accessing PrEP is vital for queer men of color, there are also other people who can benefit from it.
Some critics may argue that providing PrEP on college campuses will encourage young people to engage in sexual behaviors they otherwise would not engage in. However, the reality of the situation is that people will have sex whether or not they have resources such as PrEP and condoms. Letting students go without an abundance of sexual health services is irresponsible and negligent. Providing students with medically accurate information and tools about HIV is the least institutions of higher education can do.
Fostering an inclusive environment and making queer students of color feel welcome on campus can help eliminate another barrier. I’ve had far too many queer friends who have been shamed, gaslit, and even harassed by health care professionals because of their identity. This hostile environment faced by many queer people creates a barrier for accessing PrEP, and any medication at that. Institutions of higher education have the power to pick up the slack and be reliable sources for their students when they need them.
Going through college as a queer Latinx student is often a strenuous task, especially at predominantly white institutions. Finding spaces for one to exist comfortably can sometimes seem impossible, and feeling supported by your school can make all the difference. So, this coming October 15th I am asking you to speak out. Let’s hold institutions of higher education accountable for the services they should be providing their students. Tweet, post, share, and talk to your schools about why providing PrEP for students is so important. Conversations like these can help eliminate stigma and bring Latinx people living with HIV/AIDS out of the shadows and into the limelight. Universities have both the power and responsibility to make sure they give their students the tools they need to live healthy, productive lives.