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Taking Up the HIV Fight

Taking Up the HIV Fight

An HIV prevention project funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is targeting young black men who have sex with men in Dallas County. Operating out of a Commerce Street storefront in Deep Ellum, the four-year, $1.6 million program uses peer-to-peer outreach and goes beyond safe-sex education by addressing some of the underlying challenges these men face, including homophobia and discrimination.

"It's not solely about HIV prevention," said Vernon Jones, one of three paid staffers at United Black Ellument. "It has to do with a lot of issues that young people have in a big city, like coming out of the closet, starting a career and taking care of yourself."

Susan M. Kegeles of the University of California, San Francisco, is leading the effort. Dallas was selected because it did not have any prevention programs specifically addressing young black MSM -- a relatively small group believed to have high infection rates. "It's not that this group is necessarily engaging in more sexual activity," she said. "It's just that this fairly small network of people is having sex with each other."

"These are young men who haven't learned to communicate about sex, much less safer sex," said Kegeles. "Even the most basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS is lacking in this group."

Upcoming UBE outreach opportunities include a picnic, fashion show, weekly coffee, a worship service and an event called "Queerly Speaking." UBE uses Facebook and MySpace to get its message out. "We also do outreach in gay clubs," said Jones.

To date, UBE has reached more than 300 black men, mostly ages 18-29. When the pilot ends in 2011, a survey will assess rates of HIV testing and safe sex in this population. HIV infection rates will be compared to peers in Houston not involved in prevention efforts. If successful, UBE will likely be duplicated in other U.S. cities.

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