Allentown’s LGBT youth find sense of self through Project Silk

From Allentown’s Morning Call

Teenage life is brimming with insecurity, awkwardness and anxiety no matter who you are or who you love. But studies show that this already prickly period is several times more difficult for young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The struggles can go beyond typical teenage angst, and can lead to depression, suicide, home insecurity and drug and alcohol abuse.

Shyan Ortiz, 21, speaks about the impact of the Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Center’s youth program.

The risks for LGBT youth are real. Though they only make up 4 to 10 percent of the population, researchers estimate as many as 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT. According to the American Psychological Association, young LGBT people have greater barriers to health services and therefore experience higher risks for alcohol and drug abuse, HIV and suicide.

“This is a population that is underserved, marginalized and stigmatized,” said Randell Sell, an associate professor at Drexel University’s Dorn School of Public Health. “Anything that provides access to care and a space like this for these young people is a huge leap forward.”

Project Silk is modeled after a similar program that started at the University of Pittsburgh. The aim was to target vulnerable groups at risk for HIV and find an effective way of providing testing and paths to treatment and other services. The Allentown program was made possible through a $210,000 grant from the University of Pittsburgh’s HIV Prevention and Care Project to replicate the program elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

The program turns what could be a clinical, impersonal service into something familiar and safe. Ketterer said it gives young people a place to belong before introducing services and resources that provide emotional and physical support.

The center has had visits by 115 individuals, Ketterer said. Of those, 70 visited three or more times, said Andrew Palomo, director of research and evaluations at Valley Youth House. The program has administered 50 HIV tests. Youth using the program also have the chance to earn smartphones and other technology by volunteering for work around the center or taking leadership positions.

Read the full article on The Morning Call.

February 7th is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

From the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Website

February 7, 2018 marks the 18th year for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD), a national HIV testing and treatment community mobilization initiative targeted at Blacks in the United States and the Diaspora.  NBHAAD was founded in 1999 as a national response to the growing HIV and AIDS epidemic in African American communities. The NBHAAD initiative leverages a national platform to educate, bring awareness, and mobilize the African American community. NBHAAD has four key focus areas which encourage people to:

  • Get Educated about HIV and AIDS;
  • Get Involved in community prevention efforts;
  • Get Tested to know their status; and
  • Get Treated to receive the continuum of care needed to live with HIV/AIDS.

For more information go to National HIV/AIDS Awareness Day online.  You can also find local testing resources by entering your zip code here.

Many at-risk men still don’t take HIV prevention pill

From The Associated Press…

From gritty neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to clinics in Kenya and Brazil, health workers are trying to popularize a pill that has proven highly effective in preventing HIV but which — in their view — remains woefully underused.

Marketed in the United States as Truvada, and sometimes available abroad in generic versions, the pill has been shown to reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent if taken daily. Yet worldwide, only about a dozen countries have aggressive, government-backed programs to promote the pill. In the U.S., there are problems related to Truvada’s high cost, lingering skepticism among some doctors and low usage rates among black gays and bisexuals who have the highest rates of HIV infection.

“Truvada works,” said James Krellenstein, a New York-based activist. “We have to start thinking of it not as a luxury but as an essential public health component of this nation’s response to HIV.”

A few large U.S. cities are promoting Truvada, often with sexually charged ads. In New York, “Bare It All” was among the slogans urging gay men to consult their doctors. The Los Angeles LGBT Center — using what it called “raw, real language” — launched a campaign to increase use among young Latino and black gay men and transgender women.

“We’ve got the tools to not only end the fear of HIV, but to end it as an epidemic,” said the center’s chief of staff, Darrel Cummings. “Those at risk have to know about the tools, though, and they need honest information about them.”

In New York, roughly 30 percent of gay and bisexual men are using Truvada now, up dramatically from a few years ago, according to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, a deputy commissioner of the city’s health department.

However, Daskalakis said use among young black and Hispanic men — who account for a majority of new HIV diagnoses — lags behind. To address that, the city is making Truvada readily available in some clinics in or near heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

Read the full article on Using social media to reach men who have sex with men in Pennsylvania

In a recent study published in the September issue of AIDS Behavior, researchers were able to shed some light on the use of dating aps and Websites by men who have sex with men (MSM). The study showed that 3 in 4 MSM use Internet-based social media venues for the purpose of meeting other men. More than half reported frequent use.

Considering that gay and bi men make up less than 2 percent of the population but account for roughly 70 percent of new HIV infections (based on surveillance data obtained in 2014), and given the recent announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the number of reported chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis infections are at an all-time high in the United States (with gay and bi men making up a disproportionate number of new syphilis infections), it makes sense that gay-related dating aps and Websites would be a logical place to reach out to MSM with important prevention and testing information. In fact, the previously mentioned study’s authors concluded the ability to target MSM through social media “ensures that the right prevention message can be received by the intended audience…and could be an effective strategy for sexual health prevention research, interventions, and communication efforts.”

That’s our mission in a nutshell.

As part of the HIV Prevention and Care Project, and with the experienced input of the Pitt Men’s Study medical staff (both housed within the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health), strives to get important health information to the people who need it, via the social media venues they frequent the most. Our sexual health educators reach out on Grindr, Scruff, Jack’d, Adam4Adam and Craigslist, in areas around the state that are particularly hard hit by HIV and other STDs. In the last six months, we referred more than 800 MSM in Pennsylvania to free HIV/STD testing, sent a variety of Health Alerts (short bulletins alerting MSM to critical health issues) to more than 8,000 recipients, and added to our archive of 450-plus informative posts concerning HIV and other STDs, PrEP, sexual health and the general well-being of men who have sex with men.

Being informed about sexual health can protect you from serious sexually transmitted infections. It can also keep our community healthy and strong. So if you see us online, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can also browse through our helpful links related to STD/HIV testing, PrEP and general health.

For more information about, the HIV Prevention and Care Project, and/or sexual health in general, contact us at We’re here to help.

Grindr, virtual reality and vlogging: new ways to talk about sexual health

From the

Almost half the world’s population is online and billions of young people use social media. So why doesn’t more sex education happen across these channels? The first Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Wellbeing brings together a group of individuals who are using innovative ways to reach more people with information about sex and relationships. Here are some of the projects they’ve been working on:

Grindr to reach patients at risk of HIV in the US

In 2015, Antón Castellanos Usigli, a male nurse working in New York, started working in an HIV/sexually transmitted infections (STIs) prevention clinic at a hospital in Brooklyn. The goal was to increase the number of at-risk patients that came into the clinic for sexual health prevention services. Initially, the clinic tried outreach in clubs and bars in Brooklyn, but not a single client came in through this approach.

Usigli thought about using Grindr, a dating app for gay men, to raise awareness of HIV. He set up a profile as a male nurse to tell at-risk patients about the services offered at the clinic. He then developed a script for healthcare professionals to use.

The success rate has been astonishingly high. In the first month of using the app in this way, more than 20 new at-risk patients came to the clinic for a variety of preventative services, such as sexual health counselling, HIV/STI testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). In little over a year, more than 100 new at-risk patients came into the clinic. Some of those tested positive for HIV and Usigli was able to link them to medical care. Others tested positive for STIs and Usigli was able to treat them.

Read the full article.

Video series tackles bareback reality of HIV prevention

From South Florida Gay News

One film student is showing a “fun, sexy and outrageously frank 21st-century sex-ed for gay adults.”

“PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy that deals with sex, namely bareback sex,” film student Chris Tipton-King told Queerty. “And I got tired of people tip-toeing around that fact.”

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis and reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent. Truvada is the drug prescribed for the treatment.

Tipton-King wasn’t happy with depictions of PrEP, which he felt was too sanitized and “awkward.” So as one of his assignments for his master’s degree in cinema, he created “The PrEP Project.” It’s a four-part video series that shows a more realistic side to gay men, their sex lives and the use of PrEP. Each video is 5-minutes long.

Read the full article and watch the videos on South Florida Gay News.

Canandian HIV activists: Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me


[Chevalier and Bradley-Perrin’s] piece, titled “Your Nostalgia is Killing Me,” features that wry line, emphatically rendered in bright-yellow, drop-shadowed letters, against the backdrop of a computer-illustrated bedroom. Keith Haring and General Idea graphics serve as wallpaper; visual ephemera from the ’80s — ACT UP reproductions, Therese Frare’s famous photo of mourners at a patient’s bedside, promotional images for the films Philadelphia and Blue — are presented as teenybopper posters, plastered on the wall like pin-ups.

It was a bold comment on how romanticizing the past can obscure present priorities and impede real action. But not everyone read it that way. For many, especially those who had lived through those crisis years, the poster was a lightning rod. On social media, older activists attacked Ian and Vincent for what they perceived as undermining or dismissing the lived experience of survivors, calling them “stupid fucking brats” and accusing them, among other things, of committing “a little Oedipal murder.”

“It became really clear to me that there was this generational divide among people living with HIV, where younger people and older people interpreted the poster differently,” Ian says. He was struck, he notes, by how different generational experiences of HIV are from one another and he felt compelled to investigate that difference.

“It was personal, political, historical,” he continues. “That combination of factors is what my work is now, and what it has always been.”

The posterVIRUS clash was a particularly heated and visible example of Ian’s activist work, but it was far from his first foray into challenging the dominant paradigm. A lifelong critical thinker, Ian can trace the origins of his militant consciousness back to his time as a high school student in Oakville, Ontario, a well-heeled suburb of Toronto.

It was in his teens that the seeds of his current interest in the intersections of public health and marginalized communities were planted. In 2007, during Ian’s final year of high school, he began dating his first boyfriend, who was grappling with addiction and mental health issues and struggling to find ongoing care and treatment.

Through the lens of first love, Ian’s eyes were opened to the shortcomings in the Canadian healthcare system — the dearth of detox, addictions and recovery services, and the challenges of finding a therapist for someone struggling with serious mental health needs. In a time of crisis, the only option seemed to be to go to the emergency room. “I was watching the outer limits of what was possible in Canada for healthcare,” he says.

Read the full article.