Thousands gather Downtown as Pittsburgh shows its Pride

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Members of the LGBTQ community and supporters came out in full force Sunday for the EQT Equality March and Pride Fest in Downtown Pittsburgh — events that celebrate gay rights.

This year’s parade had an attendance of tens of thousands. At one point, an announcement over the loudspeaker said this year’s parade was larger than the city’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. It also was supported by a number of corporate sponsors and religious organizations.

Click here to go to the Post Gazette Video

“To see all these companies coming out and supporting us indicates there is more inclusiveness in the workplace,” said Craig Skvarka, 42, of Banksville. “There were a few [corporate sponsors] in years past. But there are more now.

The Pride march is an opportunity for people in the gay community to express their individuality. The streets were teeming with rainbow colors — representing the coming together of different sexual orientations — worn on capes, T-shirts and flags.

“It’s a way of expressing who we really are and allowing everyone to be comfortable in Untitled-3our own skin,” said Alayna Mott, 23, of Ambridge. “It means a lot to me because I am part of this community and I feel accepted by all around me.

See the video and read the article here.

Gilead Sciences will begin airing television ads for PrEP

From NBC News

In a major shift, pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences will begin airing television ads for PrEP, its HIV prevention medication. The company said the ads, which will start in June and run through August, are “designed to encourage candid conversations around sexual health and promote public awareness of HIV prevention.”

PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, involves taking a daily pill to prevent HIV transmission. Major clinical trials have shown that PrEP — also known by its brand name, Truvada — is safe and effective at preventing HIV if taken daily. The pill is also recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for at-risk groups.

A still from Gilead Science’s new advertisement for PrEPGilead Science

Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Truvada for HIV prevention in 2012, Gilead has leaned on public health agencies to promote the drug. New York City has for years placed advertisements on subways and buses to promote PrEP, and the District of Columbia’s health department aired its own racy HIV PrEP television ad earlier this year.

Read the full article.

Grindr app to offer H.I.V. test reminders

From New York Times Health

In an effort to shrink the global AIDS epidemic, the world’s largest gay dating app is changing its software this week to urge millions of users to get frequent H.I.V. tests.

Grindr, which claims to have 3.3 million daily users from every country in the world, will send men who opt into the service a reminder every three to six months, and simultaneously point them to the nearest testing site. It will also let clinics, gay community centers and other testing sites advertise for free.

The company is making the move to “reduce H.I.V. transmission and support our whole community — regardless of H.I.V. status — in living long and fulfilling lives,” said Jack Harrison-Quintana, Grindr’s director for equality.

H.I.V. experts greeted the announcement enthusiastically.

“Wow — that’s great!” said Dr. Jeffrey D. Klausner, a former chief of sexually transmitted disease prevention in San Francisco who has used Grindr to promote testing. “For a company of this magnitude to do this is groundbreaking.”

Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health and an expert in gay male behavior, called the decision “excellent.”

Read the full article.

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 Newsday.com.

m4mHealthySex.org: 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), m4mHealthySex.org 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 m4mHealthySex.org, the HIV Prevention and Care Project, and/or sexual health in general, contact us at m4mInformation@pitt.edu. We’re here to help.