Ministering about Sex in Downtown Oakland
In Oakland, the group where HIV infection rates are growing the fastest, is described as YBMSM or young, black men who have sex with men.
Precise numbers for Oakland aren't available, but of 153 HIV positive young people with HIV living in Alameda County last year, 72.5 percent of them were male and 56 percent of them were African-American. [source]
Even more telling, of 526 men diagnosed with HIV in Alameda county from 2009-2011, 73 percent were infected through same sex relations. Only 7 percent of infections in men came from heterosexual sex. [source]
Minister Rob Newells is director of Healing Faith at Imani Community Church and member of the National Minority AIDS Council. He also works at Oakland Children's Hospital and was a 2011-12 fellow for the Black AIDS Institute.
When describing YBMSM late last year, he described a community that doesn't have it's own programs or safe spaces.
"Since SMAAC doesn't exist anymore, there's no real place for them. Youth Uprising and Youth Radio don't have specific MSM programs," he said. "There aren't a lot of gay/straight alliances at the high schools. There's not a [LGBQT] community center in Oakland yet."
According to Newells, traditional outreach, at HIV testing events, only catches some young men - often the same small group that repeatedly attends such events. He describes the uninsured as particularly challenging to reach.
"Eighteen-29 year olds ... you're looking at an underground club scene and anybody who's not in that lifestyle, you're probably only going to reach them in churches," he said.
Newells also laments the fact that young people in Oakland are focused on other concerns: "It's about community violence, not health care."
While sexually active young women may visit the doctor to receive birth control or prenatal care, young men don't have the same incentives. (All pregnant women in California are routinely screened for HIV.)
In general, youth are a particularly hard group to connect to sexual health education and resources. They see themselves as healthy and may not see a need to seek care until after becoming pregnant or showing signs of a sexually transmitted infection.
In Oakland, there was a gap left when all three East Bay Planned Parenthood offices suddenly closed nearly two years ago. School-based health care centers housed at local high schools and middle schools do help many kids that are currently enrolled, but may miss those who are truant or drop out.
Not all, but many YBMSM face additional challenges - they struggle with higher rates of poverty, depression, substance abuse, foster care, incarceration and become victims of crime. As a matter of protection, they do not always define themselves as gay or bisexual.
Anthony - is a community member and HIV/AIDs peer educator. He explains how stigma impacts YBMSM identity.
According to Bernadette Brown, senior program specialist at the National Council for Crime and Delinquency, some YBMSM do tell their families about same-sex experiences. As a result, they can experience a variety of problems that put them directly at risk for HIV/AIDS. Brown has been researching LGBTQ youth in foster care and the juvenile justice system - and how to best meet their needs.
"Quite a bit of research is pretty clear - kids get in foster care around family conflict," Brown said. "Forty percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, queer or transgender. That is massive. Of that number, about 68 percent report being homeless because of family conflict."
Brown cautions that "Not all of these kids are accepted into the LGBQT community. The priority has been about access to the military, marriage. Not employment, not housing, not kids in the justice system. There are intersections of race and multiple oppressions so the kids can't access resources because the white gay men don't really care."
David Gonzalez is the Children, Youth, and Families Program Manager at the San Francisco LGBQT Community Center and Co-Chair of the San Francisco HIV Preventional Planning Council. He mentions Clinica de la Raza as one organization that makes it easier. Because it's not an HIV specific health care provider, there is less fear of being stigmatized just by walking in the door.
Gonzalez also confirms that some youth of color are crossing the bridge to access services.
"A lot of those services are not based on locale," he said. "What matters is that people receive services. They feel that San Francisco has competency that isn't elsewhere. So how do we structure services to deal with the fact that HIV is migrant? Because of stigma, economics and where services are at."
Oakland Treehouse, a drop-in center for queer and trans youth, opened in November. While Treehouse founders fundraise to expand services, currently the center is only open one day a week for six hours.
Until a fire destroyed their building last July, The Sexual Minority Alliance of Alameda County, or SMAAC, was based in downtown Oakland. SMAAC was founded in 1998 by Roosevelt Mosby and received funding from multiple sources including Measure Y to run after school programs, support groups and peer education programs.
According to Mosby, "Everybody says they want to work with this population, but they don't want to work with the hard to reach. We work with them. Still today, there's a void when funding comes."
The center also functioned as a safe space for YBMSM to socialize - to meet other young men that they might like to date. Mosby is proud that his center was the only center open until 10 p.m. and has signed a lease to re-open in West Oakland this month. Although funding to SMAAC has dropped off in recent years, Mosby is committed to rebuilding with community support.
Youth Uprising in East Oakland has been engaged in a year-long process to build a Queers & Allies program that will officially launch with a bi-weekly support group later this year.
Alyssa Evans, community transformation coordinator at Youth Uprising, said "It started out as a workgroup, we did a staff survey on opinions and general knowledge, then a survey with 100 youth."
Their first pilot program was a coming out party in June 2012. Staff also is helping Castlemont High School set up a similar program on campus.
Youth Uprising also has worked to integrate visual cues that will show the youth center is a safe space for all youth. In addition to making sure there are images of diverse youth throughout the center, staff has been adding rainbows and respect messages.
Youth completed a video campaign called "I am" to showcase the range of perspectives on sexual identity.
Confidential HIV Testing is available the third Wednesday of each month at Youth Uprising through a partnership with HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County. Support groups for young men (and women) with HIV currently exist at East Bay AIDS Center via Alta Bates Medical Center and also at Kaiser in North Oakland.
Planned Parenthood recently announced that they will be opening a new clinic in West Oakland in the summer of 2013.
This winter Oakland Local is featuring a series of in-depth stories by reporter C.B. Smith-Dahl on the state of HIV/AIDS in Oakland. This article is the seventh in the series. Although the percentage of HIV infections in Oakland is comparable to San Francisco, the city's issues receive much less media coverage. Oakland Local's series on HIV/AIDS in Oakland focuses on local responses to challenges unique to the city.
This series of articles is created in partnership with HealthyCal.org.
Articles in the series include:
• Feb. 7: What's Your HIV IQ?
• Feb. 7: Black AIDS Awareness Day - Young Black Men in Oakland
• Mar. 6 : HIV/AIDS Survey Results
At the request of staff at NCCD (the National Council on Crime and Delinquency), Oakland Local's Editorial Team added the following original quote on February 21, 2013.
Bernadette Brown: "Not all of these kids are accepted in the LGBTQ community. When I talk to Probation Officers, we'll put on their paperwork that the kid will go to appropriate service - a LGBTQ center for After School. You have to do some reconnoissance to see if that center has it to support a person of color. This is not a priority. The priority has been about access to the military. Not employment, not housing, not kids in the justice system. There are intersections of race and multiple oppressions so the kids can't access resources because the white gay men don't really care. 'I assumed because it was a gay center and this is a gay kid, it would be fine.'"