youth hivAIDS Resource Center Ohio (ARC Ohio) and the Ohio AIDS Coalition (OAC) are proud to recognize the first ever National Youth HIV& AIDS Awareness Day on April 10th.  Young people between the ages of 13-29 now account for nearly 40% of all new HIV infections in the United States, many of whom are young gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men—especially young men of color.  The epidemic has changed dramatically over the years, as has our response to it, and this shifting dynamic demands our attention and adaptation.

Too many young people are at risk for HIV infection, and need to learn how to protect themselves from not only HIV, but other sexually transmitted infections.  Continual prevention outreach and education efforts are needed across the country to protect our youth and help construct healthier and safer lives.  According to the Ohio Department of Health in 2011, 289 young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 were diagnosed with HIV, accounting for 27% of all new HIV diagnoses in the state.

ARC Ohio and OAC stress how fundamentally important it is to support our youth that are living with HIV/AIDS, finding innovative ways to link them to quality care and services. This also means linking them to their greatest asset, one another, through empowering programs like the Youth Summit hosted by OAC, and the ongoing efforts of the Greater Columbus Mpowerment Center (GCMC) to provide support services and education to MSM’s of color.

Beyond that, standing up for our youth doesn’t just mean teaching safer sex practices. It means mitigating the social factors that lead to our youth making risky decisions in the first place.  It means advocating for the equal treatment of our LGBT youth in a broader sense, so that they aren’t mistreated and bullied in schools or in the home, leading to risky behavior or homelessness.  Up to 40 percent of our homeless youth identify as LGBT, and 1 in 4 LGBT teens are kicked out of their homes after coming out, and such an environment often leads to decisions that may put someone at risk for HIV. It means teaching comprehensive sex ed–because our youth DO have sex–so that the awareness of HIV and other STDs is out there as well as how to protect yourself.  It means reducing the stigma of having HIV so that rates of depression in our HIV positive youth, which can lead to substance abuse and riskier decisions, isn’t so alarmingly high.  It means bringing together groups of young people living with HIV so that they can feel a sense of community while learning from and empowering one another instead of falling into isolation.  It means accepting our youth for who they are and who they are becoming.

Our youth are our greatest assets.  Our youth are the continuation and fulfillment of all of the things that we hope to accomplish and the dream of ending this epidemic.  Our youth need us now, so please stand with us on the first ever National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day.