LOS ANGELES -- The White House office of AIDS Policy March 5 issued an historic report, "Youth and HIV/AIDS: An American Agenda," requested by President Clinton. The document, the first federal report of its kind, acknowledges that gay youth are most at risk for HIV-infection and the problem of homophobia in prevention programs. Shockingly, however, the report completely ignores gay and bisexual youth in its list of action steps for the President.
"The fact that the body of the report specifically acknowledges the deadly impact of HIV among gay and bisexual youth is historic and must be applauded. But the government's own statistics speak for themselves," said Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, home of the Pedro Zamora Youth HIV Clinic. "Sixty-three percent of the reported AIDS cases among men under 25 are from unsafe sex with other men. However well intended, the report's recommendations for government action turn a blind eye to gay and bisexual youth.
"We know that to be effective, prevention programs must directly confront homophobia and specifically address the unique issues affecting gay youth. Failure to do so leads directly to increasing the infection rate among this most at-risk population. That is why we are demanding inclusion in the report's action steps specific recommendations regarding gay and bisexual youth."
Several AIDS service organizations, including the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, contributed to the 14-page report, which examines the growing infection rate among youth, the factors that lead to infection, the need for prevention programs in schools, the need to encourage HIV-testing and provide care, and the need to include adolescents in research.
It also responsibly highlights some of the issues which lead to the infection of gay and bisexual youth, mentioning the isolation and lack of role models for gay youth, the void of peer support, and the importance of removing homophobia from prevention programs. It conspicuously avoids these issues, however, in its list of federal recommendations that are to serve as examples for "states, regions, and communities across the country."
"Pedro Zamora, whom our Youth HIV Clinic is named after, said it very well before he succumbed to AIDS at the age of 22," said Jean. "He said: 'If you want to reach me as a young gay man, especially a young gay man of color, then you need to give me information in a language and vocabulary I can understand and relate to. I will be much more likely to hear the message if it comes from someone to whom I can relate.'
"The White House is to be commended for undertaking this landmark report," Jean continued, "but it is not enough to make recommendations that talk about youth in general. Gay and bisexual youth are disproportionately affected by HIV and any action to curb the growing infection rate must not only mention them, it must include programs tailored to them. We will not let Pedro's words be forgotten nor let his HIV prevention efforts be in vain."
The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center is home to the Pedro Zamora Youth HIV Clinic, the nation's first peer care clinic specifically serving gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. It offers educational, medical, legal, psycho-social and HIV-prevention services -- all at minimal or no cost to the clinic.