Dr. Katherine Fordham and Michael Walker
Wow, it is really 1998 already! I have to admit that I am somewhat surprised, though I should not be. This past year just flew by in a mad flurry while I was in San Francisco. I have a great many wonderful memories from my California experience, but I wish my time there had been longer. Special thanks must go out to the following who made 1997 a year to always remember: Christopher Touchton, Zerna Khursedji, Alice Yim, Jeff Walsh, Scott Holland, Lisa Zee, David Blanc, Dr. Elise Earthman, Dr. Molly Sutphen, Justin Witt, Kelly Costa, Brian McConnell, Wilson Fang, Jason Bolton, Dr. Steven Eyre, and Dr. Sid Moormeister.
Kate (as in Fordham) will be writing this column alone during most of the coming year, in the fashion that she wrote the December 1997 edition, but Kate was too busy to prepare a column for this issue. In any case, we did not get any new questions for this month; maybe everyone was so occupied with Christmas and Hanukkah shopping that sex failed to even enter their minds? Anyway, I want to take this opportunity to reflect back on some important events of the past year, happenings that influenced and/or affected me in some manner and that could well hold importance for you guys, too.
Oasis, as a juggernaut of Internet publishing power, has grown in leaps and bounds and is scheduled to grow all the more this coming year. And this growth and development has not gone unnoticed, either. I believe that more and more young people are reading the webzine than ever and greater numbers of you are certainly contributing their own ideas to the publication. Wired magazine's Internet news edition wrote up a short story on Oasis, and this column was mentioned in an article by the renowned AIDS researcher, Dr. Thomas Coates, in a medical journal (The AIDS Reader) publication this past year, as well. One month, we had more e-mails from health professionals and educators concerning our efforts than from youth with questions! I don't know exactly what that means other than that we -- and you -- are far from alone in our struggle to make sexuality a safer, more comforting, and more satisfying experience for gay, bi, and transgendered youth. Teachers, physicians, nurses, and others do care about your welfare, and some are finally finding the courage to manifest that care into a viable interest in improving your lives -conventional taboos and prejudice be damned.
I attended the Second Young, Loud, and Proud Conference of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Youth in San Francisco this past July and must say that it was a moving and powerful experience. This meeting of gay youth from all over the world is proof positive of how far gay rights and the rights of youth -- gay or otherwise -- have come in such a short time. In any other decade, we would be hard pressed to even imagine such a conference yet it has happened not once but twice, and I am sure, it will be an on-going tradition that shall last for many years to come. I don't know the exact number of young people in attendance, but I think it is safe to say that the conference members were in excess of three hundred, an impressive number if you think about it a second. This conference consisted primarily of a variety of workshops designed to address various aspects of gay youth culture and the situation of being young and gay in the world today. Many of the workshops concerned sexual health, but others related to matters ranging from activism to acting (yeah, as in theater). I attended the acting workshop myself, and that was one of the most invigorating and enjoyable events of the year for me. (And like I said, 1997 was an exciting year, so that says a lot!) My personal and professional thanks go out to everyone who was involved in making the conference the great success which it was. L.Y.R.I.C. of San Francisco, N.Y.A.C., and Planet Out must receive the lion's share of the gratitude yet many others are deserving of thanks as well.
Another important aspect for me of living in San Francisco for a year was the value placed on health -- in all definitions of the word -- by the residents of the City by the Bay. People in this city take their health very seriously, from getting enough exercise to eating a nutritious diet to being careful and sensible in their sexual relations. AIDS has had an extraordinary impact on San Francisco, as I am sure many of you know. An acute awareness of the disease and a pragmatic approach to sexual liaisons has become the standard operating procedure of the gay community in this town. However, even in San Francisco, gay youth still occupy the margins of gay life. Efforts at educating "gay youth" as a discrete demographic group are even now rather few and far between and research being conducted by Dr. Steve Eyre and others at the University of California, San Francisco, is indicative of a lessened awareness among gay youth of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. While Eyre's studies are still underway and the vast bulk of his data has not (to my knowledge) been reported in the professional literature as of this date, his preliminary findings seem to suggest that gay youth (at least in the Bay Area) are a group separated from mainstream gay life. Some of Kate's work indicates that same probability, as does my own experience as a young person in this city. I am excited about Eyre's work in particular because he is one person who -- partly because he was trained as an anthropologist -- is not only concerned with the statistics of AIDS epidemiology among youth but also with the qualitative data -- the personal stories and details -- pertinent to gay youth. The work of sociologist Dr. Lisa Jean Moore -- also of the University of California, San Francisco -- on the sociology of sexual relations and the use of contraceptives by sex workers (prostitutes) is also interesting, although Moore's work does not limit itself to same-sex relations or gay life. Conversely, she appears concerned with sex as a social issue with medically-related implications, a topic that certainly merits serious attention. I took a class at San Francisco State University taught by Moore and found her to be an intrepid researcher and stimulating teacher. I hope she will focus some of her efforts on directly gay youth in the future.
Kate Fordham and I -- as many of you know -- put together a "State of the Union" address on AIDS and HIV especially for gay youth. This document was first published in Oasis and has since been distributed in several forms to groups and individuals interested in using our information in conjunction with their own AIDS education and prevention efforts. We are both rather proud of this publication; despite its many typos and other minor errors it serves as one of the most comprehensive efforts of it kind in the history of youth AIDS/HIV education. If you have not looked at it already, you might want to dig into the Oasis archives and take a look sometime.
Oasis, in conjunction with OutProud!, conducted the first-ever on-line survey of gay youth this past Fall and the data resultant from that project is awaiting our interpretation. Some time in the coming year, look for a special edition of this column concerning the findings of the survey. Thanks to all of you who participated.
Perhaps most impressive to me of all was the number of letters and e-mails I received asking one simple question: how can a young person help his or her peers become more aware and careful in their sex lives? I was impressed with the caring and the willingness to help, with the earnest belief that something proactive can be done, and with the sheer enthusiasm of you guys. I was further impressed with how seriously gay youth are being taken as people, --not research subjects, not statistic-- but people by the adults who have the power and capacity to help us improve our lives. I was impressed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which, as a Federally funded institution, has begun to realize the gravity of the AIDS epidemic in people under the age of eighteen and has recognized same-sex transmission as a leading cause of the rate of HIV infection in such young people. If you, -- as a young person who is concerned, who cares -- calls out for help, chances are great that you shall find someone who can offer advice, information, and sustenance in general. This is how it should have been all along for us, and I am determined to see that this is how the situation shall stay. I hope to hear from you over the course of the coming year; please feel free to write to me, not only about sex-related topics but concerning life, period. Because that's what it is all about: our lives, our future, our turn now.
Wishing you a great new year,