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Update: Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh on Faith Communities and World AIDS Day

Editor’s Note: The following article comes from the November 15th, 2013 edition of The Partnership Center Newsletter, a publication by the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. 

Dr. Howard Koh

Dr. Howard Koh

On December 1, 2013, we will mark the 25th observance of World AIDS Day. It offers us an opportunity to honor the past, plan for the future and educate ourselves and our loved ones about HIV prevention, testing, and treatment.

Furthermore, we can use this time to address the ongoing stigma that puts people at risk for two issues – HIV and suicide – connected by the linchpin of sexuality. HIV continues to disproportionately affect young, gay and bisexual men – especially those in the African American and Latino communities. A major driver is the stigma that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people continue to face, both in their homes and in their communities.

Specifically, stigma and discrimination increase the likelihood that LGBT persons will engage in behaviors that pose major health risks, including unprotected sex and attempted suicide. Of special concern are young people, since:

  • LGBT youth are significantly more likely than their straight peers to be sexually active, to have had multiple partners, and to have engaged in unprotected sexual activity – greatly increasing their risk for HIV infection.[1]
  • LGB youth are 400% more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.[2]
  • Nearly 50% of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and 25% report having made a suicide attempt.[3]
  • LGB youth who suffer from high levels of family rejection are 840% more likely to have attempted suicide compared to LGB peers who reported no, or low, levels of family rejection.[4]Exit Disclaimer

In short, family acceptance is key to helping LGBT youth develop into healthy adults and to lowering their risks for both HIV and suicide. Faith communities can play a major role in promoting this acceptance, and in supporting families whose children may be at risk.

On World AIDS Day, we must focus efforts on eliminating the stigma that puts so many of our children at risk for life-threatening challenges. I encourage you to visit AIDS.gov to learn more about HIV prevention. You can also find suicide prevention resources at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) website.

And, if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Exit Disclaimer. Families, as well as faith and community leaders, can all join in renewed national efforts to create an AIDS-free generation.

Comments

  1. Michael Buitron says:

    How prescient; I just read an article on AIDSmap that showed MSMs who attend church are diagnosed later and with lower T-Cells: http://www.aidsmap.com/Church-attendance-associated-with-late-HIV-diagnosis-among-MSM/page/2804300/
    It’s good to see that faith-based communities are stepping up to the plate and addressing issues around homophobia and stigma.

  2. Mary Beth Swan says:

    These are sobering statistics, and a call to action for all. A reminder to keep suicide and mental health screening in the toolbox as we work with clients. Thank you for offering this opportunity to the faith community.

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