UAlbany Receives $1M for Program to Prevent HIV and Substance Abuse

The University at Albany has been awarded nearly $1 million for the creation of a five-year, comprehensive program aimed at preventing HIV infections and substance use disorders among students.

The Achieving College Completion through Engaged Support Services program (Project ACCESS) will provide timely and responsive HIV prevention services to students, particularly those from the LGBTQ+ community and racial and ethnic backgrounds that are historically at higher risk for HIV and substance use disorders associated with health disparities.

Young adults under age 24 comprise more than one-fifth of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States, according to Dolores Cimini, director of the Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research. Compounding the issue is that young people between the ages of 16 and 25 years of age are also at risk for substance use-related negative effects, making it important for researchers and service providers to address both concerns using a comprehensive prevention approach.

As part of Project ACCESS, trained students who have experienced substance abuse disorders or HIV firsthand will assist their fellow students by linking them to specialized behavioral health services and vital medical services. In addition, Project ACCESS will hire a “prevention navigator” to support BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students in accessing these behavioral and medical services in a timely and responsive manner, thus supporting students in accessing broader higher education opportunities, completing college and continuing progress towards advanced study and entry into the workforce.

“This funding comes at a very timely juncture at UAlbany,” said Cimini, who is leading the project with associate professor Jessica L. Martin of the School of Education. “Our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students are voicing the need for specialized services across areas that align with this grant, and it is also responsive to the current focus on health disparities by the University at Albany and New York State,” Cimini continued.

Martin, who also serves as counseling psychology division director, added, “We believe that this is the first grant under this funding mechanism that is housed within a higher education institution, uniquely positioning UAlbany to advance innovation aimed to support both health and well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Albany Medical Center, the Alliance for Positive Health and the Damien Center will partner on the project, which began on August 31, 2021 and is expected to continue through 2026. Those interested in the learning more about Project ACCESS should contact Dolores Cimini at dcimini@albany.edu.

The new program joins the growing list of comprehensive and innovative initiatives at UAlbany. In September, the University officially became a Health Promoting University, a designation bestowed on only nine universities in the country.

The Causes, Risks, and Solutions for LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness

In 2020, the population of homeless people grew for the fourth year in a row, and a single night count in January of that year revealed 580,000 people were experiencing homelessness. But while the homelessness crisis is widely acknowledged, a problem that is less recognized is how (and why) LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately represented among the homeless. Moreover, the problem is not only the overly high representation of LGBTQ+ youth without homes but the increased risks and challenges they face while they are living homeless. And if they are also Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), then there are even further risks yet. Mitigating the problem will therefore require a broad, multifaceted, and holistic approach that addresses the multiplicity and intersectionality of these challenges, some of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Causes, Risks, and Minority Stress

At the deepest level, generalized homophobia and transphobia are foundational causes of the high percentage of homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Both homophobia and transphobia underlie family rejection, which is a primary cause of the higher rates of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. Among LGBTQ+ youth without housing, around 46 percent run away due to family rejection and 43 percent are forced to leave home by their parents.

Once homeless, LGBTQ+ youth also face higher risks of mental health challenges, substance use, sex trafficking, sexual assault, and becoming victims of hate crimes compared to their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. And when we probe deeper into any one of these risks, we find them inevitably linked with numerous forms of discrimination. For example, one of the reasons unstably housed LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk of sex trafficking is that many of them are pressured into alternative forms of making money to survive due to discrimination against sexual and gender minorities in the job market.

In addition to the job market, there is discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to housing and accessing homeless services as well. Minority stress theory is used to describe this kind of intertwining of discrimination in multiple, overlapping dimensions in a way that compounds stress and increases risk factors for minority groups.

Racism is also a major factor. While LGBTQ+ youth in general are disproportionately represented among the homeless, so too are Black people. Because of this, there are even more risks for Black LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness since they lie at the intersections of sexual, gender, and racial identities and are thus exposed to all of the discriminations these minority groups face.

Tragically, many of these preexisting disadvantages faced by homeless LGBTQ+ and Black LGBTQ+ youth were exacerbated by the pandemic, which caused numerous programs and services designed specifically for these communities to reduce hours or shut down entirely.

Minority Strengths, Resilience, and Action

A newer framework that can be seen as complementary to minority stress is minority strengths.  That is, even as racial and sexual minority statuses come with increased stresses and risks, they can also be sources of strength when members of these minority groups can identify with, and experience camaraderie with, other members of their respective minority group(s). Here as well, however, there are complexities since not every minority may have equal access to social support. Even within the LGBTQ+ community, for example, there can be transphobia and/or racism. A Black trans youth may therefore experience multiple forms of discrimination from within the very community they look to for strength. Still, it is useful to consider the minority strengths model alongside minority stress so that neither the positive nor negative aspects are overemphasized.

Speaking of overemphasizing, the tendency to focus on resilience in the context of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness has become a double-edged sword. While, on one hand, resilience should certainly be acknowledged, its role as a solution should not be exaggerated. The fact of the matter is that there are many ways to reduce LGBTQ+ youth homelessness and the risks associated with it.

We can work to address homophobia, transphobia, and racism in the culture at large, for instance, and to reduce discrimination in the job and housing markets which would help reduce the rate of homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth in the first place. We can also work to implement protections for the LGBTQ+ community more widely within homeless services so that those who do end up homeless can safely access these services. Social workers and providers of social services can also be trained to better recognize and address the unique challenges that unstably housed LGBTQ+ youth face. Relying too much on resilience creates a danger of neglecting concrete actions such as these which can and should be taken as preventative measures.

Finally, a word needs to be said about research which, like resilience, is sometimes overemphasized. As a researcher myself, I know that research can certainly help play a mitigating role, but we need to be mindful of the tendency to put the onus on more research when we already know enough to get to work and make a sizable difference. Research and advocacy can complement each other. There will always be more to learn, but if we wait until we know everything we will never act. With rates of homelessness increasing, and the pandemic having amplified the causes and risks of LGBTQ+ youth homelessness, the time to act is now.

LGBTI Children Have the Right to Safety and Equality

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) children are often victims of bullying and violence in schools, at home and via social media. This has a serious effect on their well-being and prevents openness about their personal identity. Like all children, LGBTI [i] children are entitled to enjoy human rights and require a safe environment in order to participate fully in society.

Responses to bullying

According to a survey carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), at least 60%  of LGBT respondents had personally experienced negative comments or conduct at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 80% had witnessed negative comments or conduct as a result of a schoolmate being perceived as LGBT. Given the frequency of negative behaviour directed at LGBT students, it is not surprising that the survey also found that two out of three LGBT children hid their LGBT identity while at school.

gay_childThis situation is unacceptable. It puts a heavy burden on LGBTI children, many of whom are at high risk of suicidal behaviour. According to an Irish study, over half of LGBT respondents aged 25 or younger had given serious consideration to ending their lives.

It is clear that bullying affects LGBTI children’s educational achievement and impedes their right to education without discrimination, in addition to their right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.

School should be a safe environment for all students. The European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that homophobic speech in educational settings is not protected by the European Convention’s guarantees of free expression. Confronting homophobic and transphobic intimidation requires continuous and focused attention from schools and educational authorities. UNESCO and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) have provided detailed guidance on effective responses. Ireland has introduced legal requirements and a mandatory policy for addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, along with a concrete action plan.

Right to information

Children have the right to receive factual information about sexuality and gender diversity. Anti-bullying efforts should be supported by education on equality, gender and sexuality. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education has highlighted children’s right to comprehensive sexual education without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is necessary to question stereotypes about gender and sexuality in schools. The European Committee of Social Rights has found a violation of the European Social Charter with reference to teaching materials which were “manifestly biased, discriminatory and demeaning, notably in how persons of non-heterosexual orientation are described and depicted”.

The protection of children is sometimes evoked as an argument to block the availability of information about LGBTI people to children. The Venice Commission has stressed that such arguments fail to pass the essential necessity and proportionality tests required by the European Court. There is no evidence that dissemination of information advocating a positive attitude towards LGBTI people would adversely affect children. Rather, it is in the best interests of children to be informed about sexuality and gender diversity.

Family and homelessness

Many LGBTI children experience prejudice and violence within their own families. The acceptance of LGBTI children is still difficult for many parents and other family members. The FRA survey found out that 35 per cent of young adults were not open about being LGBT within their family.  In Montenegro, I visited a shelter and a social centre for LGBTI persons where I met young people who had been rejected by their families and forced to leave their homes. The NGO running the facility was engaged in mediating between the families and LGBTI persons, and had achieved family reconciliation in some cases.

When they are forced to leave their families, young LGBTI people are at high risk of becoming homeless. Research from the UK suggests that up to 25% of homeless youth are LGBT. The current economic crisis makes it even harder for homeless young people to find a job and shelter. When LGBTI youth cannot rely on the support of their families, the result can be long-term marginalisation with a high cost to individual health and well-being. The Albert Kennedy Trust in the UK runs both temporary shelters and more permanent accommodation options for young LGBTI persons along with social and vocational support. Municipal and state-funded services for homeless people should also strive to welcome homeless LGBTI youth.

Right to self-determination

Trans and intersex children encounter specific obstacles when exercising their right to self-determination. As minors, trans adolescents can find it difficult to access trans-specific health and support services while intersex children are often subjected to irreversible “normalising” treatments soon after birth without their consent. The legal recognition of trans and intersex children’s sex or gender remains a huge hurdle in most countries. Children are rights-holders and they must be listened to in decision-making that concerns them. Sex or gender assigning treatment should be based on fully informed consent.

LGBTI children share many common problems. In their “Vision for 2020, trans and intersex youth in Finland gave high priority to the right to grow up in a safe environment, as well as the right to information. They also stressed “the right to a legally secured life as an equal member of society” and called for inclusive equal treatment legislation.

Empowerment and protection

This vision for the future should be today’s reality. Governments already have a duty to empower and protect LGBTI children. Respect for children’s views and the protection of the best interests of the child are clearly laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Human rights apply equally to LGBTI children without discrimination.

LGBTI children should be able to exercise their participatory rights in all areas of life. Access to information is a basic condition enabling participation and decision-making. At the same time, LGBTI children must be protected from violence and bullying at home, in schools, on the internet, in sports and in public spaces. Child protection services, children’s ombudspersons and the police should make particular efforts to include LGBTI children in their outreach. Governments need to take systematic action to improve the safety and equality of LGBTI children.


[i] This Human Rights Comment is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) children under 18 years of age. The acronym “LGBT” is used when reference is made to research which does not explicitly include intersex people.

The Story of LGBTQIA: What Do All These Letters Really Mean

Genderbread-2.1

LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIA…..In previous articles, I have used several of these acronyms, and  I want to use this article as a way to clarify what they all mean. I know sometimes the alphabet soup can be a bit confusing, but hopefully this will break it down for you. Let’s go!

Lesbian: A female-identified person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to another female-identified person.

Gay: A male-identified person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to another male-identified person.

Bisexual: Individuals who are attracted to both men and women romantically, physically, or emotionally.

Transgender: Individuals whose biological sex is different than the gender with which they identify. Sometimes the term “born in the wrong body” is used, however, this depends on the individual’s preference.

Transsexual: Transsexual individuals have physically altered their body in order to better match their gender identity. It is a term that refers to biology, not to identity necessarily, and it is indicative of a change in one’s physiology.

Queer: queer is an all-inclusive term referencing lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, and intersex persons.

*It was previously a derogatory term in the 1980s, however, it has currently been reclaimed when referring to the LGBTQIA community. Queer attempts to reject the idea that the labels of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are able to explain any one person’s identity.

Intersex: Someone whose physical sex characteristics are not categorized as exclusively male or exclusively female.

Asexual: A person who is not attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation.

Ally: A person who does not identify as LGBTQIA but supports the rights and safety of those who do.

In my previous article ENDA, I spoke briefly about the differences between sexual orientation and gender. I find the Ginger Bread Person to be a very useful tool to provide interventions and education to both clients and individuals in the community. The following link is an additional resource that will help clarify any additional questions you may have regarding gender and sexuality. Here is a preview:

Love the Genderbread Person? Then you’re going to love the book I wrote. It’s called The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender, and it’s a couple hundred pages of awesome – Sam Killermann

Download Genderbread PDF

Jason Collins Become First Openly Gay Male Sports Athlete

jasoncollins

Current NBA free agent, Jason Collins, took the world by storm earlier this week after becoming the first major sports athlete to announce that he was gay. Collins has been in the NBA for 12 years, and no one ever knew of his sexuality until Monday. When the story broke, Collin’s instantly became a household name. As everyone knows, the gay and lesbian rights issue has reached new heights in today’s society.

It’s truly amazing that no athlete has ever come out to admit that they were gay while being an active player. Most sports figures are seen as the toughest men in the entire world. You wouldn’t think that any of these rich and powerful men would have reason to hide anything from anyone. The truth is, there are more players like Jason Collins who are indeed afraid to speak out about their sexuality. That’s what makes it so special that this man stood up, before anyone else, and became a leader for gays across the world.

It’s comforting to see someone in Collins’ position be able to do what’s right despite possible retaliation. Jason received a ton of support including current and former, NBA and NFL, players. Kobe Bryant tweeted “Proud of @jasoncollins34. Don’t suffocate who u r because of the ignorance of others #courage #support #mambaarmystandup #BYOU”, and more sports figures are offering more support each day. Collins’ act of bravery is respected highly. All of the support he receives will make it easier for the next person who refuses to hide their sexual orientation. This was a very brave act by a man with nothing to gain and everything to lose.

We as people should continue to get behind others like Jason Collins. There are more people out there who are hiding and afraid to be criticized. As a nation, we need to stand behind individuals like Jason Collins, and let them know that we support their ability to live their lives without persecution.

Jason Collins surprised a lot of people especially when he didn’t know what type of responses he would receive. However, he still managed to muster up enough courage to come out and openly admit his sexual orientation. Hopefully, his courage will inspire more athletes in the LGBTQ community to be unafraid to let everyone know who they really are.

 

Photo Courtesy of  Sports illustration

Exit mobile version