Tag Archives: HIV/AIDS

If Only This Were Fake News, But It’s Not Even Alternative Facts

You’ve probably heard some variation of the joke about how different news media outlets would handle the news of the end of the world. I read some examples during a recent sermon; here are some favorites:

  • USA Today: We’re Dead.
  • The Wall Street Journal: Dow Jones Plummets As World Ends.
  • Sports Illustrated: Game Over.
  • Readers Digest: ‘Bye.
  • Ladies Home Journal: Lose 10 Pounds by Judgment Day!
  • The New York Post: The End.
  • The New York Times: Armageddon Likely Tomorrow; Third World Hit Hardest.

My congregation howled at all of them except the last one — mainly because it wasn’t on the list I read that day in church. I’m adding it here because I was reminded of it by a recent column by the Times’ own Nicholas Kristof, who is arguably a poster child for that organization’s unabashedly global point of view.

That column was an end-of-year piece where Kristof noted that his least-read columns had attracted only 3 percent of the audience of his best-read* ones. And what were those columns (and one video) about? “Overseas news”, as he calls it. Sample topics:

  • China’s inexcusable treatment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo during his dying days.
  • A 14-year-old Honduran refugee girl who had been forced into a relationship with a gang member at age 11.
  • An easy (as in, inexpensive and effective) treatment for clubfoot in Liberia.
  • The security threat posed by Ebola.

Conversely, with a couple of exceptions, Kristof’s best-read columns were generally about President Trump.

The contrast couldn’t be more obvious. The most powerful human being on the planet gets more than 30 times the attention of intelligent humans than do the most powerless, voiceless and oppressed who share our planet — or as Jesus referred to them, “the least of these”.

I say “intelligent humans” because it’s hard to argue that people who willfully consume (mostly) written news by one of the most serious columnists at the flagship American arbiter of stodgy eat-your-spinach mass journalism are exactly the dilettantes of the content-consumption economy.

I’m underscoring this because I can’t even imagine what it says about the rest of us. After all, a New York Times reader doesn’t exactly represent middle America. I don’t need to see a Times media kit to know that one of their headlines generally goes straight onto the radar of the 1 percent, the business and opinion leaders, the captains of industry, the political elite, the global elite, the oligarchs, the intellectuals, the universities, the heads of foundations, royalty, the independently wealthy, the charitable elite — and a great deal of the upper middle class. It’s a bankable, almost mathematical certainty.

So if the most educated / moneyed / powerful people on the planet can’t be bothered to even read about the powerless, the forgotten, the poor, the ignored (again, “the least of these”) — how could we even hope to find a single entity focused on them? Much less a powerful entity. One that spends every day with them. And whose reach extends into every corner of the globe.

Actually, there is just such an entity. And it’s thriving at a rate that any single private or public organization could envy. It rolls around this big blue marble we call home without regard for national borders, race, color, religion, creed, national origin, ancestry, gender, age, ability, ethnicity, education, citizenship or socioeconomic status.

That entity, brothers and sisters, is the human immunodeficiency virus.

It’s straight out of science fiction, if you really think about it. And apparently it’s a narrative we just can’t get enough of — as long as it’s make-believe. We read books and watch movies all the time that are variations on a theme that could have been ripped from the HIV/AIDS headlines of the last 40 years. We can’t get enough apocalypse/pandemic/zombie fiction in our lives right now. But let a New York Times columnist write about actual human devastation and, well… yawn.

So here’s some current global nonfiction about the 36.7 million people that HIV/AIDS has wrapped itself around in my lifetime:

  • 2.1 million children (<15 years old) are living with HIV and were mostly infected by their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
  • It’s estimated that 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2016 — about 5,000 new infections per day. This includes 160,000 children. Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, the most affected region, where there were an estimated 25.6 million people living with HIV in 2015 — and where about two-thirds of new HIV infections occurred in that same year.
  • Only 60 percent of people with HIV know their status.
  • 1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016.

Having said that, the picture in the United States is a bit different. From 2010 to 2014, the annual number of new HIV infections in the U.S. actually declined by 10 percent. And yes, gay and bisexual men still account for more than two-thirds of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. — but here are some new HIV facts that might not be on your radar:

  • The majority of men who contracted HIV via homosexual contact are black or Hispanic/Latino. The next-largest group after gay/bisexual men are black heterosexual women.
  • Almost a quarter of newly diagnosed HIV-positive Americans is heterosexual.
  • Youth age 13-24 accounted for 22 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2015.
  • People 55 and older now account for 23 percent of HIV infections in the U.S.
  • At least 1 in 8, if not 1 in 7, Americans with HIV don’t know they have the virus.

Unfortunately, the picture in the South is decidedly bleaker:

  • The CDC estimates that the South, which is home to about a third of the U.S. population, is also home to 44 percent of all Americans living with an HIV diagnosis.
  • People in the South are three times as likely as other Americans to die of HIV — and of course, they’re less likely to know their HIV status.
  • African Americans represented more than half of new HIV diagnoses in the South in 2014 — more than a third of them heterosexual.

And you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to guess what the frontline professionals are naming as some contributing factors: Stigma, poverty, inaccessible healthcare. HIV may need a single living host in order to survive — but in order to really thrive, the virus needs an environment of fear, poverty and neglect.

What makes this even sadder is that, while there’s no known cure yet for HIV, the advances that have been made are so significant that living with HIV can be as non-threatening as living with any other chronic and manageable illness (diabetes is a good example) — so much so that there are HIV-positive people whose viral load is literally undetectable. Combine that with proper medical care, and a person with undetectable HIV is essentially incapable of transmitting the virus to another person.

Not only that, but allow me to add these two terms to your vocabulary:

  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP): As a way of reducing their own risk of contracting the virus, a person can take the same type of medicine that HIV-positive people take.
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): As a way of preventing HIV infection after a recent possible exposure to the virus, a person can take the same type of medicine that HIV-positive people take.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s science fact, not science fiction. It’s the world we live in today. Well actually, it’s the world that some of us live in today — the critical ingredients being a First World-worthy combination of education, empowerment and access to healthcare.

So in summary, the reason HIV is still with us isn’t because governments, science, medicine or nonprofits haven’t provided the tools. The tools are there. They exist. They work. They’re working. They’re just not everywhere they need to be. Not by a long shot.

That’s because HIV’s most powerful adversary on the planet still hasn’t been unleashed. And that adversary is the single individual. It’s us. It’s me. It’s you.

The recipe is this:

  • Know your HIV status. If you’re sexually active, get tested at least once a year. I promise it will change your life. This is the role of knowledge.
  • The next time you see something about HIV/AIDS, read it. I promise it will change your life. This is the role of education.
  • Pray for those affected by HIV/AIDS. I promise it will change your life. This is the role of prayer.

And while you’re praying for those affected by HIV/AIDS, be realistic about who you’re praying for: People of color, youth, the elderly, women, the under-educated, the mis-educated, closeted LGBT people, out LGBT people, the poor… and the people of the Two-Thirds World. And be realistic about why: Stigma, poverty, inaccessible healthcare.

If you do this, I promise that before you know it, the scope of your focus on your brothers and sisters around the world will go far beyond HIV — because HIV’s hegemony is just a symptom of what’s really going on. It’s just a symptom of what’s really broken about the world. It’s just a symptom of all the human woes we allow to persist in the face of the greatest expansion and accumulation of wealth in our collective history.

And who knows? Maybe your prayers will help change the progress of HIV/AIDS as well. Let’s meet here a year from now and compare notes. But if you’re the only one who is changed by this prayer, that’s good enough for me. That’s the job of prayer. That’s the role of God in your life.

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

AIDS: Still Kills, Maims and Destroys

My coming out days were lived out in Chicago, Illinois (1965-1982). I also came out prior to HIV/AIDS being part of our everyday lives.

During my time in Chicago, the gay community was party central but also a close-knit community. Over the years I developed close friendships with a group of people that at its peak numbered fifteen.

We all hung out together, spent time at the clubs together and I guess by today’s standards could have had a reality TV show made about us.

We compared notes on our boyfriends, went to parties, gossiped about straight people, got jobs, participated in the community and marched for our rights. We were always there for one another no matter what the circumstance.

I didn’t think about it at the time but now I know we had something special-we had a group of people who had become VERY close friends and became a support system to one another that I don’t suppose will ever be repeated.

Starting in 1981 through 1982 the group started to drift apart. Some got jobs that took them out of Chicago and into other parts of the state, some got involved in long term relationships and moved to the suburbs, others found themselves struggling to find the love of their life or way through life as a gay man and; lacking direction or support turned to heavy amounts of alcohol and drugs.

In June of 1982, needing a fresh start I moved to Cincinnati where, within a month of arriving I would meet the man I am still with today. The choice to move probably saved my life.

For you see, the crushing and deadly wave that we would come to know as AIDS arrived in Chicago in the latter part of 1982. By the time my partner and I had been together for twelve years, my best friend and I were the only ones still alive from that group of fifteen. None of them had reached the age of forty.

Today, as I write this at the age of fifty-six and in the thirtieth year of marriage (Yes, despite what the world says I am married), I am the only one left who is alive and HIV negative. My best friend died at the age of forty-seven after getting the disease because of cheating and an abusive boyfriend.

I was no angel in those days and I guess every year at this time when I think of my friends who died much too soon I get a case of survivor’s guilt.

I have also been ordained since 1986, so I have twenty-five plus years of pastoral ministry. In those years I have probably done funerals for more people under the age of fifty than most pastors do in an entire career.

What is really heart breaking is that HIV/AIDS is not done yet, despite media spin “that this is now a manageable disease”. That is a lie and severe distortion of the truth. AIDS still kills at an alarming rate and the rate of infection is on the rise.

According to UNAIDS (2010) ‘UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic’ “Since the beginning of the epidemic, nearly 30 million people have died from AIDS-related causes.”

Every month I still counsel people who are newly infected. Every month I am there with someone who has died or in support of a partner, family and friends who have lost someone. Our congregation has a number of people who have tested positive and are at various stages of health challenges.

A friend in Atlanta is HIV positive and while he is healthy and living a productive life…the meds that he has to take are anything but pleasant. The side effects require he not get too much sun, eat the correct foods and not get too stressed, as the reaction is more then a pain in the ass, it is debilitating.

So, I guess I am writing this today to remind folks that the AIDS pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot. We cannot afford to get comfortable. We cannot afford to not continue to educate, stress prevention, and harm reduction (translation, safe sex and needle exchanging).

We must remember God’s people are dying…

I am asking the readers of this blog to get involved in harm reduction, to recognize this pandemic knows no boundaries.

Mark Harrington of Treatment Action Group has offered these Sixteen Radical Steps to End the AIDS Epidemic.

I offer some of the more important steps to the readers as a point of education, meditation and action:

We must strive to continue to lower the numbers newly infected. There are several ways we could dramatically reduce infections rapidly if we are willing to take some radical steps around the world.

1) Universal treatment for women equals universal prevention for infants

We must ensure that every pregnant HIV-positive woman has access to full antiretroviral therapy (ART) from the time her pregnancy is known to when she completes breastfeeding, and then for life if indicated by her CD4 and health status. And we must ensure that every HIV infected baby is diagnosed at birth and treated for life.

2) End gender-based violence and strengthen the legal and health rights of women and sexual minorities

We must demand and achieve equal status for women, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people and end the violence against them everywhere.

3) End the war against sex workers

We must insist on decoupling efforts to stop human trafficking from the current stigmatization and exclusion of sex workers from their full human, health, and economic rights to live and work in dignity, legally and safely.

4) End the war against drug users

We must end the punitive, expensive, and wasteful global war on drug users. We must work in countries around the world to decriminalize possession of drugs; provide universal access to drug substitution therapy, clean syringe exchange, and safe injecting rooms and equipment; and provide services for people reentering society after being unjustly incarcerated for nonviolent drug use.

5) End health disparities everywhere

HIV rates among black Americans are eight times higher than those of white Americans; 600,000 black Americans are living with HIV and 30,000 new infections occur among them each year. The epidemic among black Americans is the same size as that in Côte d’Ivoire, and bigger than that of seven priority PEPFAR countries put together.

The U.S. government and its people are obliged to address this epidemic with the same urgency with which they are now addressing the global pandemic.

The United States must develop and implement a national AIDS strategy with specific targets, timelines, and the goal of reversing the epidemic, with special attention and resources targeted toward black Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, women, and men who have sex with men.

6) Scale up HIV testing and improve HIV epidemiology

We must massively scale up HIV testing globally. New York City has belatedly introduced a policy to test — voluntarily and with opt-out — any resident of the Bronx who presents to the health system. If HIV testing can be massively scaled up in Lesotho, it certainly can and should be massively scaled up in New York City, still the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic.

We must have access to much better, more accurate, and timelier information about where the epidemic is and where it is moving to. Recent revisions downward by UNAIDS on the global pandemic and upward by the CDC on the U.S. epidemic have left the impression that we are still far from having a clear enough picture of the size, scope, distribution, and movement of the epidemic in its 28th year.

7) Prevent, diagnose, treat, and cure TB

Everyone has a responsibility to do a much better job of reducing the impact of TB among people with HIV. HIV clinics around the world must implement infection control procedures, intensified TB case finding, and earlier TB diagnosis and treatment so that no one contracts TB while accessing HIV care.

Routine screening for TB at every clinic visit should also allow healthy HIV-positive persons in pre-ART care to receive cotrimoxazole and isoniazid preventive therapies, which despite overwhelming evidence of efficacy are not routinely used in most sites due to overblown fears about resistance, toxicity, and adherence.

8) Diagnose, prevent, and treat viral hepatitis and common opportunistic infections

We should strive to obtain serology and, when possible, treatment for hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections among HIV coinfected persons. Because of the overlapping activity of certain ARV drugs, we are already treating many people who are coinfected with HBV and HIV without knowing their HBV status. As HBV and HCV treatments mature and oral combination therapy becomes possible, we must be ready to scale up hepatitis treatment globally.

Better opportunistic infection prophylaxis and treatment are also needed. Key drugs must be added to the essential medicines formulary and their prices brought down: amphotericin-B for cryptococcosis, azithromycin for MAC and a host of other infections, rifabutin for tuberculosis, and valganciclovir for CMV retinitis.

9) Develop better first-, second-, and third-line antiretroviral (ARV) regimens

We still need cheaper, safer, and more durable first- and second-line ART regimens to guarantee the longest possible duration of viral suppression free of side effects. Though the ART treatment space is maturing, there is still room for better combinations with greater durability, less toxicity, higher barriers to resistance, and cheaper manufacturing costs.

10) Intensify investment in biomedical research, including AIDS research

The last five years have seen stagnation in U.S. investment in research at the National Institutes of Health. The AIDS research budget, nominally $2.9 billion, has lost about 20% of its purchasing power due to inflation during this time. We must demand that the next U.S. president and Congress increase support for all NIH research — including AIDS research — by 15% in each of the next five years.

Other rich countries in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development must double or triple the amount they invest in biomedical research, including research for AIDS, TB, viral hepatitis, and other diseases. Emerging and developing countries need to increase investment in biomedical research five- to tenfold to help address persistent gaps in health research.

11) Show solidarity with activists, health workers, policy makers, and scientists working on global health issues

We cannot afford a divisive debate that pits advocates for different diseases against each other.

12) We need greater unity

We must become more united if we are to become an even more powerful force for global public health, human rights, and social justice, with our goal of universal access evolving into comprehensive and universal primary care for all. To those who say it cannot be done we must reply, “¡Si se puede! Yes, we can!”

So today I remember, honor and place in memorial all those who have died.

Today, I pray and proclaim the hope and healing for all those who live and are affected by this virus. For you, I will not be silent. I will speak out persistently, loudly and with a clear voice for justice.

Today, I once again say to my friends who have been received in the loving arms of God:

Timothy, Gerald, Brandon, Billy the nerd, William, Paddy, Tyrone, Tom, Chuck, Thomas, Sammy, Joey, Philip and John…I love you. You did not die in vain and I will never forget you.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

How About Some Common Decency?

Last week I really found out just how difficult the world has become. How a couple of bad choices can change one’s life forever. How being in the wrong place at the wrong time can make it damn near impossible to get a job or find housing.

We had a young man show up at the church looking for help. For the sake of privacy we will call him Tad. At the time he came to the church I was out on a hospital call and the church secretary was the one who heard his story first.

Now under normal circumstances the secretary would have given Tad some food, maybe a marta pass and let him use the phone to make whatever contacts he needed to make and sent him on his way.

However, today was different and by the time Tad had told his story the secretary really didn’t know what to do. She did know that our church and I in particular work with the really complicated stuff…so she called me to tell me Tad’s story.

The long and short of the story was that Tad had just found out he was HIV positive and when he told his roommates they threw him out. He had spent the night before sleeping in the woods and trying to stay out of the way of the police. By the time he had gotten to the church he was cold and hungry and extremely tired. He also added that this was the first place he had been to where anybody would even listen to his plight.

I gave the secretary a couple of referrals that specialize with HIV positive men. She had given him the number for a local shelter and he was heading that way. I was concerned how this particular shelter would react to him and his story should he decide to tell them. So, I indicated if that fell through to call me on my cell and I would talk to him and try to set up a time to get together and see if we could begin stabilizing the situation.

God’s humor and timing is pretty awesome and when I got back to the office, there was Tad and his emotional state now in addition to being tired, scared, and cold was now angry.

When Tad got in touch with the shelter and they told him to come on down, he had gone back to where he had been living to gather his belongings. Upon arriving he found his bed cloths, coats, underwear and socks and some other personal stuff had been burned. What had not been burned had been piled up in the back yard and bleach poured all over it.

So now it is time to take a deep breath, sit done with a cup of coffee and walk through this. So here is a very brief description of the last year for Tad.
He has been married for 5 years.

He has been in recovery from drug use for 3 years.

About a year or so ago he got laid off from his job, and in an effort to get money for food he passed a bad check (bad choice #1). Got caught and spent time in jail.

While in jail he lost the job he had just gotten when he had to go to court and face the bad check charges.

A few days after getting out jail he is out and about looking for work when Atlanta’s finest stop him on the street and begin to question him. (Wrong place, wrong time)

They question him about drug use, where he lives, check his ID and pat him down. One of the officers walks up the street about 20 yards of so and discovers a bag of crack. So now he is arrested for possession of something which clearly was not his since in his movement had not gotten to where the officer found the bag.

The case goes to court and is dismissed out of hand by the judge who says this should have never happened.

In the meantime he and his wife need to move from one housing unit to the next.
In the process of the move a background check is done on Tad, the drug arrest is discovered. Tad is told he can not live at the complex with his wife because of HUD drug arrest rules. So now, he is homeless.

In an effort to stay out of the police’s way he goes from friend to friend. He finally hooks up with some old college buddies. Some sexual experimentation goes on. The experimentation is anything but safe (Bad choice number 2).

Through the church he and his wife had attended they find a place with some church members he can live until he can get some legal help to be able to move back in with his wife. Yup you guessed it, this where his stuff was burned, bleached and he was told never to come back.

I can not begin to tell folks how many ways this is so wrong, without compassion, without reconciliation, without justice and not a shred of common decency.

Tad has family in the area so we contact them to try to arrange a place to stay. Quote: “I got kids you ain’t bringing no AIDS here!”

In the meantime we have found housing but there will not be an open bed for 5 days. So Tad and I are off to the shelter downtown. By the time we got there no more emergency bedding was available. They had a transitional housing program but that would cost $10.00 a day. Before readers shake heads and roll eyes, please bear in mind the old saying; “If something costs a quarter and you ain’t got a quarter it is too expensive.”

$50.00 for a homeless person? Yea, just chew on that for a while and think about the insurance CEO knocking down 3 or 4 million a year.

A few phone calls are made and a couple of members of the church commit to covering the cost. Wow! Praise God! For a church that has less than $2,000.00 a month to work with, this was an impressive act of compassion. We get him back to his room, ugh, no, not a room but rather a dormitory with 30 other men and come to find out infested with “bed bugs”.

Well, today as I write we are past the crisis. Tad has housing and we are working at getting the proper coping mechanisms back in place. So why write about this?

Simply, Tad’s story could be our story. A couple of bad choices, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and wham we too could be the scourge of society, the one for whom legislatures pass laws to protect the common good. A little common decency, a little compassion a little unconditional love could have prevented this story.

Tad’s story is not singular but rather community. Of the 11,000 homeless in Metro Atlanta one will hear the same type of story again and again. Their plights are justified by those with power in government and the more powerful churches by pointing out their perceived short comings, their perceived sins. They are labeled as drug users, drunks, homosexuals, Gender confused, prostitutes, illegal’s, crazy people, and just plain bad people. A little common decency, a little compassion a little unconditional love could have changed these perceived sins to blessings.

Yet, sad to say we the people contribute to making the homeless criminals because we demand law and order rather than common decency, compassion and not being so judgmental about how people get where they are.

For instance, there are no public restrooms through out the city. So if one urinates outside and gets caught they can be given a ticket for public urination a misdemeanor, or if they cross some imaginary line with law enforcement they can be charged with exposure, a crime that will land them on the sexual offenders list. That is a place in the State of Georgia no wants to be if they want to have a roof over their head.

Maybe somebody could tell me where the common decency is in dropping charges against a homeless person but making them pay a fine. Did it ever dawn on our brilliant officials if they had money to pay the fine, they might not be on the street to begin with? Dear reader, don’t roll your eyes because there are some who are simply one traffic ticket fine from not paying the rent or mortgage.

People often ask me why are things going the way they are, how did we get to this point, how did we become so polarized? Simple, as was said earlier we as a society and a people have lost our common decency. Why? In my not so humble opinion since 9-11 we live in fear. We fear everything and everybody. The list of fears are too many to list here, but it is fear that causes people to make more and more laws, get less and less compassionate and understanding.

So the next time you see someone sleeping under a bridge, walking the street, sleeping in a door way, remember they have a story too and their story all too easily could be our story with a wrong choice, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So I think my wish for this Christmas, my prayer in this holiday season will be simply this, Dear God fill our land, our homes, our jobs, our churches our families with decency and the strength to do justice, act mercifully and walk humble with You…and so it is.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

SILENCE=DEATH

A couple of weeks ago, a person in our community received the news at the age of 26 they were HIV positive. This young mans life has taken a turn that sadly was preventable.

As I write tonight I am worried…I am scared…I am deeply disturbed. For you see for the last 30 years or so I have seen this before and this is reality come home again, for there are no fairy tale endings.

Yes, there are miracles, yes there are new discoveries and yes there is hope…for with the unconditional love of God there is always hope, always miracles, and always-new discoveries.

So here we are half way through 2010 and I find myself once again climbing up on a soapbox. I want to sound a warning, ring an alarm, rise up and shout from the mountaintop to my brothers and sisters in the gay, bi and straight community…ENOUGH ALREADY…STOP IT…HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MINDS?

This is 2010 not 1994 nor 1982. We know for a fact how HIV keeps it’s bloody record of death going. We really know this is not a manageable disease, but rather a killer that does unbelievable harm to untold millions of people. We know that the medications used to fight off this virus have horrible side effects and in the long run lose their effectiveness. We know that whole generations of humanity will never see their 21st birthday.

Yet, many gay men, bi men and straight men still behave as if HIV is an after thought, as if the magic pill will arrive just in time for Christmas. While I dare say it is not a majority, it is significant enough to cause untold misery and destruction for millions of people.

This is 2010 and we know we have the weapons that can stop this disease in its tracks. The weapons are so simple. One is an object and the other a program.

The object is called a condom and the program is called “needle exchange” or harm reduction (needle exchange and harm reduction is another blog).

Yet when you talk to folks in the community you would think I was “Henny-Penny and crying the sky is falling…think I am kidding? Take a look at this: (not for the squeamish) Some samples from Craig’s list:

“I’m into a lot of different things such as public sex, fisting, bareback, bondage, w/s, group fun, Master/slave type “relationships”… and yes, that is meant to mean “strings”. I expect that anyone who wants to get to know me should at least be open minded and adventurous, even if they haven’t done it all. I live a polyamorous lifestyle. I hope this stuff here sums me up well.”


“I need to suck a **** and eat a large load of ***. I also get into rimming, body contact, J/O and whatever else you can think of. If you are negative I am bb friendly.”

“Yeah, bb btm loves to get plowed hard by raw ****
Into it? like seeding a hot, horny, furry hole?”

There are places in the fair city of Atlanta where one can go and have any number of sex partners in an evening and there are no condoms in sight or asked for. Before the straight folks reading this say ah hah it is you gays…let me be clear there are plenty of these clubs for straight folks as well and the men who are picking up women while out of town are not using condoms either. In fact go to any straight party club and well you get the idea.

I had a person in pastoral counseling who is now a recovering sexual addict tell me how he would go to a local hotel here in town…place an ad on Craig’s list giving his location and room number. He would invite anyone who wanted sex to his room to find the door unlocked and him blindfolded with his butt in the air waiting to receive all the bareback sex he could.

Or how about these websites that have thousands of subscribers for both gay and straight people:

Bare-back-central

Gay Bareback Sex and Hairy Masculine Men

Bareback Resources

The porn industry is a multi billion-dollar empire whose hottest films involve sex without condoms. If people are spending that kind of money you cannot convince me they are not doing what they see in film.

This is not a blog to sound a moral cry about how sexually loose society is, nor is it to start an ethics debate on adultery and or fornication.

Rather it is about admitting and recognizing people regardless of morals, ethics, or the churches teachings are going to have sex. They have been doing the “deed” since the beginning of time.

I will save the sexual ethics discussion for another time. Right now I am concerned about stopping the bleeding. For you see when a person is wounded, 9 times out of 10 before you do anything else you have got to stop the bleeding.

Stopping the bleeding in this case means if you are going to have sex be safe about it. Use a condom!

Believe me, I know they are easy to use, easy to dispose of and can save one from any number of life threatening or life ending diseases. My partner and I have been together 28 plus years and have never had sex without condom use.

My friends don’t we have a moral obligation to not put others at risk for our sexual enjoyment?

For those who call themselves Christian can you really in good conscience put your partner or yourself at risk of a shorten or messed up life for a night of taking care of a “sexual itch”?

Do not those who consider themselves tops have an obligation to say no to bare backing?

Do not those who consider themselves bottoms have an obligation to say no to letting someone inside them without a condom.

How about straight folks…unless you are making a child and you both have tested negative, don’t you have an obligation to keep each other safe? I know all about the marriage vows of fidelity, however it is what it is…I mean really…do you want to find out your partner cheated on you when you come up with a positive test?

If you are going to cheat on your partner or even if you have an open relationship do you really want to introduce HIV or God knows what other disease to the one you say you love?

Isn’t the whole relationship thing difficult enough without adding a premature death sentence to it?

The moral police will tell me the answer is abstinence and then only sex in wedlock.

Well that has really worked well hasn’t it? Read the court dockets and the reasons for divorce. Look at the record levels of teen pregnancy. HIV rates of infection are up not down. STD’s are on the rise rather then declining.

People committing adultery in the State of Georgia can go to jail…but that is of little good to the one they infect and I might add too little too late. People who do not disclose their status if positive can face jail time…of course this is a little late isn’t it. Kinda like closing the barn door after the horse is long gone.

Gay folk are denied marriage, so their only answer is no sex? Right-so now convince me that a healthy 20 something man is not going to have sex regardless of the marriage laws.

I was talking to a Pastor who works with folks who are HIV positive and he told me about an informal survey that was done for men in prison. People going into prison are given an HIV test. Of those who tested negative when they went into prison, 54% of them tested positive when they came out. Of course you don’t give prisoners condoms because that would be approving sex and the wrong kind of sex at that. What kind of screwed up thinking is that?

I want with all my heart to have conversations around long-term monogamous relationships.

I want to teach values, respect and commitment as a part of our sexual relations.

My faith walk encourages and even demands me to support and model that kind of sexual responsibility.

However, we are left with the reality people are going “sow their oats”, they are going to experiment, they are going to be wild, they are going to be stupid and do sexual things out of a lack of judgment.

Like it or not that is the condition of the human race, it is the way we live and learn.

Yet if I can convince folks who are going to have sex regardless of some moral authority, to use a condom they might live long enough to learn a sense of responsibility.

If I can convince folks that if you have sex without a condom you are either suicidal or are a totally self-absorbed selfish person they might live long enough to learn there is other peoples lives at stake.

So to those men in the gay, bi and straight community…I am begging you, pleading with you, save a life and use a condom.

For those who would blast me for writing this blog, thinking this is the wrong subject for a minister to write about or it was just too graphic please remember:

Silence=Death and my friends we have been silent far too long in the matters of safe sex and the use of the condom.

For those who think this blog reads familiar…well yea, I wrote it in 2008 and not much has changed, so I am sounding the alarm again.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

A Day in the Life of a Street Pastor

I get asked a lot what my day is like — as in, “Pastor, just what is it that you do all day?”  And honestly, most of my days are spent living out the words of Matthew 25:31-40.  I know for some this might sound hokey, but it is truly what I spend most of my time doing. So, I want to share with you the story of Kurt [not his real name], a young man who came to my attention after he found himself in a local jail after an accidental brush with the law. By the time I got to the jail, I had been told that Kurt had just been casually informed by a jail employee that the “mandatory intake blood work” revealed Kurt to be HIV-positive.  Then they had tossed him into his cell to be alone with this new knowledge.  So he was alone in his cell with the agony of knowing his life now had a terrible and awful stigma attached to it. When I met with Kurt I could tell that in his eyes, his world was crumbling.  He believed that when he left the jail he’d have nowhere to live, no job, and a new medical condition that he didn’t know the first thing about.  When I walked into the visitation area, I could also see in Kurt’s eyes that he thought I had come to preach to him. But that’s not my style.  I let Kurt tell me his story, and I comforted him.  As he shared his story, I listened.  Sometimes he would stop and look at me as if to say, “This is where it really gets bad; this is where I really messed up.”  And I would tell him, “Go on — there is nothing you are saying or telling me that would cause me to walk away.” When he finished, I suggested to him that he was not any different from the prodigal son Luke 15:11-32.  I shared with him he was a child of God, and that this jail time and new medical stuff was not the end but could in fact be a wonderful new beginning.  I invited him to come by the church office when he got released so we could see about getting him a job, a place to live and some referrals for his medical challenge.  A few days later we were in my office, and I walked him over to a local restaurant where he got an interview and a job.  The connections were made for him to get proper medical treatment, and the hunt for housing is underway. Almost every week I meet someone like Kurt.  Someone who’s just lost something — or maybe everything.  And every week I try to help them get it back.  In the last few months, our church and the friends of Gentle Spirit Christian Church have helped three people find housing, five people find jobs, and one person overcome an almost lifelong addiction. I wish I could say this was an occasional happening, but it is not.  Every day there is someone who needs to be fed (with either food or affirmation), someone who needs clothing, someone who needs a drink (of either water or spiritual nourishment), someone who needs a visit at their home, hospital, hospice or jail, someone who needs an advocate, someone who needs a friend. I used to think all this stuff was for someone else to do, some agency or community group…  But the message of Matthew 25:31-40 says clearly that it is my job, it is our job, and everything else is secondary.  In other words, do these things and everything else will be fine.  And you know, today as I think about Kurt, I wouldn’t have it any other way. God bless, Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

EXPOSING THE LIE

I have said for a long long time…the idea of fighting the spread of AIDS through “abstinence-only” programs was a powerplay on the part of the religious right and a cheap way for politicains to get conservative votes. They were never concerned about saving lives, just controling peoples expressions of sexuality.

Now the lie of the religios right and the political right has been exposed. I noticed it did not get any play on the network news shows as the debate over “bitter” and “flag pins” seem to be far more entertaining then exposing a policy that will cause us to have a whole generation of our young people sick and dying.

I usual write my own opinions here but the truth of what follows just screams to be told, so without further delay please sit back, get a cup of whatever you drink and get into a comfortable reading position and soak in the tesitmony of Max Siegel before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Testimony of Max Siegel

Policy Associate, AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families

Before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
April 23, 2008

Good morning. I am grateful for this opportunity to address abstinence-only-untilmarriage education, a policy that has transformed my life. I share my recommendations on how to improve sexuality education programs as a person living with HIV who has spent the entirety of his young adulthood working to prevent new infections. My goal is to accurately portray the personal impact of this policy while explaining how the lessons I have learned may apply to other young people, who comprise 15 percent of all new HIVinfections in this country every year (CDC, 2008). Thank you to Chairman Waxman and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for including an HIV-positive young person in today’s hearings.

Abstinence-only programs do not work. Beyond the responsibility we have to provide
young people with accurate, complete, and lifesaving education about their sexuality, I see no room for failed programs such as abstinence-only education in this time of shrinking public health budgets and increased accountability. Please end this horrible experiment so we can begin the work of saving young people’s lives.

I experienced abstinence-only-until-marriage education taught by my junior high school gym teacher. In a session, he told me and my male classmates that sex is dangerous and that we should think more seriously about it when we “grow up and marry.” He was clear that sex was something only for married people. He was visibly uncomfortable, and he conveyed to us that sexuality was not to be discussed extensively in an educational setting. Even if it were, my gym teacher made it clear that only one kind of sexuality—heterosexuality ending in marriage—was acceptable to talk about. Already aware of my sexual orientation, I found no value in his speech. It did not speak to me and my life. It might as well not have happened.

While most formal abstinence-only education programs in this country are more
extensive than the class I experienced, they rely on similarly exclusive and stigmatizing messages that lack basic information about sexual health. My classmates and I required nonjudgmental, practical information that was tailored to our individual needs. I am evidence that the basic abstinence-only lesson I received was ineffective. Multiple studies, including a 10-year federal evaluation, have found that the more expansive abstinence-only programs do not work either.

Unfortunately, this abstinence-only lecture was the only education I received on the
subject. As such, I was ill-equipped to make responsible decisions about my sexual
health. When I was 17, I began seeing someone six years older than me. The first time we had sex, I took out a condom but he ignored it. I did not know how to assert myself further. I knew enough to suggest a condom, but I did not have an adequate understanding of the importance of using one, and even if I had more reasons to use a
condom, I had no idea how to discuss condoms with my partner. The abstinence-only
message did not prepare me for life, and I contracted HIV from the first person with
whom I consented to having unprotected sex. I was still in high school.

Did the abstinence-only message make me HIV positive? It did not force me to forgo the condom. But, it did nothing to prevent me from contracting the virus. My coach could have told me that gay people had value and that delaying sex could benefit me too. He could have told me that I could still take actions toward healthy sexual relations even though I could not get married. He could have talked to me about how essential condoms were to stopping the spread of infection among sexually active people, and he could have taught me how to navigate weighty topics such as emotions, love, and condom use within a relationship. These topics also are absent from abstinence-only programs operating today, which puts thousands of young people across the country at risk for disease and teen pregnancy.

I met with a healthcare provider a few months later. Before informing me of my HIV
status, the provider asked me about my plans for college. An idealistic teenager, I had a great deal to say about one day earning an advanced degree in a helping profession. The provider responded simply: “Well, after today, you can still try to do those things.” I knew then that I had HIV. Unfortunately, I had no preexisting knowledge of what my prognosis could be or any of my healthcare options, which is information that should have been provided for me during my school’s sexuality education program. Beyond shock and hopelessness, my initial reaction was extreme guilt.

My friends and family were devastated upon my new disclosure. We had no substantial
knowledge about HIV and we quickly developed false and damaging beliefs about my
situation. I came to consider it unfair for me to confide in my loved ones for support because, through having unprotected sex with a single individual, I had committed a heinous crime that brought suffering into their lives. I thought that while a single HIVinfected person adversely impacts an entire community, it is this person’s lone undertaking no matter their age or circumstance to reconcile the consequences of this disgraceful infection.

It seemed as though I had done something particularly disgraceful, but it never occurred to any of us that I in fact had engaged in fewer behaviors that could put me at risk for HIV infection than the majority of my peers. I wish I could say that my parents did not reinforce such notions. Like many young people’s, my parents were in no position to educate me about HIV or AIDS because, although otherwise extremely well-educated, they did not have a comprehensive understanding or knowledge of sexuality and sexually transmitted infections. Instead, they mourned the loss of their child. As a community, we identified contracting HIV as someone’s fault. We had no examples for how one might live well with the virus or any other chronic, sexually transmitted infection. None of us had received adequate education around these issues and what arose from my diagnosis was a widespread crisis. This crisis could have resulted in my absence from the medical continuum, a refusal to disclose my status to future sexual partners, and suicide among other all-too-common occurrences in the lives of people living with HIV. It fortunately did not.

Soon after diagnosis, I decided to pursue a career in the prevention and treatment of the virus. I thought I had little time on this planet and that I was automatically in a unique position to help people because of my status. I have gone on to earn national recognition for my HIV-related endeavors. I hope I have demonstrated that those living with HIV can be relevant, meaningful members of society—even though the abstinence-only messages I received failed to teach me otherwise. The most personal career choice I made was to assume the role of an HIV counselor and to provide rapid HIV antibody testing to the general public. Working in HIV counseling and testing for three years, I gained a great deal of insight into the shared experiences of individuals living with HIV. These experiences cut across gender, race, and class, and I learned to pay particularly close attention to individuals’ unique needs and perspectives.

That which makes me proudest in my life has been my willingness to be present for those who were otherwise alone. I have never averted my eyes from a client’s suffering. I have not allowed discomfort to prevent me from addressing the needs of those around me and,as an educator, from reacting in ways that are proven to be helpful. Sexuality education should be no different. Adults should not allow their moments of discomfort to supercede the needs of youth for complete and accurate information.

Sexuality education programs must be as specifically focused as my counseling sessions. Programs must be tailored to meet the needs of individual students, the majority of whom will be sexually active before high school graduation. They should encourage abstinence while providing useful information about the potential consequences of sexual activity.

Students of all ages should recognize abstinence as a primary mode of maintaining one’s sexual health, but they must be given tools in addition to abstinence that will equip them for later life. These tools should be discussed in language that is accessible to students’particular ages by educators with whom students can identify and communicate openly.

We must facilitate critical thought about sexuality in terms of keeping students healthy and, ultimately, alive. Sexuality education programs should promote skills related to self-esteem, condom use and negotiation in terms of maintaining health as a priority, and self-efficacy while being inclusive of varying sexual orientations and gender identities. They must instill knowledge of local healthcare services, including the availability of HIV counseling and testing, and they should contribute to peer-led dialogue about healthy sexual behaviors, including abstinence. These programs must acknowledge relationship violence, which increases one’s risk for HIV infection and is most commonly reported among married women (Lichtenstein, 2005). One’s decision to abstain will not be honored in the presence of violence and coercion. Young people should be prepared for the wide array of emotions, not all of which will be bad, that result from engaging in sex.

Age appropriate and comprehensive sexuality education should be built into each grade level as sexuality is an issue of daily life. Effective sexuality education requires well-informed educators who posses the professional skills to be able to deliver this important information in a confident and understanding way. Students should leave sexuality education programs equipped and inspired to discuss HIV in terms of risk and transmission. Sexuality education should help individuals who are not living with HIV better understand the realities of a positive status for the purpose of preparing individuals who test positive later or have peers who are diagnosed for the medical and psychosocial ramifications of the virus. This requires a well-rounded portrayal of the lives of HIV-positive individuals. Students should have increased awareness about HIV and the bidirectional relationship between HIV and society. These programs should assume that many lessons arise from the AIDS pandemic. Themes such as stigma, isolation, discrimination, and unequal access to education and healthcare services are global and worthy of examination. Educators and policymakers must ask themselves: What effect does cultural legacy have on the marginalized communities most impacted by AIDS? Is it important to consider others’ contexts in a holistic sense, including a history of sexual violence and family abuse, while striving to instill healthy sexual behaviors? Our leaders and role models are sacrificing young people’s long-term survival in order to avoid momentary discomfort.

What I experienced in my junior high gym class is a routine example of the messages of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that children across our country are still
experiencing every day. On top of being proven ineffective for students (most of whom
identify with traditionally heterosexual views of sex and gender), these programs also ignore the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, and even condemn them. The message I received in junior high was essentially that deviant life choices such as homosexuality or sex outside of marriage are not to be acknowledged. Furthermore, my educator implied that said deviants could never engage in sex in a healthy manner since non-heterosexual couples cannot “grow up and marry.”

Acknowledging that sexual minorities may be as healthy as anyone else is by no means
an endorsement of their behaviors; however, abstinence-only programs utilize
government dollars to actually lash out against LGBTQ young people. From a healthcare
perspective, it is important for the scrutiny of abstinence-only programs to concentrate on the consequences of abstinence-only programs’ condemnation of sexual minorities, including men who have sex with men, who are at high-risk for HIV infection. This government-funded condemnation impacts majority-identified community members as well. Many men who have sex with men, especially young men and men of color, will not disclose their sexual interactions with other men due to the negative social consequences of acknowledging their behaviors (CDC, 2003). Nondisclosers are more likely to contract HIV, less likely to receive HIV testing, and more likely to have sexual contact with women (CDC, 2003). Even if one does not place value on educating

LGBTQ individuals about reducing their risk for HIV infection, these individuals
inexorably overlap with heterosexual-identified community members. The diversity of
sexual orientations and gender identities in our world is irreversible. For everyone’s survival, we must realize that a failure to attend to the needs of these individuals is a failure to perceive the risk that befalls anyone who might be deserving of life-saving education.

Young, straight women also are in need of education that includes, but is not limited to, abstinence. I have worked with various individuals who contracted HIV within marriage. Many of these individuals were women who had children, and some of these children were infected at birth. Women of color are at particular risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Latina women have nearly the same HIV/AIDS rate (15.1) as white men (16.7) (CDC, 2008). Among African American women, the rate (56.2) is almost four times as high (CDC, 2008). Abstinence-only programs neglect the needs of women of color through curricula that reinforce gender roles and emerge from a context of ethnocentrism. Abstinence-only programs frequently portray sexually active young women as dirty, scarred, and inferior. Regardless, staying faithful to one’s partner will not protect a woman whose husband or boyfriend has been incarcerated when rates of HIV infection among inmates is exponentially higher than in the general population. And a woman asking her husband to respect her decision to abstain from sex or to use a condom is not consistent with abstinence-only programs teaching sex as an expectation within marriage or that condoms do not work.

Sex education must be appropriate for as many populations as it plans on helping, and
HIV prevention must respond to the state of our domestic epidemic. I have assumed the
responsibility of trying to help the women and children with whom I have worked to the best of my abilities, but there is no sufficient reason why this completely preventable infectious disease should have impacted any of our lives. After six years of living with HIV and striving to prevent sexually transmitted infections in others, I strongly believe that it is society’s responsibility to provide young people with all the tools they will need in order to lead healthy lives. Any American infected with HIV is a societal failure.

More individuals have this virus now than ever before in history. Most children born with HIV no longer die; they are growing into adolescence and adulthood. Within and outside of marriage, these young people must know how to prevent transmission of HIV to their sexual partners and how to protect themselves from further co-infection, other sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancy. Understanding proper condom use is imperative to their wellness and to that of others’. Abstinence-only programs stigmatize individuals living with HIV through conveying inaccuracies about the virus’ transmission, such as by stating that HIV may be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact(Duran, 2003, p.19). Rarely have I encountered a sexual health forum in which youth or older adults in the audience could collectively identify the four fluids that are known to transmit HIV. If asked, would you be able to do so?

Popular abstinence-only curricula rely on scare tactics, which do not work and adversely impact individuals who are diagnosed with HIV or even other sexually transmitted infections. One abstinence-only program has utilized an in-class exercise in which students roll a die to represent the risks they take by having sex and, in the caseof the die landing on four, the leader of the exercise told students that they have AIDS and, “You’re heading to the grave. No cure” (Hughes, 1998). What does this do for adolescents who are already living with HIV, or whose parents may be HIV positive, except cause fear?

HIV-positive young people could be harnessed as powerful peer educators as they are
more frequently in other countries. Instead, fear of them further discourages all
individuals from discovering their status and fails to encourage individuals to follow theCenters for Disease Control & Prevention’s recommendation that everyone ages 13 to 64 receive routine HIV testing (CDC, 2006). Abstinence-only curricula do not meet the needs of individuals who are living with HIV, whether they are aware of their status or not.

One of the most common barriers to effective HIV prevention among youth that I have
encountered is apathy toward one’s risk for infection. How are we to expect young
people to recognize HIV as a legitimate concern when our policymakers and educators
ignore overarching evidence that HIV prevention interventions must be administered in acomprehensive manner? The claim that comprehensive sexuality education encourages
sexual activity among youth – despite evidence to the contrary – is an indication that policymakers are not aware of young people’s willingness and capacity to make
responsible decisions about their sexual health. This claim is counterintuitive to the numerous HIV-negative client success stories that I might tell, and it has not been proven in research.

Comprehensive sexuality education programs are shown to increase the use of condoms and contraception while reducing a young person’s number of sexual partners and pushing back the age of sexual debut (Kirby, 2007; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).

I came to recognize the importance of condoms from my personal and professional
experiences. Although condoms are not 100% effective at preventing HIV, they do come
close. I have never screened a client HIV-positive who used condoms correctly and
consistently. Unfortunately, abstinence-only allowed to note contraception or condom use in terms of failure rates. Research shows that abstinenceonly students are less likely to use condoms or contraception when they do have sex (Bearman & Bruckner, 2001) and are less likely to seek medical attention in the presence of a sexually transmitted infection (Bearman & Bruckner, 2005).

The Mathematica Policy Research conducted a large, comprehensive study of students in abstinence-only programs that showed these students to be no more likely to stay abstinent than individuals who do not undergo any sexuality education whatsoever (Mathematica Policy Research, 2007). The evidence shows that comprehensive sexuality education is more effective at keeping our young people abstinent than abstinence-only.

In summary, please stop funding abstinence-only programs and start funding comprehensive sexuality education. As a tax-paying young person living with HIV, I
urge you to use our federal dollars for programs that actually do protect our sexual health.

References

Bearman, P.S., & Bruckner, H. (2005). After the promise: The STD consequences of

adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36(4), 271-278.

Bearman, P.S., & Bruckner, H. (2001). Promising the future: Virginity pledges and the

transition to first intercourse. American Journal of Sociology, 106(4), 859-912.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2003). HIV/STD risks in young men

who have sex with men who do not disclose their sexual orientation. Retrieved April 7,

2008, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5205a2.htm.

CDC. (2006). Revised recommendations for HIV testing of adults, adolescents, and

pregnant women in health-care settings [electronic version]. Atlanta: Author.

CDC (2008). Cases of HIV infection and AIDS in the United States and dependent areas,

2006. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from

http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/resources/reports/2006report/default.htm.

Duran, M.G. (2003). Reasonable reasons to wait: The keys to character. Chantilly, VA:

A Choice in Education.

Hughes, K. (1998). Passions & principles leader’s guide. Chandler, Arizona: One Way

Publishing.

Kirby, D. (2007, November). Emerging answers 2007: Research findings on programs to

reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases [electronic version].

Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Lichtenstein, B. (2005). Domestic violence, sexual ownership, and HIV risk in American

women in the American deep south. Social Science and Medicine, 60(4), 701-714.

United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2001, July). The Surgeon

General’s call to action to promote sexual health and responsible sexual behavior

[electronic version]. Rockville, MD: Author.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Silence=Death

A couple of weeks ago, my best friend who is HIV positive and has been since 1994, let me know that the medical cocktail he had been taking was no longer working. His viral load had gone from undetectable to unacceptable levels. He has been feeling tired of late and he has had to deal with some skin irritations while not painful make him look like he has a severe sunburn.

As I write tonight I am worried…I am scared…I am deeply disturbed. For you see for the last 20 years or so I have seen this before and this is reality come home again, for there are no fairy tale endings.

Yes, there are miracles, yes there are new discoveries and yes there is hope…for with the unconditional love of God there is always hope, always miracles, and always-new discoveries.

Yet, I suppose I am being selfish here…not wanting a friend who means the world to me, at the least suffer and at the worst die long before his time. I don’t want to see and feel the anguish, pain and suffering of his family, his friends and his partner.

With that said my friend is a strong man. He is a man of God. He is a man whose faith in his Christ is as deep as any ocean and as strong as any mountain. He will endure, he will stay strong and ultimately he will win this battle because he is wonderfully and uniquely made in the image of God. So I am just asking readers to prayer with me for him, for his healing…for his miracle.

I needed to get that off my chest so that I could talk about 2008. I want to sound a warning, ring an alarm, rise up and shout from the mountaintop to my brothers in the gay, bi and straight community…ENOUGH ALREADY…STOP IT…HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MINDS?

This is 2008 not 1994 nor 1982. We know for a fact how HIV keeps it’s bloody record of death going. We really know this is not a manageable disease, but rather a killer that does unbelievable harm to untold millions of people. We know that the medications used to fight off this virus have horrible side effects and in the long run lose their effectiveness. We know that whole generations of humanity will never see their 21st birthday.

Yet, many gay men, bi men and straight men still behave as if HIV is an after thought, as if the magic pill will arrive just in time for Christmas. While I dare say it is not a majority, it is significant enough to cause untold misery and destruction for millions of people.

This is 2008 and we know we have the weapons that can stop this disease in its tracks. The weapons are so simple. One is an object and the other a program.

The object is called a condom and the program is called “needle exchange” or harm reduction (needle exchange and harm reduction is another blog).

Yet when you talk to folks in the community you would think I was “Henny-Penny and crying the sky is falling…think I am kidding? Take a look at this: (not for the squeamish) Some samples from Craig’s list:

“I’m into a lot of different things such as public sex, fisting, bareback, bondage, w/s, group fun, Master/slave type “relationships”… and yes, that is meant to mean “strings”. I expect that anyone who wants to get to know me should at least be open minded and adventurous, even if they haven’t done it all. I live a polyamorous lifestyle. I hope this stuff here sums me up well.”

“I need to suck a **** and eat a large load of ***. I also get into rimming, body contact, J/O and whatever else you can think of. If you are negative I am bb friendly.”

“Yeah, bb btm loves to get plowed hard by raw ****
Into it? like seeding a hot, horny, furry hole?”


There are places in the fair city of Atlanta where one can go and have any number of sex partners in an evening and there are no condoms in sight or asked for. Before the straight folks reading this say ah hah it is you gays…let me be clear there are plenty of these clubs for straight folks as well and the men who are picking up women while out of town are not using condoms either. In fact go to any straight party club and well you get the idea.

I had a person in pastoral counseling who is now a recovering sexual addict tell me how he would go to a local hotel here in town…place an ad on Craig’s list giving his location and room number. He would invite anyone who wanted sex to his room to find the door unlocked and him blindfolded with his butt in the air waiting to receive all the bareback sex he could.

Or how about these websites that have thousands of subscribers for both gay and straight people:

Bare-back-central

Gay Bareback Sex and Hairy Masculine Men

Bareback Resources

The porn industry is a multi billion-dollar empire whose hottest films involve sex without condoms. If people are spending that kind of money you cannot convince me they are not doing what they see in film.

This is not a blog to sound a moral cry about how sexually loose society is, nor is it to start an ethics debate on adultery and or fornication.

Rather it is about admitting and recognizing people regardless of morals, ethics, or the churches teachings are going to have sex. They have been doing the “deed” since the beginning of time.

I will save the sexual ethics discussion for another time. Right now I am concerned about stopping the bleeding. For you see when a person is wounded, 9 times out of 10 before you do anything else you have got to stop the bleeding.

Stopping the bleeding in this case means if you are going to have sex use a condom.

Believe me, I know they are easy to use, easy to dispose of and can save one from any number of life threatening or life ending diseases. My partner and I have been together 25 plus years and have never had sex without condom use.

My friends don’t we have a moral obligation to not put others at risk for our sexual enjoyment?

For those who call themselves Christian can you really in good conscience put your partner or yourself at risk of a shorten or messed up life for a night of taking care of a “sexual itch”?

Do not those who consider themselves tops have an obligation to say no to bare backing?

Do not those who consider themselves bottoms have an obligation to say no to letting someone inside them without a condom.

How about straight folks…unless you are making a child and you both have tested negative, don’t you have an obligation to keep each other safe? I know all about the marriage vows of fidelity, however it is what it is…I mean really…do you want to find out your partner cheated on you when you come up with a positive test?

If you are going to cheat on your partner or even if you have an open relationship do you really want to introduce HIV or God knows what other disease to the one you say you love?

Isn’t the whole relationship thing difficult enough without adding a premature death sentence to it?

The moral police will tell me the answer is abstinence and then only sex in wedlock.

Well that has really worked well hasn’t it? Read the court dockets and the reasons for divorce. Look at the record levels of teen pregnancy. HIV rates of infection are up not down. STD’s are on the rise rather then declining.

People committing adultery in the State of Georgia can go to jail…but that is of little good to the one they infect and I might add too little too late.

Gay folk are denied marriage, so their only answer is no sex? Right-so now convince me that a healthy 20 something man is not going to have sex regardless of the marriage laws.

I was talking to a Pastor who works with folks who are HIV positive and he told me about an informal survey that was done for men in prison. People going into prison are given an HIV test. Of those who tested negative when they went into prison, 54% of them tested positive when they came out. Of course you don’t give prisoners condoms because that would be approving sex and the wrong kind of sex at that. What kind of screwed up thinking is that?

I want with all my heart to have conversations around long-term monogamous relationships.

I want to teach values, respect and commitment as a part of our sexual relations.

My faith walk encourages and even demands me to support and model that kind of sexual responsibility.

However, I am left with the reality people are going “sow their oats”, they are going to experiment, they are going to be wild, they are going to be stupid and do sexual things out of a lack of judgment.

Like it or not that is the condition of the human race, it is the way we live and learn.

Yet if I can convince folks who are going to have sex regardless of some moral authority, to use a condom they might live long enough to learn a sense of responsibility.

If I can convince folks that if you have sex without a condom you are either suicidal or are a totally self-absorbed selfish person they might live long enough to learn there is other peoples lives at stake.

So to those men in the gay, bi and straight community…I am begging you, pleading with you, save a life and use a condom.

One final thought for those who would blast me for writing this blog, thinking this is the wrong subject for a minister to write about or it was just too graphic please remember:

Silence=Death and my friends we have been silent far too long in the matters of safe sex and the use of the condom.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

WORLD AIDS DAY

My coming out days was lived out in Chicago, Illinois (1965-1982). I also came out prior to HIV/AIDS being part of our everyday lives.

The gay community in Chicago during my time there was party central but also a close nit community. Over the years I developed close friendships with a group of people that at its peak numbered 15.

We all hung out together, spent time at the clubs together and I guess by today’s standards could have had a reality TV show made about us.

We compared notes on our boyfriends, went to parties, made gossip about straight people, got jobs, participated in the community and marched for our rights. We were always there for one another no matter what the circumstance.

I didn’t think about then but now I know we had something special-we had a group of people who had become VERY close friends and became a support system to one another that I don’t suppose will ever be repeated.

Starting in 1981 through 1982 the group started to drift apart. Some got jobs that took them out of Chicago and into other parts of the state, some got involved in long term relationships and moved to the suburbs, others found themselves struggling to find the love of their life or way through life as a gay man and lacking direction or support turned to heavy amounts of alcohol and drugs.

In June of 1982 needing a fresh start, I moved to Cincinnati where within a month of arriving I would meet the man I am still with today. The choice to move probably saved my life.

For you see the crushing and deadly wave that we would come to know as AIDS arrived in Chicago in the later part of 1982. By the time my partner and I had been together for 12 years, my best friend and I were the only ones still alive from that group of 15. None of them had reached the age of 40.

Today, as I write this at the age of 52 and in the 26th year of marriage (Yes, despite what the world says I am married), I am the only one left who is alive and HIV negative. My best friend died at the age of 47 after getting the disease because of cheating and abusive boyfriend.

I was no angel in those days and I guess every year at this time when I think of my friends who died much to soon I get a case of survivor’s guilt. Hey, that is another blog.

I have also been an ordained minister since 1986, so I have 20 plus years of pastoral ministry. In those years I have probably done funerals for more people under the age of 50 then most pastors do in an entire career.

What is really heart breaking is that HIV/AIDS is not done yet. Despite media spin “that this is now a manageable disease”. That is a lie and severe distortion of the truth. AIDS still kills at an alarming rate and the rate of infection is on the rise.

“AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, with an estimated 38.6 million people living with HIV, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 3.1 million (between 2.8 and 3.6 million) lives in 2005 of which, more than half a million (570,000) were children.”

Every month I still counsel people who are newly infected. Every month I am there with someone who has died or in support of a partner, family and friends who has lost someone. Our congregation has a number of people who have tested positive and are at various stages of health challenges.

My best friend in Atlanta is HIV positive and while he is healthy and living a productive life…the meds that he has to take are anything but pleasant. The side effects require he not get too much sun, eat the correct foods and not get too stressed, as the reaction is more then a pain in the ass, it is debilitating.

So I guess I am writing this today to remind folks the AIDS pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot. We cannot afford to get comfortable. We cannot afford to not continue to educated, stress prevention, and harm reduction (translation, safe sex and needle exchanging).

We must remember God’s people are dying. “A third of these deaths are occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, retarding economic growth and destroying human capital. Antiretroviral treatment reduces both the mortality and the morbidity of HIV infection, but routine access to antiretroviral medication is not available in all countries.[7] HIV/AIDS stigma is more severe than that associated with other life-threatening conditions and extends beyond the disease itself to providers and even volunteers involved with the care of people living with HIV.”

I am asking the readers of this blog to get involved in harm reduction, to recognize this pandemic knows no boundaries.

I am asking folks to adopt the 4 principles as put forth by the Prevention Justice Mobilization organization.

Here are 4 principles that must be reflected in a focused, justice-based HIV prevention strategy that can actually stop HIV/AIDS:

1) HONESTY AND PROTECTION: UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO SEXUAL HEALTH EDUCATION, HARM REDUCTION AND HIV PREVENTION

Prevention justice asserts the fundamental right of all people (including people living with HIV) to expect every effective and ethical approach to be employed to prevent HIV transmission. Everyone at risk of transmitting or acquiring HIV must have access to scientifically based, culturally and linguistically- appropriate sexual health, harm reduction and HIV prevention information, materials and tools.

The federal government bears primary responsibility to fund these efforts at adequate levels (at least $2 billion per year across programs, as noted in the AIDS Budget and Appropriation Coalition’s chart on FY 2008 Appropriations for Federal HIV/AIDS Programs), and must end bans on funding for effective programs such as syringe exchange.

The next President of the U.S. should develop a results-oriented AIDS strategy that incorporates prevention justice principles and policies.

If political and cultural barriers impede such access (such as bans restricting access to sterile needles/syringes, and condoms in prisons and jails; comprehensive, accurate sexual information and skills for school youth or detainees; or the gag rule on naming “harm reduction” in federally-funded research and programs), then funders and providers of prevention services must also invest in strategies to remove these barriers.

2) IT’S NOT ONLY WHAT YOU DO, IT’S ALSO WHO YOU ARE: HIV/AIDS AS PROOF OF INJUSTICE

All prevention campaigns and strategies must include explicit goals to lessen and eventually eliminate structural risk factors that lead to community-level or population-level vulnerability, such as homelessness, high rates of incarceration, domestic and other gender-based violence, lack of adequate access to high-quality health care, and/or a living wage or income.

They must include plans to eliminate any significant disparities among populations in HIV prevalence and risk, including those associated with race and ethnicity, immigration status and language, gender and gender identification, sexual orientation, nationality, age and area of residence. It must also address disparities in treatment, care and support for people living with HIV as a key component for HIV prevention. Resources must prioritize eliminating the greatest disparities in HIV prevalence and incidence.

3) AIDS DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE… BUT SOCIETY DOES: END VULNERABILITY BY AFFIRMING THE DIGNITY AND RIGHTS OF ALL:

All HIV prevention efforts must include an affirmation of the dignity and rights to equality of every individual (including those living with HIV/AIDS) and must actively confront social, cultural and legal norms and forces that prevent or impede realization of such rights and dignity, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia; HIV and drug-use stigma; or discriminatory legal status.

Any programs that claim to prevent HIV by attacking the dignity and rights of individuals — such as abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that encourage sexism, homophobia and AIDS stigma — must be defunded and repudiated.

Since rights are meaningless without the means to realize and use them, all HIV prevention must include or ally with efforts to provide every human with the economic and other material necessities of life, including adequate housing, employment or income, physical and mental care, food and nutrition, and drug treatment – the lack of which have each been shown to drive HIV spread.

4) DON’T BLAME US OR SHAME US FOR WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: RESOURCES, ETHICS, AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN CRITICAL RESEARCH AND MONITORING

Communities and programs lack the resources and tools to fill the gaps in our knowledge base on HIV prevention. HIV prevention research efforts must be funded in sufficient quantity and diversity as to quickly solve critical unanswered questions and provide essential tools and technologies we are currently missing.

Research must focus on providing tools to assess community vulnerability and structural risk and to guide the design of efficient, comprehensive, multifactorial prevention strategies, as well as investigating new individual behavioral or biomedical interventions, and must include answers to relevant questions regarding prevention issues for people living with HIV.

Further, government and private entities engaging in research and policies must provide timely, understandable and accurate information on their work and proposals, actively soliciting and integrating diverse community input into resource allocation and policy formulation.

The basic elements of counting and describing people living with, or at risk for HIV infection (surveillance categories and systems, testing, case reporting, partner notification and counseling) must not blindly follow previous, narrow medical public health models, but must reflect the other principles described above. These systems and methods must be designed and implemented with awareness of their direct or indirect impact on individual dignity as well as community health and vulnerability.


So tonight I write to remember, to honor and to place in memorial all those who have died.

Tonight, I write to proclaim the hope and healing for all those who live and are affected by this virus. For you I will not be silent. I will speak out persistently, loudly and with a clear voice for justice.

Tonight, I write for my friends who have been received in the loving arms of God: Timothy, Gerald, Brandon, Billy the nerd, William, Paddy, Tyrone, Tom, Chuck, Thomas, Sammy, Joey, Philip and John…I love you, I will never forget you.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.