Dominique Crisden started working in HIV prevention and outreach with the Gay Men's Health Crisis ten years ago. Credit: Bess Adler
As new diagnoses of HIV decline in every other demographic, the rate of infection among men of color has remained steady for years, according to statistics collected by the New York City Department of Health.
Now, two prevention programs targeting young gay men of color are on the brink of elimination due to funding cuts.
When Dominique Crisden started working in HIV prevention and outreach with the Gay Men's Health Crisis ten years ago, he was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technologyjust doing it because his friends were doing it, he said.
"Nobody I was around had HIV, so I didn't really care about it," he explained.
That changed around five years later when he became HIV positive.
Now Crisden works with an organization at GMHC called Club 1319. Club 1319 offers a safe space for the city's gay youth between the ages of 13 and 19.
Many of the kids who come to the Club 1319 drop-in center are homeless young people of color, Crisden said, often thrown out by their families after coming out.
The drop-in center provides STD testing and prevention materials, a computer lab, help with resume writing and interviewing skills, a place for transgender young women to get dressed.
"It's a safe space," Crisden said. "There are other community centers, but they're not really gay-friendly and they make the youth feel like outcasts."
The funding for the program goes to things that help make the kids feel normal, things that make kids happy: movie nights, game nights, field trips, and most importantly, healthy snacks. For some kids, this is the only reliable food source they can count on.
Crisden explained that a lot of the riskier behavior the youth engage is due to struggles as fundamental as hunger.
When kids are thrown out by their families, they often have to turn to sex work to survive, Crisden said, which puts them at risk of physical violence, sexual violence and infection.
"A lot of times the johns don't want to use protection," Crisden said. "[The youth are] making decisions based on survival, and if they haven't eaten in two days... They need the money."
When the kids who found comfort at Club 1319 turn 19, GMHC has another program for them: Outstanding Beautiful Brothers. Crisden stressed how important this is: having another refuge to offer these kids, who have spent most of their lives feeling as though the world has given up on them.
Losing a support system like Club 1319 could make them think that once again; being welcomed into OBB reaffirms asense of value.
But OBB is only funded through July, and finding for Club 1319 ends in September.
Crisden said that they are "fervently" searching for funding, and in the meantime the space and whatever resources they can manage will remain available to their kids.
"GMHC will still have a safe space for them," Crisden said. "I don't want this generation to feel like the world is turning their back on them because they're young or gay or because of the color of their skin."
At a recent discussion forum, a panelist recalled promises Christine Quinn made regarding funding for HIV programs. GMHC is hosting a mayoral forum on July 23, with the hope that public pressure can push the candidates to see the value of this constituency — young gay people of color who have spent most of their lives being overlooked, being told they are not worthy of love, compassion or care. Crisden and other outreach workers like him are hoping they can persuade the candidates to think otherwise.
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