FROM READERS: Men in LGBTQ community can reduce transmission of HIV, STIs

Friday, April 18, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Matthew Grover, 24, is the coordinator of MLAN, the Men’s Leadership and Activities Network for mid-Missouri. More information can be found on the group's Facebook page.

We live in a sexualized world; for the majority of people, sex is an intrinsic part of the human condition. Whether we like it or not, the daily barrage of images and stories about sex influence our thoughts, perceptions and attitudes about an innate part of ourselves. For men who identify as gay, bi, trans or queer, finding representation in the media has become easier in the last decade, but many of the messages we receive are often misleading and void of the real-life ramifications of being sexually active.

You can’t dispute fact; men and boys in the LGBTQ community ages 13-24 are disproportionately affected by sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They represent 72 percent of new HIV infections among all people between the ages of 13-24 and 30 percent of new infections among all men who have sex with men.

To alter this trend, a change needs to occur from within the LGBTQ community, and MLAN, aims to do just that.

MLAN is a social group dedicated to bringing queer men in mid-Missouri together to make connections, have fun and impact our community through advocating for sexual health. Every first and third Wednesday of the month, members meet at The Center Project to share a meal together, discuss LGBTQ health and plan events and activities for men to participate in.

Every event, from biweekly meetings and movie nights to iceskating and laser tag, is open to all queer men and geared toward reinforcing a healthy lifestyle. Through peer-to-peer support, topics such as condom usage and getting tested for HIV and other STIs every 6 months become normalized to eliminate the stigma and prejudices our society has attached to these behaviors. Individuals who take advantage of free testing services should be applauded for being responsible, not made to feel ashamed or promiscuous. Members of MLAN are able to flourish in this type of environment because it is both sex positive and queer affirming.

MLAN’s goal is to create a support network of men who are empowered to make their own sexual health a priority and invest in their partner or friend’s health as well. This peer-to-peer intervention strategy has proven to be effective in reducing risk in young men and continues to receive funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Together, queer men can reduce the transmission of HIV and STIs and be a positive force toward ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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Joanne Schrader April 18, 2014 | 9:51 a.m.

Whether you are heterosexual or not, the same truth applies. The healthiest form of sexual activity is virginity then committed monogamy. People who practice this won't acquire sexually transmitted diseases. And yes, it is doable.

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