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Nat'l LGBT youth group comments on new HIV numbers
by Amy Wooten
2008-08-20

This article shared 4286 times since Wed Aug 20, 2008
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A national LGBT youth advocacy organization says that the Center for Disease Control's ( CDC's ) latest report on HIV infection rates, while cause for concern, highlights the need for updated social marketing methods in order to grab the attention of today's tech- and marketing-savvy youth.

Greg Varnum, the 25-year-old acting executive director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition ( NYAC ) , said that he wasn't at all surprised to hear the latest CDC report, which indicates that there are 40 percent more people living with HIV in the U.S. than previously thought. The report also shows that new HIV infections are highest among those aged 29 and under, and although African Americans represent 13 percent of the population, they account for 45 percent of new HIV infections.

'I think a lot of folks have been saying it for some time,' Varnum said. 'We were all expecting it to happen. I think the numbers just confirmed what a lot of people thought.'

He said the numbers regarding youth remained consistent from previous reports. Youth are one of the most at-risk populations.

'That's something I would have been perfectly happy to have been wrong about, but unfortunately it doesn't happen that way,' he added.

Although the CDC report was a disappointment, Varnum hopes that organizations across the U.S. start working together as a result in order to find more effective ways of reaching out to youth. The report, he said, highlights how crucial it is to continue to talk about HIV/AIDS.

'This epidemic is not over,' Varnum stressed. 'One of the things we seem to be doing wrong is not really accepting that we are still dealing with an epidemic,' Varnum said.

What the numbers imply is complex, Varnum said. While many working on the issue remember attending funerals of dozens of friends during the '80s and early '90s, the face of HIV/AIDS has changed drastically. Young folks simply don't recall what it was like, and have a very different outlook on the disease.

Another issue is that many of those trying to reach out to youth, whether that be about HIV/AIDS or another issue, have yet to modernize their approach.

'You really have to think outside the box,' Varnum said.

Some of the reasons this isn't occurring across the board is a lack of young folks working in public health and other areas, a lack of resources and other factors.

NYAC has chosen to take their organization one step further by actually working with youth to help get the word out about HIV testing and more. They feel that the latest CDC report highlight that current messages just aren't cutting it and getting through to today's young people. NYAC hopes to take a lead role using today's technology to reach Generation Y.

'We've decided to work with them instead of working for them,' Varnum said. 'We've seen time and time again that if we take any method, regardless of what it is, and put it in front of a target audience group and allow them to create that message, we're going to have a much more positive response than if we just try to presume what's going to work for them and make it on their behalf. It never works.'

Instead, the organization went to the youth, asking them what messages they want to hear and how they want to hear them. For example, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control, NYAC created a social marketing campaign called 'You Know Different,' which specifically targets young gay men of color and other youth of color populations. All the slogans, posters—everything—came straight from the youth themselves.

'I know it would have looked very, very different if we hadn't of involved them,' Varnum said.

Youth don't want outdated graphics and brochures that look like the pictures were taken circa 1995, and by getting them involved in the process, social marketing campaigns speak to today's youth in their language.

The organization has also utilized technology that youth use in their everyday lives, such as Myspace, Facebook, YouTube and text messaging, and integrated this into their social marketing efforts. Because today's teens are constantly bombarded by marketing efforts, Varnum said, they have become quite savvy consumers. It takes a lot more to catch their eye.

NYAC truly believes in reaching youth where they are, especially social networking Web sites. By getting youth empowered and involved, often times they will take messages to these sites on their own.

'It's funny, because a lot of these youth end up doing the work for us by telling their friends on these sites about the campaign, how to get tested,' Varnum said.

That way, instead of just hearing HIV testing messages from parents and professionals who work with youth, these kids are also hearing messages from their peers. 'All of these factors combined are starting to produce some success,' Varnum said. 'But we really need a lot more.'

NYAC is currently in Chicago training organizations who work with at-risk youth on social marketing strategies in order to increase messages to youth of color in Chicago. They are also trying to reach out to other types of organizations trying to reach out to youth and letting them know that such social marketing strategies are really universal.

To learn more, see NYACyouth.org .


This article shared 4286 times since Wed Aug 20, 2008
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