From the Field: Youth-led HIV & AIDS Awareness Day

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Sybastian Welch

Quita Tinsley

Sybastian Welch (seated far right), trans health initiative coordinator at Feminist Women's Health Center in Atlanta, facilitates a small breakout conversation about the impact of silence on trans and gender non-conforming youth.

In honor of National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day on April 10, three Atlanta-area organizations hosted Healthy Sex, Healthy Futures, an event for young people ages 16 to 25 that centered on the voices and experiences of LGBTQQ youth of color. It focused on the power of young folks coming together to simply talk about issues that impact their lives.

Youth organizers from my organization SPARK, which advocates for policies that protect and expand access to the full range of family-planning options, abortion and sexual-health education for women and youth of color in the state of Georgia, brought together about 20 people for the event, most of whom were from the metropolitan Atlanta area. While SPARK strives to work with LGBTQQ youth of color across the South, importantly young folks in rural areas, transportation is a major barrier.

Founded in 2007, SPARK works to ensure the voices of women of color, young parents, and LGBTQQ youth of color living in the South are included in the reproductive rights and justice movements. Our staff consists mostly of young adults under 30.

With the lack of comprehensive sex education and the lack of access to affordable, quality health care, young folks — especially LGBTQQ youth of color — aren't being equipped with the resources they need for survival. Candid conversations around their experiences are necessary to provide them a place to voice their lived experiences and to provide necessary information, and these conversations are starting points for holding service providers and systems accountable.

Adult allies in the fields of HIV prevention and advocacy can best support youth organizing work by respecting young organizers as legitimate voices in this work, listening to the needs of young folks, building authentic relationships with young people, supporting as needed and stepping back as necessary, honoring youth-only spaces, and by not coming to this work with a paternalistic view of young people.

Quita Tinsley is a youth organizer with SPARK, a reproductive justice organization based in Atlanta.

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