I’ve just come from a remarkably candid and inspiring talk with a young gay man who has been living with HIV/AIDS since he was 17. Now a second year law student, he has become a powerful advocate for not only educating ourselves about the disease and how to prevent it but also addressing issues such as discrimination and stigma attached to being infected. He is a long-time advocate for improved sex education for young people—believing that the “abstinence only” approach is clearly unworkable and ineffective. The luncheon talk was organized by IYF on the occasion of the World AIDS Day 2010. While a recent report shows that the global infection rates have declined almost 20% according to the United Nations—surely cause for some celebration—33 million people worldwide are still living with HIV/AIDS.

Our speaker grew up in Arizona and was the victim of sexual assault at the age of 15 by a group of older men. While he did not become infected at that time, he soon learned he was HIV positive, after having unprotected sex with an older male. The person who informed him he was HIV positive gave him a referral for treatment, but mostly, he was on his own. Thus began years of self education that then led to advocacy, lobbying, Congressional testimonies—and now the pursuit of law. All dedicated to expanding the rights of people with HIV/AIDS—and diminishing the discrimination against them. The speaker underscored the importance of health workers, parents, and friends providing positive, caring, and informed messages to young people who are already feeling scared and vulnerable. The need for more youth-friendly services services is clear. The luncheon ended up with IYF staff exploring various ways to get involved in the Baltimore/DC areas with educational or support work with those dealing directly or indirectly with HIV/AIDS.

IYF has led HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Africa for more than five years, educating thousands of young people through peer education and training as part of its Empowering Africa’s Young People Initiative. IYF is continuing its health focus through its Planning for Life initiatives across the globe, with a focus on integrating adolescent and reproductive health into more traditional life skills programs.