British Schools Desperately Need Same-Sex Sexual Education

Young gay men embracing

Discovering I was gay in the overbearingly macho culture of 1990s South London – and in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic, with its imposing tombstone advertising campaigns – was scary and isolating. If that wasn’t enough, I also grew up in a huge Greek-Cypriot family with parents who were actively involved with the local church. This all amounted to a mountain of repressive crap for a little gay kid to have to climb.

You’d think the education system would have been a place where society’s judgemental, moralistic tones would be given a rational perspective – where religious doctrine would be balanced with scientific fact. Unfortunately not, if – like me – your teenage years are spent in a Roman Catholic school. As such, my sexual identity was a source of shame. It became buried within pervading fears of rejection from the people who put a roof over my head. No wonder so many young LGBTI kids are so desperate to flee their rural towns or villages.

My coming out was a long and painful process. I didn’t have any gay friends so I went out to a bar and made some. One of my earliest sexual experiences, aged 19, resulted in me being raped by two guys who took advantage of me after getting me drunk.

I didn’t report the incident to the police or my teachers because I didn’t feel I could. (With Section 28 still in place at the time, my Catholic school would hardly have been much help.) I didn’t tell my family because I feared their reaction to finding out I was gay. I didn’t even go to a sexual health clinic because I didn’t know that option was open to me. I didn’t do a lot of things, because nobody told me I could.

Sadly, little has changed since then in terms of our attitude towards educating young people on having healthy, informed sex lives. As long as you’re not causing harm to anyone else, being able to enjoy your body as you desire to is a pleasure we are all entitled to. Education about sex, relationships and sexual health during a young person’s formative years is key to this. It teaches an open dialogue, encourages young people to seek advice and help, and empowers them to challenge situations where they feel pressured into unwanted experiences. What kind of society do we exist in that puts children and young adults in a place where they have to discover these basic life skills without any support?

I’d like to say we’ve moved on from the 20th century education system when it comes to sex and relationship education (SRE). But while the world might have made all sorts of other huge leaps, the teaching of young people about the fundamental aspects of human existence – sex and relationships – seems to have remained in the dark ages.

Our world is highly visual now, and the fact that porn is so stupidly easy to access online presents another problem: while there’s not necessarily anything wrong with consenting adults having sex in front of a camera, what’s harmful is that teenagers aren’t been taught the difference between fantasy and reality. Through the access to apps and websites, a young gay teenager can end up in a sexual situation that he or she is not prepared for.

Yet, schools are still not required to teach any SRE beyond the very basic lessons about the procreating benefits of inserting a penis into a vagina. A dismal 25 percent of young people consulted by the Sex Education Forum considered their SRE to be “good” or “very good”. Even Ofsted described SRE in English schools as “not yet good enough”.

“Anything we learned at school was about heterosexual sex,” says James Hansom-McCormick, 24, originally from Nottingham and now living in Surbiton. “It was all about how to have a baby or how not to have a baby. No information about STIs. It was completely isolating. They’re teaching that heterosexual sex is the right thing to do, so I’m thinking: ‘Are my feelings wrong?’ There was nowhere I could go to for information.”

For many gay men, the first awareness of facts surrounding HIV and other STIs comes via the advertising in gay clubs, bars and gay media. For young teenagers who are just discovering their sexuality and have yet to engage in the wider gay scene, there’s a dangerous lack of accessible, correct information. And if schools don’t teach it, you can be sure most parents aren’t addressing it, either.

“Friends would joke about what they’d heard – like chlamydia – but we didn’t know what it was,” James tells me. “I was having so much unprotected, casual sex at 16 and 17 and had no idea about HIV until I contracted it.”

Does he feel he would have been more cautious if he knew the facts at a younger age? “Completely. I think it would have put a stop to me having unprotected sex.”

There’s a very real problem when the first meaningful encounter the vast majority of guys or girls have with sexual health information comes when they attend a clinic because they have a problem. Young gay guys are afraid to speak to their teachers or friends about sex for fear of reprisals. In the eyes of the law we may have more equality for LGBTI people since Labour scrapped Section 28 and the Tories delivered us equal marriage, but equality does not deliver acceptance. It takes time for laws to have a fundamental effect on society’s views.

What needs to happen for a change of attitudes towards LGBTI people is for all types of relationships to be included in statutory age-appropriate SRE lessons in schools. Discussing LGBTI rights within this framework challenges the homophobia that is sadly all too common in schools. Children aren’t born homophobic – they learn such behaviours from their immediate environment. If your parents have antiquated views, it’s hard, as a kid, not to absorb them.

I believe it’s the education system’s responsibility to teach respect and acceptance for all lifestyles, regardless of sexuality. That even applies to my Catholic school in Croydon, because tolerance and love transcends religious rights.

No doubt certain Daily titles will decree that educating kids about LGBTI relationships in schools will see swathes of children suddenly become homosexual. But we all know that’s just not going to happen. Sexuality might be a fluid scale, running from fully gay through to fully straight, but surely the larger outcome of same-sex SRE, in tandem with standard SRE, is that LGBTI people will feel their identities are no longer a source of shame. They’ll be able to go to their teachers for advice rather than suffering in silence.

Over the years, as well as editing QX magazine – the UK’s most widely-read free gay publication – I have campaigned for myriad gay issues, from organising protest rallies outside Downing Street, to highlighting the plight of LGBTI Russians, to running countless features on the day-to-day problems affecting gay men today, from drug addiction to mental health.

But this campaign is perhaps more important than all of those. Why? Because the roots of so many of these problems can be traced back to the same thing: the fact that, often for around a couple of decades, gay people are forced to live two lives. I wouldn’t have lost the first 24 years of my life to fear had my teachers at school made it clear – even in just one of our hour-long classes – that it was OK to have the feelings I had. I probably would have even gone to the police after that night when two men sexually assaulted me.

It was with all this in mind that, earlier this year, I met with other gay media to address the issue of same-sex SRE in schools. They gave their immediate support. I then went to the other key gay health agencies and charities to sound them out on the subject. One of the first people to meet me and commit to supporting this campaign was Dr Yusef Azad from the National AIDS Trust (NAT). He immediately saw the importance of tackling sexual health issues in adults at an early age.

NAT had already been campaigning for all schools to provide SRE for some years, so adding their voice to this LGBTI-specific issue was a natural step. The organisation came on board as a major supporter, lending its expertise to formulating the initial press release and launch campaign.

“Ofsted has described current SRE provision as ‘not yet good enough’, and as many as 85 percent of gay and bisexual men also tell us they received no information about same-sex relationships in school,” says Susie Parsons, Chief Executive at NAT. “The result is unacceptably poor mental and physical health among gay men. HIV diagnoses among young gay men have doubled over the last ten years. In our recent research, young guys who are attracted to other guys told us that they want to receive information on HIV from teachers at school. But we’re clearly not meeting this need.”

Others were quick to show support and, before we knew it, we had over 20 signatories from a broad range of LGBTI organisations – from health charities to groups focused on youth and education. Three key figures to sign on were human rights activist Peter Tatchell (who has been vocal in his belief of how vital inclusive sex education is, saying that “sexual and emotional literacy are just as important as literacy in reading and writing”), Dr Christian Jessen and Lord Norman Fowler. For those who don’t know, Lord Fowler is the man who battled from within Thatcher’s government in the 1980s in the fight against HIV/AIDS, despite strong resistance from his own party. I met him at a book signing in August and asked him to come on board. He was wholeheartedly in favour of the concept, and it was, naturally, a major coup to have such a respected Tory figure as a supporter.

“THE EMOTIONAL HEALTH AND PHYSICAL WELLBEING OF EVERY CHILD AND TEENAGER NEEDS THIS TO HAPPEN”

The Evening Standard carried the story before we issued the press release to national media last month. It was timed to coincide with the start of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour conferences.

During their conference, the Lib Dems confirmed that SRE for children aged seven onwards would make their manifesto next year, but it’s unclear whether this will include LGBTI relationships. At the Conservative party conference, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan spoke to the Terrence Higgins Trust attendees and discussed the issue of sex and relationships education. “We had a good conversation,” reveals Daisy Ellis, acting policy director at THT. “It was great to hear her talk positively about the importance of preparing young people for life in modern Britain. We believe SRE is a key part of helping young people prepare for their adult lives and we hope that the Education Secretary agrees with us.”

Other signatories, such as Stonewall and LGBT History Month, joined the campaign. By this point we now had over 28 key LGBTI groups supporting us. It was quite overwhelming to see so many organisations agree to focus their support for the same cause.

Two weeks ago I met with one of David Cameron’s advisors, who seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. We spoke for over two hours about the issue, in great detail, while he made notes.

The interest from the Lib Dems and the Conservatives (hello, Labour?) doesn’t mean anything, of course, because the disillusioned masses no longer view politics as a force for making a difference in the world – rather, a popularity contest that’s all about winning votes. And will the SRE campaign (which must include same-sex SRE) ultimately be a vote winner? I’m not sure. Will it make the manifestos of the political parties next year? I hope so. I have faith that good people will see sense and change will come. The emotional health and physical wellbeing of every child and teenager needs this to happen.

Last week, VICE replied to an email from me and were enthusiastic about supporting this campaign, which is another powerful voice on our side. This week, the National AIDS Trust and I posted our open letters (view the letter in full here) signed by all 28 LGBTI signatories to David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. The ball is now firmly in their court.

Story via Vice

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Introducing the Shooting Challenge!

RobsonTomEasy

World AIDS Day, observed on 1 December every year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the HIV pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection.

Around 100,000 are currently living with HIV in the UK and globally an estimated 34 million people have HIV. More than 35 million people have died from the virus, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

Today, stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with HIV and this year, Leicestershire AIDS Support Services will showcase artistic works at an exhibition between 29th November and 17th December at Apex House Gallery, Leicester to remind the public and local government that HIV has not gone away. There is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.  (More on this will be announced this week).

Part of the exhibition will focus on photography and participants in the shooting challenge are invited to exhibit their work.

Each Monday, we’ll set a theme and ask you submit a photo for inclusion, we’ll consider the photographs over the weekend and pick winner then announce it on the following Monday as we set the next weeks theme.

You don’t need an expensive camera or fancy equipment, we’re simply looking for the pictures you can produce so get your smartphone out and join in if you don’t have a camera!

THE BRIEF:

For our first Shooting Challenge let’s keep it easy, we want you to simply photograph anything, provided there’s a reason for it relating to HIV and what it means to you. It could be that of community, an image depicting HIV medicine, a red ribbon, fear or sigma you name it! Your photo could be thought-provoking or humorous, colour or monochrome, have a ‘message’ or just be a great shot that tells a story without any words.

THE EXAMPLE

Initially, our example photo is tongue in cheek, yet as you gaze closer into the image you begin to question why the person is sitting in the bin, why are used condoms on her and why is her face blurred? This is a statement about social stigma. That society rejects HIV positive people, not unlike the way people casually toss away used condoms. Does the unidentified face indicate a desire to remain hidden or is she shaking her head furiously saying ‘No – I’m sick of being treated like dirt’.

This is obviously a staged photo, with a ½ second exposure time in order to achieve a blur in the face of the character. This image was taken with a Canon 650D, f/22 (ISO100).

THE RULES:

  • Follow the brief
  • Send your best photos by 6PM on Friday 31st October 2014 with “Shooting Challenge” in the subject. We’ll announce the winner on Monday 3rd November as we set the theme for next week’s shooting challenge.
  • Email submissions to photography@lass.org.uk
  • Submissions must be your own work.
  • Photos must be taken after the challenge was published; so no existing shots please.
  • Explain briefly in your submission email the equipment, settings, technique used and the story behind the image/images.
  • We will of course credit you so if you have a website or twitter handle, let us know! – If you’re happy for us to use the images elsewhere on our site – do let us know!
  • Save your image as a JPG, and use the following naming convention FirstnameLastnameEasy.jpg
  • Anyone can enter, regardless of camera gear, or location!
  • The most important rule — HAVE FUN!

National HIV Testing Week

National HIV Testing Week is a targeted, high profile, national campaign that encourages England’s key populations most affected by HIV to consider taking an HIV test. These groups include gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and African people. HIV Prevention England organises National HIV Testing Week and LASS are proud to offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test.  National HIV Testing Week is between 22-30 November 2014, however we offer HIV tests all year round.

Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in the UK and the largest in the East Midlands with only half the population describing themselves as ‘White British’.

Alongside English, around 70 languages and/or dialects are spoken in the city. In addition to English, eight languages are commonly spoken: Gujarati, Punjabi, Somali, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali and Polish.

With continuing migration into the city, new languages and dialects from Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe are also being spoken.

This is why our advert speaks in 15 international languages and our message is clear! It is better to know your own HIV status and it’s so easy to get a HIV test at LASS, you’ll have the result within a minute!

Our team of volunteers have specialist training to provide a free and confidential test, we also have a fantastic support team to provide after-care and further information if required. We also have established network links so we can refer to more specialist agencies all around Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland so you can be sure to get expert advice for your needs.

We also have a support group “LhivE”, a group of people from Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland who are living with HIV. Living with HIV brings a whole set of its own issues and LhivE demonstrate that people living with HIV can lead fulfilling and safe lives with choices.

We hope you like our advert and hope that you’ll feel comfortable to contact us if you would like a free and confidential test. Please visit: lass.org.uk for further information.

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Only 48 Hours remaining to vote for Well for Living!

LBGcommunityfund

We’re seeking YOUR help in the Lloyds Bank Community Fund.  There are just over 48 hours remaining in the public vote! – More information is available here and over at the Well for Living blog.

Voting closes online, by SMS, and by Twitter at 11.59pm and in branches at the close of business, (times vary locally) on Friday 10 October 2014.

The Lloyds Community Fund believes in helping local communities to thrive. That’s why they’re giving you the opportunity to champion a good cause in your local area and we hope you’re vote for Well for Living!

Earlier this year, the nation nominated over 7,000 community groups across England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands. 1,400 causes in 350 communities were then shortlisted for the Community Fund award.

Four local causes in every area will be awarded funding depending on the number of votes they receive. The group with the most votes will get £3,000, the next £2,000, £1,000 and finally, £500.

Well for Living has been nominated, they support individuals and their communities to be more health aware and health literate through a better understanding medical language, building confidence to ask the right questions. We would use an award to provide workshops for 80 more people, helping people to take steps to be more in control of their own health.

 We’re seeking your help! – You can vote online, by SMS text, via Twitter and in participating Lloyds Bank branches.
  1. To vote online, visit the Community Fund Page and click the on the orange “Vote for Us” box at the top of the page.
    – Complete the details and click “submit” – you will be sent an email from the Lloyds Bank Community Fund to confirm your vote.
    – Please click on the link in the email to confirm your vote, otherwise it won’t count.
  2. To vote via Twitter click on the “Vote for Us” box at the top of the page.
    – Click the “Vote via Tweet” button to auto populate a tweet with our unique hashtag (you may need to login, or create an account if you don’t have one).
    – Your followers can then retweet your message to give us a vote.
  3. To vote via SMS, text VOTE followed by our unique code (VOTE LJP) – also found via clicking on the “Vote for Us” box to 61119 or +44 7860 014 100 if you’re in the Channel Isles or Isle of Man.
  4. To vote in branch, visit one of the branches highlighted on the map and collect a voting token from a member of staff.

Please vote, your entry could make a lot of difference in your local area.  In May 2014, through on-line, paper based and street surveys, Well for Living consulted Leicester City residents about a proposed Well-Being Centre.

A Leicester Well-Being Centre would be in an existing building in the central shopping and business area of Leicester City for use by people living in Leicester City.

It would have a range of services and support inside to help people become healthier and stay healthy – avoiding illness and improving everyone’s quality of life.

Some ideas so far of what a Leicester Well-Being Centre could offer include training courses for people on healthy living; massage and acupuncture; physiotherapy services; counselling; activities to help people stay fit and healthy; financial advice and getting support if you become ill.

It would be in addition to existing NHS and social support services and would be run by trained professionals, working for a number of local community and charity organisations.

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Late diagnosis of HIV blamed on Coalition’s health reforms

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Health experts are reporting disturbing increases in the number of people being diagnosed late with the HIV virus in England. They warn that healthcare reforms, which, they say, have “fragmented” a previously “seamless sexual health service”, may be a major reason for the delays, and have called for an investigation.

Four in five Aids-related deaths in England and Wales are attributed to late diagnosis. Worryingly, experts say that late diagnosis also means the patient is unaware that they have had HIV for as long as 10 years, when they could have been spreading the virus.

Health charities and the Department of Health had previously welcomed a decline in late diagnoses. Numbers dropped from 52 per cent of overall new diagnoses in 2008-10 to 48 per cent in 2010-12.

But closer analysis of the figures shows that in 14 of the 20 areas in England most affected by late diagnosis, the problem had worsened. Barnsley had the highest percentage in the sample, at 77.1 per cent, up from 61.8 per cent two years earlier.

Jan Clarke, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said the findings were “concerning and would have to be investigated”. She observed that there used to be a “seamless service” from testing to treatment, but that health reforms had disrupted this.

Private companies can now bid to provide NHS services, including sexual healthcare. “If you’re delivering down to price and then up to quality, you might see access [to testing] impaired, with fewer staff and capacity,” said Dr Clarke.

The outsourcing of testing services is an added difficulty. Some consultants complain that there is little incentive for local authorities to invest in additional testing facilities, such as community outreach programmes, at a time of severe financial pressure. More tests would mean a greater number of earlier diagnoses, resulting in fewer cases of acute treatment, potentially saving millions of pounds a year, experts argue.

Mark Lawton, a senior sexual health and HIV consultant in Liverpool, where late diagnosis is nearly 71 per cent, warned: “We’re concerned that fragmentation of services could lead to poorer outcomes. A clinician might spend Friday working for a company doing HIV and Monday to Thursday working for another company on sexual health services. What about HIV testing on those days?”

Luciana Berger, who speaks for Labour on public health, said: “It is highly regrettable that under this Tory-led government’s unwanted reorganisation of the NHS, sexual health services have become fragmented and disjointed. The separation of HIV services from other sexual health services in some areas has disrupted clinical care, reduced the quality of the service and put HIV patients at risk.”

Health minister Norman Lamb chalenged criticism of the coalition’s HIV treatment policy. “In areas where there are delays in diagnosis then that needs to be tackled by organisations in that area,” he said. “Many parts of the country are delivering good time periods of early diagnosis and there is pressure on every other area to achieve the same.”

WOULD YOU LIKE A FREE RAPID HIV TEST FROM LASS?

For our Leicester readers, we know you may not wish to travel all that way to get a HIV test, did you know we offer offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test (results within 60 seconds from a simple finger prick test)!  We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories. The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days after  contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies.  We also have a mobile testing van which is often out in communities providing mobile rapid HIV tests. Appointments are not necessary, call us (0116 2559995) we’re here to help.

 

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Approximately 4.2 million over 50s are now living with HIV

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Persuasive new data showing the ageing of the global HIV epidemic have been published in the online edition of AIDS. Using UNAIDS prevalence figures, investigators estimated that 4.2 million people aged 50 years or older were living with HIV in 2013. Prevalence among older people has more than doubled since 1995. Comparison with alternative data sources suggested that the UNAIDS figure was generally reliable.

“The number of people living with HIV aged 50 years and older is increasing,” comment the authors. “This trend is evident in the most recent UNAIDS estimates and is confirmed in national household survey data.”

There are number of possible explanations for the ageing of the HIV-positive population, especially the success of antiretroviral therapy and a high rate of new infections among older people.

An accurate understanding of the extent of the epidemic among the over 50s is needed so that appropriate medical services can be planned. This is especially important because living with HIV has been associated with an increased risk of diseases associated with old age.

Investigators from UNAIDS therefore analysed their own prevalence data to estimate the total number of older people living with HIV in 2013. They also examined long-term trends in HIV infections among older people and used national household surveys to see if their estimates were accurate.

The UNAIDS data showed that an estimated 4.2 million people aged 50 and older were living with HIV in 2013. The region with the largest number of older HIV-positive patients was sub-Saharan Africa (2.5 million people).

There was a steady increase in the number of people living with HIV aged 50 and older between 1995 and 2013, with the total number increasing more than two-fold between these years.

Since 1995, prevalence increased steadily in all five-year age groups aged over 50 years. Prevalence more than doubled in the 50-54 group, increased by a third in the 55-59 group and by a quarter in the 60-64 group.

Household surveys were generally in agreement with the UNAIDS estimates. Among men aged 50-54 years, estimated prevalence was approximately 10% lower than that revealed in the UNAIDS survey, with prevalence 27% lower in the 55-59 group. However, the investigators acknowledge this latter comparison was not robust because of a small sample size. For women, household surveys placed prevalence to within 2-10% of that suggested by the UNAIDS estimate. Four countries had household surveys for both men and women, and their results had prevalence within 10-15% of that suggested by UNAIDS for persons aged under 60.

UNAIDS data and household surveys were in agreement that there had been sharp increases in the number of older people living with HIV in recent years.

The authors believe their findings have three important implications: (1) services need to expand to address the often complex needs of people living with HIV; (2) more attention needs to be given to HIV prevention for the over 50s; (3) more needs to be done to collect accurate data about the epidemic in older people and to understand the impact of HIV on these individuals.

Article via AidsMap

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Annual General Meeting 2014

AGM-2014

LASS Annual General Meeting

Thursday 9th October

  • Doors open 6pm
  • Refreshments at 6:30pm
  • Meeting 7pm – 8:30pm

At Warning Zone: 30 Frog Island, off North Bridge Place, Leicester, LE3 5AG (Location and how to get to Warning Zone).

Everyone is welcome to our AGM; you can bring your family & friends

We look forward to seeing you there!

The AGM (Annual General Meeting) is a public meeting where LASS Trustees report back on the management & finances of the organization for the previous year. Trustees are elected & re-elected for the forthcoming year and members have the opportunity to put questions to the board & vote on decisions and for Trustees.  It’s also a great opportunity to meet our staff and volunteer workforce. This year members are voting on incorporation.

Guest speakers:

Alastair Hudson – Reporting on the 2014 International HIV Conference in Melbourne, Aus.

Dr Iain Stephenson – HIV consultant at the Leicester Royal Infirmary.

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For more information please contact: Reception@lass.org.ukMitchell@lass.org.uk or telephone us on: 0116 255 9995

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