By expanding HIV testing and treatment as well as access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), as many as 185,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. could be prevented by 2020, according to a projection study done by the Center for Disease Control. This was one of the many statistics Timothy Bussey — assistant director for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) — brought up during his presentation, “PrEP, PEP and Your Sexual Health,” on March 27.
The last week of March is recognized as LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week. This year, ODEI organized a series of different programs, including the presentation led by Bussey, aimed at addressing physical, mental and sexual health in the LGBTQ+ community and raising awareness about the health disparities this community faces.
To kick off the week of events, Assistant Professor of Sociology Austin Johnson delivered a lecture on March 25 about how scholarly work can produce and support activism for LGBTQ+ health equity as well as transgender experiences and activism in the South.
For the second event, Unity House, the Queer Masculinities Society and ODEI set up a table in the atrium of Peirce Hall during Common Hour on March 26 where they distributed over 85 safer sex kits and information about safer sex methods and PrEP. The event was purposefully held in Peirce to help reduce the stigma around conversations about sexual health, particularly for the queer community, according to Bussey.
The following day’s event, Bussey’s presentation, focused on PrEP specifically as a safer sex strategy and how different intersectional communities are disproportionately affected by HIV and face disparities accessing information and treatments like PrEP.
“The percentage of trans folks who reported new HIV infection was about three times the national average. So again, this community is being disproportionately affected — I mean, three times the national average is a huge disparity and a huge public health disparity for the trans community,” Bussey said.
Categories like race, gender identity and nationality all factor into this disparity. Within the trans community, black women are one of the most affected groups.
“The whole purpose of really facilitating more of these conversations is to make sure that, when we’re talking about PrEP, we can raise awareness about this as a part of a safer sex strategy and hopefully decrease these new HIV infections,” he said.
For Kenyon students, Bussey noted that there is an “HIV prevention” tab on the ODEI website that provides information about HIV testing, accessing different drugs, health care options for students who are HIV-positive and cost assistance for medical resources.
LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week coincides with the Transgender Day of Visibility, which is celebrated annually on March 31. On Monday, Unity House placed transgender pride flags along Middle Path to encourage the Kenyon community to think about the importance of transgender lives. Later that day, ODEI hosted a talk on non-binary visibility by Ivy Gibson-Hill, the community health program director for the Campaign for Southern Equality and the executive director of Gender Benders — a grassroots organization for transgender and gender diverse people in the Southeastern U.S.
Gibson-Hill, who described themself as an introvert, set an informal, conversational and interactive tone for the event, asking the audience members several questions. The questions centered on the factors that contributed to the erasure of non-binary and transgender people throughout history, reinforcement of gender roles today and ways to improve inclusivity for non-binary people at Kenyon.
Gibson-Hill also discussed the need for accomplices, which they defined as “a person who’s going to help another person commit a radical act of resistance.” For Gibson-Hill, accomplices go beyond allyship, which is “to combine or unite a resource or commodity with another for mutual benefit,” in their words.
“I think, especially for non-binary folks, with all of these messages about us not being real, and that we shouldn’t exist, and that we’ve been erased from history and are actively being erased right now by our government, to just be, to continue to be, is a radical act of resistance. So I commend you non-binary folks … for making it,” Gibson-Hill said. “Folks who are not trans or non-binary in the room tonight, we do need you as our accomplices — be willing to get in the thick of it with us.”