Gay Men's Awareness summit at Rutgers draws over 200 attendees
Over 200 participants crowded into the Cook Student Center last Thursday for the 2017 New Jersey Gay Men's Awareness Day Summit.
The event was in recognition of National Gay Men's HIV Awareness Day, which was originally created in 2008 to recognize the disproportionate impact of the epidemic on gay men, according to their event page. The event, hosted by the New Jersey HIV Planning Group (NJHPG), aimed to educate the gay community on issues and barriers, which impact both HIV care and prevention throughout New Jersey.
The NJHPG and its committees meet once a month on Rutgers campus and collaborate with the New Jersey Department of Health, Division of HIV, STD, and TB services, said Eric Wuethrich, the chair of the Gay Men's Committee.
The groups work to combine HIV care and treatment with HIV prevention to improve planning across New Jersey.
“We chose Cook campus as a venue due to our ongoing working relationship with Rutgers, as well as its central location,” he said. “The committee wanted to create a day that brings together both New Jersey's gay community and the providers who serve them, in order to engage in a dialogue around the issues impacting the community the greatest.”
Wuethrich said the primary topic of conversation at the Summit was about the advancements in the biomedical interventions and how they can impact the community when it comes to reducing new HIV infections as well as greatly reducing the stigma around HIV.
Wuethrich said just one day before the summit, the CDC announced that people living with HIV have effectively no risk of transmitting the disease to a non-HIV partner.
“This information, paired with Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily medication to prevent HIV infection for negative partners, can have a major impact on how our community discusses HIV treatment, care and prevention,” he said.
To address the topic, the Summit provided an update on preventative efforts that New Jersey offers.
“(There was also) a panel discussion with medical experts as well as a community perspective, four breakout workshops, a HealthySexual presentation by Gilead Sciences, and two guest speakers — Jessie Milan, JR. JD from AIDS United, and Kahlib Barton representing NMAC discussing how to interpret this as well as how to share this information with communities that need it most.”
Wuethrich said events like this are important for the Rutgers community because college-aged students, particularly those who identify as gay and bisexual, are disproportionately impacted by HIV.
The Gay Men’s Committee aims to host this event each year in recognition of National Gay Men's HIV Awareness Day, he said.
“In 2015, 20 percent of all new HIV diagnoses were youth aged 13-24, of those 80 percent occurred in young adults ages 20-24. Despite youth accounting for 1 in 5 new diagnoses, in 2013 it was estimated that 51 percent HIV+ youth have not been tested and are unaware of their status. Increasing awareness for HIV testing can help our community engage in their personal health, identify PrEP candidates, and provide access to care for those who need it,” Wuethrich said.
Chloe Dopico is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @ChloeDopico for more.