My good friend, Terry Gerace, and I began a new HIV prevention campaign in June of this year to help combat the epidemic rate of HIV infection in Washington, D.C. After 8 years of "abstinence-only policies" and steadily rising rates among gay men, our nation's capital now has the unfortunate distinction of being the city with the highest prevalence of HIV infections in the country (more than 13 times the national average), with more than 50 percent of its cases among men who have sex with men (MSM).
As such, Terry and I have chosen to focus our prevention efforts on gay and bisexual men; particularly younger men, who have no memory of HIV/AIDS as a rapidly fatal and debilitating disease and who are under the false impression that HIV is no longer life threatening.
This is a population that tends to ignore traditional public health messaging, so we've had to "get creative" to attract some attention. The goals of our campaign are:
- To reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections;
- To educate MSM about the risks of of sexually transmitted diseases in a straight-forward, no-nonsense fashion; and
- To promote responsible sexuality in the gay and bisexual community.
The cornerstone of our prevention campaign is our free safer sex kit distribution program - DC FUK!Ts and TOOLK!Ts - and an accompanying provocative, evidence-based safer sex educational website
(warning: explicit - not suitable for work viewing). Our safer sex kits include two latex condoms, condom safe lube and a safer sex information card.
But due to proposed drastic cuts in the District of Columbia budget, the program is at-risk, just like those we are trying to help.
Based on a very successful 15-year-old program in Manchester, England, our program seeks to make condoms and lube easily accessible and widely available by putting the free safer sex kits at points where high-risk populations socialize just prior to potentially going off to have sex: gay bars, cafes, dance clubs and other venues.
Metro Weekly, Washington's gay and lesbian newsmagazine, featured an article about our campaign.
In the past two months, with the help of a small army of volunteers, we have distributed nearly 200,000 condoms. The bulk of these condoms have been distributed in safer sex kits via customized dispensers in two of the major clubs in the city, with many more distributed during Capital Pride in June.
The response to our edgy and sexy social messaging campaign has been tremendous, as the safer sex kits have literally been flying out of the dispensers. We are both pleased with, but also overwhelmed, by the demand for our safe sex kits. And despite the extremely low price per kit (about 5 cents), high demand means we must do some serious fundraising to sustain and grow the project. To that end, we have applied for several local grants and are beginning to solicit donations.
Massive Funding Cuts to the DC Center and Our Program
Unfortunately, some of you may have recently learned through the Washington Post that in order to close the District's budget deficit in 2010, the DC Council has proposed to cut completely all $20 million in earmarks to numerous non-profits in the city, including the DC Center, which serves as an umbrella organization for a number of fledging LGBT groups - including the HIV Prevention Working Group, DC for Marriage, and Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV). Because our safer sex program was slated to benefit from funds appropriated to the Center, we're now really on our own with respect to paying for the program!
Even worse, these devastating cuts to the Center's budget make its financial future very uncertain. Earlier this year, the Center was to receive $500,000 to help finance the purchase of a new property; as it has currently outgrown its current location on Fourteenth Street. Then last week, under pressure by Mayor Fenty, that number was slashed to $200,000, when $12 million in earmarks were cut by the Council - eliminating 60 percent of most organizations' funds for the coming year.
Earlier this week, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said he wants to remove the remaining $8 million from the budget that was to go towards earmarks - meaning the DC Center will not only receive $0 for the new building, but it will also suffer deep cuts to other grant monies it was counting on to finance a number of its programs, such as the activities of the Crystal Meth Working Group.
David Mariner, current Director of the DC Center, has written an excellent post for The New Gay on the Center's current plight, encouraging DC residents to contact their Council members now to prevent the organization from possibly having to close its doors.
Although the DC government would continue to provide the condoms and lubricant packs to us for free, despite the proposed budget cuts, we would still need to cover the cost of packing them together in our kits, installing the dispensers, distribution, and education - something we cannot sustain without your support.
Of course, that's where you folks come in. We are seeking donations from you to help us continue this cost-effective and vital program.
In this case, you do get quite a bit of "bang for your donated buck" (pun intended). A ten dollar per month fully tax deductible donation through the D.C. Center will allow us to pack 2400 safer sex kits over the next year. If just 100 people sign on as monthly $10 sponsors, we will be able to meet our goal of producing 240,000 safer sex kits in the next 12 months!
Please consider making a monthly or a one time donation to our project through this secure site.
I'm the sort of person who might read a fundraising plea like this, think it's a good idea, and then forget to ever send in the donation.
So, I'm urging you, especially due to the current funding shortfalls of the DC Center, to please click the provided link right now and sign up to help us promote responsible sexuality among gay and bisexual men. Any amount would be great, as with this campaign, a little goes a long way. Not a dime goes anywhere but to pay to make the safer sex kits.
You can read more about our efforts below. Please note that although the posts below are fine, the links to the FUK!T website within those posts will show explicit material not necessarily suited for viewing at work or other locations.
In light of these drastic budget cuts, please take the time to make a one-time or monthly donation for a program that makes a real difference in people's lives, every day in our nation's capital - and unfortunately the HIV/AIDS capital of America.