HIV prevention in Philly faces generational and racial reckoning

HIV prevention in Philly faces generational and racial reckoning

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It is hard working in liberal institutions built by the Joe Bidens of the world when you are like an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  When I speak to fellow LGBTQ Generation Xers and millennials on the streets of Philly, it’s clear we are pi--ed about issues surrounding HIV prevention and holistic care. We are vocalizing and demanding that our anger not be treated as a passing fad. But, huge disconnects exist between generations and in relation to public knowledge about the role of Philadelphia public health systems — that don’t get much attention.

Until now.

Our city’s public health leadership is extremely old, starting at the top.  Can this antiquated leadership create public health campaigns and promotions that can engage a new generation in the real world? Yes, we can!

HIV is a Black gay and trans woman disease, period. However, would it surprise you to know there is no one reflective of the target population creating public health policy?  There are no Black gay folks or trans women in leadership, and no one sees this as a problem.  So, when we talk about diversity of opinion and thought among our current leaders, it is clear they do not get it. Oftentimes the diversity seen in our institutions is simply tokenistic, and the institutions are paying lip service to our communities.

Public health is evolving quickly. Currently, baby boomers account for most of the public health leadership in this city. However, this is all about to change because, well, the old people will move into retirement.  I believe the most important ingredient missing in most public health institutions is the use of social media. It is hard to exaggerate the degree to which social media platforms shape the minds of our society. The allure of social media is that it makes a simulacrum of the real world, complete with leadership, activists and opinion-makers, all responding to stimuli in real-time. Social media superficially resembles the outside world.

I experienced one striking example of disconnects that exist generationally and relative to public awareness earlier this year when I asked some young people at the Attic Youth Center,  “Do you know how public health policy is created in Philadelphia?”  In all fairness, when I was their age, I had no idea how health policy was created.  However, we live in different times, and we no longer have the luxury of being ignorant. It is time activists hold all public health officials accountable and embrace a new tier of leaders coming into our city. 

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