Op-ed: Young People Aren't Sitting on the Sidelines
I was a senior at a rural high school in North Carolina, planning to host the school’s first Latino AIDS Awareness Day event. I mentioned it to one of my teachers and the first thing he told me was that I shouldn’t go through with the event because same-sex couples shouldn’t be having sex in the first place. That it was wrong. I was always aware my town was conservative on most issues.
There were barely any openly gay people in the community because of the stigma that comes with being gay. I hadn’t even come out as gay then (I’ve only recently become comfortable with my sexual orientation), but I knew that Latinos were disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. My fellow classmates had the right to be informed and educated on how they could protect themselves. I was not going to be stopped.
There are over 76,000 young people are currently living with HIV across the country. An estimated 15% of diagnoses of HIV infection in 13-to-19-year-olds were in Latinos.
How is this possible? My generation has been taught to fear this big disease with a little name since we were young. We have never, ever known a world without AIDS. In the 30 years since AIDS has gripped the world, land lines have disappeared and two popes have come and gone, but somehow AIDS has remained! HIV and AIDS will always be important in my vocabulary.
It is my deepest hope that my generation, the millennial generation, puts an end to this disease, but we’re not just sitting on the sidelines waiting for something to happen. Young people want end this epidemic, I know it. We have the right to live in an AIDS-free generation, and for that to happen we all must do our part. We must hold our leaders accountable, and we must acknowledge the great work young people are doing in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Young people are out there right now working to reduce the impact of HIV and AIDS in our communities. In my state we helped pass the North Carolina Healthy Youth Act of 2009, which gives access to accurate information on sexual issues including HIV and AIDS, and hundreds of campuses across the nation are participating in the Great American Condom Campaign. I know that we must all do our part to make a difference. We understand that knowledge is key, and we are eager for more information to protect ourselves. This is true among millennials of color especially, among whom 50% want more information on HIV and AIDS. Seven in 10 Latinos say they would work to reduce the impact of the disease on their community.
Young people know that we must educate and include as many people as possible, including places that lack educational and health resources and where stigma runs high. The role young people will have in ending this epidemic cannot be minimized. We will bring about change, but we need to be empowered to do so.
There has been much talk about an AIDS-free generation, but it’s not possible without our nation’s youth. Young people and our allies are determined to end this epidemic once and for all, and we need support and recognition along the way.
I want to live in a world where all young people have the information and resources to make healthy decisions for ourselves, our partners, and our families. A world where we are free from fear and stigma. And a world where we celebrate youth for our dedication and innovation in the fight against HIV and AIDS. I know we can get there.
EMILIO VICENTE has been working on comprehensive sex education since junior year of high school with Teen Health Now in North Carolina and Advocates for Youth. He lobbied and collected signatures to pass the Healthy Youth Act in 2009, which allows parents in North Carolina to select whether their children are taught comprehensive sex education or abstinence-until-marriage education. He is passionate about social justice issues, especially for the humane treatment of immigrants in this country, and is a DREAMer.