The boys are back in town
Hey, you gay men out there: Have you ever heard your friends complain that there is nothing to do where you live? Or that you can’t meet guys anywhere except the bars or the Internet? Well, meeting people is a problem that has plagued gays for decades. If you’re not into drinking or second-hand smoke at clubs, or antsy about meeting a potential serial killer via e-mail, what are your options for dating? Well, the times, they are a-changing.I was a cast member on The Amazing Race on CBS—the openly gay cheerleader son from Kentucky, traveling with his conservative Southern Baptist dad, for you diehard fans out there. Ever since racing around the world and getting those famed 15 minutes you hear so much about, I have strived to use my newfound confidence and international out status to provide strength and guidance to those growing up in the generation behind me.Just recently I moved to the state of Ohio, and I found that conservatism and closed-mindedness run rampant regardless of where you plant yourself in the Midwest. But there are a few of you trying to change that, and to raise the bar on what is acceptable for gay men. Despite my bad luck not winning the million bucks on TV, I was blessed to find the AIDS Resource Center Ohio, which had the same goal and vision in mind as I do.ARC Ohio brought me in to coordinate the Mpowerment Project. This project was created several years ago, evolving out of the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. It has slowly crept across the country and is now nationwide. This program was created to provide a group for gay, bisexual, and questioning men to become a part of, take ownership of, and send out safer-sex education in their communities through social networking.The project has been endorsed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others for its proven effectiveness in reducing behaviors known to transmit HIV. The program is directed toward guys aged 18 to 29 and is usually funded through grants obtained by the individual AIDS service organizations that sponsor the program.The Mpowerment Program in Dayton, Ohio, has chosen the title Epsilon Mu Pi, or simply the Mu Crew, which represents the social aspect of a fraternity for young men. Since last fall we’ve been going strong, hosting such events as a pajama party, a Halloween bash, potluck dinners, movie nights, a pool party, and a huge New Year’s blowout. Coming soon we have planned a trip to the world’s largest cave for hiking and camping, and we have a white-water rafting trip in the making, as well as many other huge ideas.Most guys just out of high school lose a huge portion of their social group, and being gay often makes fraternities or the workplace a difficult place to build a strong circle of friends. The Mu Crew is tailored for those in the professional world as well as for all the students at five surrounding colleges. We have computer geeks, athletes, professionals, students, movie buffs, music freaks, bookworms, gym bunnies, activists; you name it, we’ve got it. We pride ourselves on our diversity and the ability to accept anyone—including their differences.While our program is only a few months old, we can already count hundreds of individuals who have come to events and heard our safer-sex messages. HIV is on the rise again and we’re doing our best to make sure the young community knows the facts about the virus and how to protect themselves and their friends.For our program, the winning combination seems to be 90% fun trips, parties, and meetings, and 10% focused educational activities. This seems to be the perfect mix to keep guys involved and yet not burned out on the ongoing message.When I first moved to Ohio I had no friends for quite some time because I worked so much. I had no one to go to the movies with. Now, with our group, I call one guy from the Crew, and 30 guys show up at the theater to watch a movie with me. We’re reaching the community like wildfire, and I am convinced that over the course of the next couple of years that the rate of new HIV infections will decrease in our area.Now many guys’ lives in our area have changed. They say, “There’s so much going on I don’t know if I have time for all the parties and camping and stuff.” But I feel that that is a good problem to have.