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By Jennifer Morton (Managing Editor, POZ/AIDSmeds/Hep)

The Sero Project recently published Turn It Up!, a single-issue magazine for people living with HIV and/or hepatitis who are incarcerated.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of diagnosed HIV infection among inmates in state and federal prisons in 2010 was more than five times greater than the rate among people not in prison. People living with HIV and other health conditions often face stigma and discrimination, and when they are behind bars, they often have little or no resources or help.

Turn It Up! offers personal stories and advice from those who have been on the inside. It provides basics on HIV, hepatitis and diabetes, as well as information on nutrition, exercise, meditation and more. The issue also includes a 12-page resource guide.

Turn It Up! is much more than just a magazine. It's a labor of love from a committed group of advocates who understand how tough it can be for those serving time. It's also an empowerment tool to help those incarcerated improve and protect their health and welfare.

Click here to take a look:

For single or bulk copies of the one-time publication, please contact the Sero Project at or P.O. Box 1233, Milford, PA 18337.

The Sero Project is a network of people with HIV and allies fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice. For more info, visit

By Nicholas Olson (POZ Intern)

Al_Franken_Official_Senate_Portrait.jpgRecently, U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced anti-bullying legislation that seeks to add a provision to the No Child Left Behind renewal, called the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which is under debate. Franken's amendment would provide federal anti-bullying coverage to LGBTQ students in K-12 education throughout the nations' schools. This policy could help relieve LGBTQ students from the traumas of bullying. Such trauma has been linked to riskier behavior in gay and bisexual men, which in turn has been linked to an increased likelihood of contracting HIV.

Franken's amendment, known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), would include LGBTQ identities in school policies that protect kids from bullying based on race, religion, gender and other identities. Teachers and administrators would be required to handle LGBTQ-based bullying in classrooms in the same way as race-based hate speech and violence.

Unfortunately, the bill faces some difficulty in the Senate. The bill needed a supermajority of 60 votes to overcome a filibuster on the legislation, but it only got 55 votes. All of the Senate Democrats and a group of eight Republicans voted in favor. It seemed like an obvious "yes" to many senators, especially following the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that passed with 64 votes.

Bullying and HIV have a stark correlation, though. A recent study from Child Abuse and Neglect examined the relationship between HIV-positive gay men and childhood trauma from bullying. They found that 91 percent of their sample of 171 men had experienced trauma from bullying before age 18. They also found that that trauma was linked to behavior later in life that put the men at high risk for HIV. "Exposure to bullying must be considered in any intervention aiming to reduce trauma symptoms or improve mental or physical health among HIV-positive populations," the study concludes.

It can be difficult to determine why there might be a correlation or what might cause risky behaviors in men. The study describes how drug abuse, "difficulties with mood" and emotional stress, and "symptoms of trauma" experienced earlier in life persist into adulthood. So it appears emotional stress from childhood bullying leads to further psychological issues in men, indicated by behaviors that are at higher risk for contracting HIV.

Reducing bullying in schools is crucial to reducing stigma and trauma related to marginalized identities. As such, school policies like Franken's Student Non-Discrimination Amendment could do more than prevent bullying--they could also lower HIV risk among LGBTQ people. There is still hope for Franken's amendment, but it first must break through the filibuster on the measure to be added to the Every Child Achieves Act. That can be difficult, and it is unclear when the bill will be presented on the Senate floor next.

You can find and contact your Congressional representatives to support this bill using this tool. 

The combination of injection drug use, heroin and opiate addiction, and HIV has devastated countless American lives and communities. Although needle exchanges--programs that provide clean syringes so that needles are not shared--have been shown to reduce infection rates without increasing drug use, federal funds are banned from supporting these lifesaving programs.

Actually, President Obama signed a law lifting the ban in 2009, but Congress reinstated the prohibition soon after. This means that if state and local governments see a need to set up needle exchanges--which is increasingly the case in rural America--then they must spend their own limited resources on it. Or they have to nix the idea altogether.

That's why we want to call attention to a new petition to lift the federal ban. The petition is set up by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. If you're not convinced about the cause, check out the accompanying video (which we've included above) for some insight and facts. Did you know, for example, that an average needle costs just 10 cents? Compare that with the estimated $488,000 per person for the lifelong, medical treatment for HIV.

What's more, as has been made clear by the ongoing crisis in southeastern Indiana, needle exchanges could play a pivotal role in fighting the exploding HIV epidemic in rural America. For an in-depth look at that case, read our recent exclusive, "Can Rural America Learn to Live With Needle Exchange?" Stories like this show how needle exchanges are crucial in preventing HIV transmission among injection drug users.

Click here for AmFAR's petition.

Magic Johnson Rumor Pic.pngEvery so often, we run into a pesky, persistent rumor that people continue to circulate, especially on the Internet and on social media. One such rumor resurfaced again this week: the claim that Earvin "Magic" Johnson was donating blood to the American Red Cross for Lymphoma and Leukemia patients.

Perhaps folks are prone to falling for this "story" because it includes this image (above) that looks like the basketball legend is, in fact, donating blood. Plus, he appears to be in excellent health, which has led some people to mistakenly think he has been "cured" of the virus. So what's the deal with the story and photo?

First some facts: People living with HIV cannot donate blood and organs to the general public because HIV can be transmitted this way. Unfortunately, back in the epidemic's earlier days, people did contract the virus through donated blood products. Today, it is once again safe to receive blood transfusions because they are always tested for the virus.

So, of course, the Magic Johnson "news" is entirely fictional. It utilizes a photo of Magic Johnson getting regular blood work. As Snopes explained in a piece debunking the rumor, the photo is a still from PBS's 2012 documentary Endgame: AIDS in Black America, in which Johnson speaks about his experience living with HIV. Clearly this is a photo taken out of context, but it has caused quite a stir on Twitter.

For readers who may not know, Magic Johnson is a retired basketball star whose career ran through the 1980s and 1990s. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, and he has been a major advocate and spokesperson for HIV prevention, treatment and education.
Hopefully, rumors like these will soon fizzle out. Misinformation only causes more unnecessary panic about HIV and stress for the person the rumor is about. Rumors were no fun in high school, and they are not fun now. 

By Nicholas Olson, POZ Intern

An LGBTQ Pride-colored map of Denmark

This June, we celebrated LGBTQ Pride along with the Supreme Court decision that marriage equality is a right established by the Fourteenth Amendment. The United States is the latest in a growing number of countries to formalize marriage equality. Interestingly, the earliest government recognition of same-sex couples actually has a connection with HIV.

In 1989, Denmark became the first country to officially recognize same-sex couples. This groundbreaking move took place during the first decade of the AIDS epidemic, a time when a diagnosis was mostly considered a death sentence (modern HIV treatment came along in 1996). Denmark, like other countries across the globe, began to see AIDS cases in the 1980s. Hospitals throughout the country had diagnosed 239 people with HIV and opportunistic infections, and witnessed 137 AIDS-related deaths by 1987. This sparked political debate to figure out how to prevent more of these tragedies.

One result of that discussion was that the Danish government officially recognized same-sex couples. The logic went like this: By encouraging men who have sex with men (MSM) to adopt traditional, monogamous, committed relationships, officials hoped to lower the men's number of sexual partners--and thus the potential HIV transmission rate.

These were not full marriages, though. They were an early form of unions that provided some rights and privileges, which policy makers gradually updated and increased to be equivalent to "marriage" in Denmark. In fact, the last privilege to be added was simply the title, "marriage," which finally came in 2012.

Not that this relationship recognition was the country's sole HIV prevention plan, Denmark went on to create a policy of "cooperation and inclusion," in which citizens were educated about HIV and safer sex practices through widely distributed, public campaigns such as advertisements, PSAs and pamphlets. The government recognized its interest in keeping its citizens healthy as an absolute priority, rather than placing shame or blame on people who had contracted the virus. Today, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) considers the stigma around HIV in Denmark to be low, which may be due in part to these prevention and education campaigns. The Danish government acted on the absolute need to spread information to the people as it became available, in order to slow the spread of the virus. This came largely because of the public outcry against government inaction and the conflicting ideas they witnessed in the United States during the early days of the epidemic.

In addition, starting in 1986, an activist group called STOP AIDS began dispersing condoms throughout one of Copenhagen's major, central cruising grounds--they placed the prophylactics in small birdhouses. This helped make condoms accessible for people in the heat of the moment--all they needed was to find a stocked birdhouse. It was not a state-approved action, and it caused quite a lot of controversy at the time as it was seen as condoning public sex, but it made safer-sex material more easily accessible for free in public settings.

UNAIDS estimates that in 2013 about 5,800 people were living with HIV in Denmark and only about 5 percent of the most at-risk populations are HIV positive, which is very low compared to, for example, MSM in the United States.

Denmark seems to have adopted an excellent strategy in the early days of the HIV epidemic. Moreover, the country's health care system should be an inspiration for the U.S. system. All people need health care. The Danish universal health care system has helped ensure people living with HIV get the care they need, and Denmark's other early actions, such as formally recognizing same-sex couples, have substantially reduced the spread of the virus.

By Nicholas Olson (POZ Intern)

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 5.20.00 PM.png
The Mr. Friendly team. The back of one banner was signed by the marchers and a second banner was signed with names of those we were marching for.

To celebrate Pride this year, I was fortunate enough to walk with the Mr. Friendly team in the New York City LGBT pride march on Sunday, June 28. Mr. Friendly is an international grassroots movement whose mission is to reduce HIV stigma, encourage HIV testing and improve quality of life for those living with HIV in friendly ways.

In 2008, Dave Watt created Mr. Friendly as part of the nonprofit Community AIDS Resource and Education Services (CARES). CARES aims to reduce stigma through open and honest conversations about HIV and to remove the misunderstandings many people have about the virus. Today, Mr. Friendly has chapters in cities throughout the United States, and representatives from Florida, Tennessee and Philadelphia among other places came to New York City to march in the parade.  

The group made 12 banners to spread its message with slogans in English and Spanish like: "Love Knows No Status," "Aqui Por Ti, Positivo or Negativo," and "Live Stigma-Free of HIV."

During the march, we drew attention from the crowd by having members of the Mr. Friendly team pose with the signs. We stopped to create photo ops in front of the spectators in the crowd as often as we could. The team also handed out business cards for the Mr. Friendly Facebook group to encourage people to tag us and like us when they snapped our picture. The goal was to pose for as many pictures as possible, and to inspire people to follow up on social media.

Sero Meeting Pic.jpg
An example of our photo-op strategy.

Three members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence joined our group, and their glamour helped us gain a lot of attention. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is an order of queer nuns who first appeared in San Francisco in 1979. They devote themselves to community service, ministry and outreach and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment.

Two wore black-and-white, polka-dot headdresses, and gold, black and white outfits to match. The third wore multicolored sequins from headdress to gown. Their makeup--stark white foundation, colorful details, dyed beards--added to their allure. The crowd loved the sisters and their gorgeous, graceful presence. Many attendees were eager to snap pictures with them along with the Mr. Friendly signs and group members.

Before the parade, many of the group members went to the Stonewall Inn on Friday night to pay our respects to the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, as well as celebrate the day's historic Supreme Court decision guaranteeing same-sex marriage equality. They brought along one of the Mr. Friendly banners, which attracted attention from both Stonewall patrons and the reporters who had gathered to cover the event.

Watt says he created Mr. Friendly because he "witnessed many people living with HIV being treated poorly, like second-class citizens." He wanted to create an icon that would be inclusive with "equal weight for both positive and negative" individuals, as a way to remove HIV stigma without indicating a person's status. During Sunday's march, many people in the crowd expressed their gratitude for sharing this message.

Overall, the march was very successful for Mr. Friendly, as evidenced by the number of photos taken by the crowd and shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media.

As I walked with my sign, which read "Live Stigma-Free of HIV," I felt like it offered hope and inspiration for everyone reading it . It was an honor to walk with the Mr. Friendly team and spread their HIV destigmatization message during this historic time in LGBTQ life.


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