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MFierce, Coalition Built To Fight STI/HIV Rates In Detroit

By |2015-05-07T09:00:00-04:00May 7th, 2015|Michigan, News|


DETROIT – A new project has emerged to try reducing the HIV and STD rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) and trans women in Southeast Michigan.
MFierce, the Michigan Forward in Enhancing Research and Community Equity, is a three-year project funded by the CDC Community Approaches to Reducing Sexually Transmitted Diseases (CARS) initiative to alleviate the burden of STI and HIV infection through structural means; increase awareness about HIV/STI disparities in the community; promote collaborations between multiple sectors, identifying new opportunities for STI prevention and care; and to create equitable access to HIV/STI sites by providing young gay and bisexual men and trans women access to culturally humble and sensitive services.
The project started in September of 2014 after receiving funding in August 2014. In mid-October 2014 the team held a kick-off event, attended by over 60 people, as a first chance to get multi-sectional input for addressing the major issues affecting the MSM and trans women community in Southeast Michigan.
“MFierce is not meant to be focused on individual change,” said Emily Pingel, the project manager for MFierce. “We’re focused on policy change. HIV often gets more funding (than STI awareness). We were happy to secure federal money for both of those projects.”
By December the team had created a Youth Advisory Board of LGBT youth ages 18-29 from around the state and a Steering Committee and Community Board, a broad base coalition stretching across Flint, metro Detroit, Oakland and Macomb Counties, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor including members from Ruth Ellis Center, APM/HARC, Affirmations, City Health Department HIV Section, Michigan Department of Community Health, LGBT Detroit (formerly KICK) and Wellness AIDS Services.
“We wanted to first get a handle on the direction that community members and agency members wanted it to take. We’ve done a total of 13 town hall meetings up to this point and the first 10 were idea generation and brought stakeholders around the table, for personally and professionally relevant reasons. Then we asked them to come up with goals and priorities for year two that will be narrowed down and presented to the last three public town halls,” Pingel said.
Pingel has been the managing director for SexLab, the Center for Sexuality & Health Disparities housed in the University of Michigan School of Public Health, since 2009 and focuses on projects for LGBT youth health and queer women’s health. Since 2012, after working with a youth advisory board, Pingel has been more involved in centering on the perspective of youth in these studies, making sure they have a voice and leadership in various public health and LGBT organizations.
In the United States, nearly 1.1 million people are living with HIV, and almost one in five don’t know they are infected with the virus. According to the Michigan Department of Health, 64 percent of gay black males that are HIV-positive and living in Detroit are in the 18 to 25 age range.
On May 11, the team will gather for a public roundtable meeting. The youth advisory board and the steering committee will both share what they think the most prominent issues impacting MSMs and trans women are in regards to HIV and STI treatment and care. They will then take a vote to see which of the presented issues affects the MSM and trans women communities most. Some of the topics of the meeting include increasing access to primary care for LGBT youth and increasing discussions around opening an LGBT health center, having a campaign for housing resources, trans-centric care and trans-inclusive resources, working on the Michigan sexual education curriculum and more. The group will try and lend support and build upon projects that are already in place; they’ve received many suggestions from agencies such as Ruth Ellis Center and LGBT Detroit.
“I have a little tiny, tiny drop of hope that there could be a small amount of change. If that change is structural, it can have beneficial effects for LGBT youth in a region,” Pingel said. “I get to see the passion and openness that I think a lot of providers and community based organization folks bring to the table. I’ve seen a lot of instances where people are into saying, ‘I don’t know everything, and I can learn from you.’ People being in the same room makes a difference, and it is a privilege to be in that.”

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.
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