BY AJ Trager
DETROIT – The new online application iCON, from the elongated iCONNECT, launched late last year as an innovative service aimed at linking LGBT youth to a variety of services in southeastern Michigan.
iCON is a product of SexLab, a program of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities based out of the University of Michigan, which received a grant in early 2015 from the Herb Ritts Foundation to provide youth in the region with a database of information on health and social services.
Many LGBT youth don’t know what services are available to them and often worry about experiencing stigma and discrimination if they attempt to use services. iCON aims to fix this dilemma by providing a database of LGBT welcoming services that can be searched and tailored to a user’s individuals needs and offers life skill-building educational modules.
“Young gay and bisexual men and transgender women face a number of barriers to getting the services they need. Some don’t know where to look for help, and others assume that they will be turned away or discriminated against. iCON aims to solve this problem by providing an easy to use and searchable database of local resources,” said Professor of Health Behavior and Biological Sciences at U-M School of Nursing, Rob Stephenson, M.S., Ph.D., who is one of the principal investigators for iCON. “But iCON isn’t just about sex and HIV: iCON includes services for all areas of young people’s lives, including education and employment.”
The group spent a year compiling information and resources into a searchable online database of roughly 375 services in the southeast Michigan area and then organized the pilot-testing of the product.
Handling of the application is relatively simple. Users can choose from 16 life-skills modules – ranging from education, legal advice, social activities, transportation and many more. Each topic allows the user to read information, find local services and set goals to make changes in their life.
All content on the iCON website was written by someone on the SexLab youth advisory board. Each topic has multiple subtopics so the user can follow the trail of services and programs in the area that fit a particular area of interest.
Program Director Michele Demers, Masters in Public Health, is very interested in how changes in technology can help break down the barriers LGBT youth face when accessing healthcare or other services. She told BTL that even though not all of the services were checked for having completed cultural competency or LGBT awareness training, many of them were suggested to the iCON team from community partners or were referred from working professionals in the field, such as case managers.
iCON officially launched in December 2015 but is currently seeking 500 young LGBT men and women in the southeast Michigan region to test the product. If the testing is effective, iCON will expand to other regions of the country with the aim of developing a centralized system that lists all national services in a single, easy-to-navigate system.
“Our aim is to empower sexual and gender minority youth to find the services they need and enable them to make positive changes in their lives” said Jose Bauermeister, Masters in Public Health, Ph.D., a principal investigator for iCON and associate professor of health education and behavior at U-M School of Public Health. “By empowering change we hope to allow young men to be able to reduce their vulnerability to HIV or to seek the care they need.”
iCON is not yet designed as a mobile application; however, the service is compatible with multiple platforms. A shortcut can be created to place iCON on a phone desktop.
To hear more about iCON or to start a profile, go to http://iconlife.org.