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For the first time in more than 20 years, the International AIDS Conference is being held in the United States – specifically, Washington, DC. The Washington Post’s live coverage is here.

This morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the conference about the U.S.’s commitment to preventing, treating, and ultimately ending the disease—announcing $15 million to support implementation research in the U.S., with a special focus on groups with a disproportionate rate of new infections.

As the Advocate outlines, young, black, gay, and bisexual men (or MSM—men who have sex with men) are one of those groups:

[In 2005], The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that a study in five U.S. cities found that 46% of black MSM in the survey were HIV-infected, and 67% of these men were unaware of their infection … Six years later in 2011, a CDC review of surveillance data revealed more disconcerting news — during the period of 2006 to 2009, new infections among young black MSM aged 13 to 29 increased by a staggering 48%, more than twice the rate among young white MSM. No increase in the rate of new infections was found in any other demographic in the nation.

Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellow Charles Tyson has spent several years working to turn this troubling tide. In 2007, he worked with the Metrolina AIDS Project in Charlotte, NC to implement the CDC’s community-level intervention, d-up. While living in Rochester, New York in 2008-2009, he served as a Peer Youth Specialist at the MOCHA Center (formerly known as Men of Color Health Awareness Project), a drop-in center that provides comprehensive health and wellness services for LGBTQ-identified persons aged 16-24. Tyson co-facilitated an adaptation of the Many Men, Many Voices behavioral intervention program for young gay and bisexual men of color who were at high risk for acquiring HIV infection.

Schweitzer Fellow Charles Tyson speaks about his work to prevent the spread of HIV among MSM in Philadelphia.

“I learned that it wasn‘t only the risk of HIV impacting the lives of LGBT youth I worked with, but also structural and systemic issues such as a homelessness, family rejection, peer pressure, low self-esteem, and lack of access to employment opportunities,” Tyson says.

When he moved to Philadelphia for the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice, Tyson connected with Noel Ramirez—a 2008-09 Schweitzer Fellow and Penn Social Policy & Practice alum who spent his Fellowship year addressing health and empowerment among LGBT youth and who now works as a case manager at the Dorothy Mann Center (DMC) for Pediatric and Adolescent HIV.

After talking with Ramirez, Tyson researched existing efforts to prevent new HIV infections among Young Black Men Who Have Sex With Men (YBMSM) in Philadelphia. He found two—a group-level intervention called ‘Many Men, Many Voices’ run by the Mazzoni Center, and a community-level intervention called Brothers United Philadelphia run by the SafeGuards Project & the LGBT Health Resource Center. Tyson also found that the DMC had recently piloted a program for HIV+ YMSM consumers called Sexuality with Education and Truth (SWEAT).

Based on results from focus groups, individual interviews with YMSM, and interviews with staff members at the DMC, Tyson gleaned that, above all, HIV+ YMSM were interested in building relationships with others and having a safe space to share their experiences—and that YMSM reported limited interest in support groups but were more interested in leadership development activities.

Tyson listened. As a Schweitzer Fellow—and with Ramirez as his DMC site mentor—he launched a service project dedicated to addressing HIV/AIDS by creating safe spaces and leadership opportunities for YMCSM.

At the center of the project? Q Spot: a newly established, DMC-affiliated drop-in center for LGBTQ-identified individuals aged 18-29 at the Broad Street Ministry. Positioning Q Spot as a safe space and a drug-free alternative to Philly’s bar and club scene, Tyson helped to develop, implement, and evaluate Q Spot’s programming—which includes confidential HIV testing, mentoring, tutoring, employment assistance, mental health screenings, and housing surveys and referrals. Tyson also counseled many of the YMCSM who attended the drop-in space regularly about HIV and systemic issues in their lives, and conducted street outreach to help others get tested for HIV.

In 2011, more than 1,000 youth attended Q Spot events —including a Thanksgiving communal dinner, an open mic night, a ball event with an HIV/AIDS prevention theme, and a film screening and panel discussion that explored the role of religion and spirituality in the lives of LGBT persons. And throughout 2012, Q-spot programming has been shaped by the Philadelphia Young Leaders Council—10 YMCSM who participated in a leadership curriculum developed by Tyson and who are committed to addressing health disparities and social justice issues in Philadelphia through community engagement at Q Spot.

“I am certain that my contributions as a Schweitzer Fellow have not only revitalized HIV prevention efforts among YMCSM, but the 10 young leaders trained through the PYLC curriculum will carry on very much needed work,” Tyson says.

Now, in his full-time job at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School, Tyson works with many LBGT students who have varying levels of comfort with their sexuality and who face life challenges including homelessness and substance use.

“My Schweitzer project experience definitely spilled into my work at YouthBuild,” Tyson says. “I started and facilitated a therapeutic support group once a week that caters to the needs of LGBT students and allies. There are 7 members in the group with one YMCSM identified.”

Click here to read a May 2012 article about Q Spot in the Philadelphia Gay News.

Click here to learn more about the Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellows Program and its work to create change and improve health in vulnerable communities.

Click here to read the Washington Post’s live coverage of the 2012 International AIDS Conference.