Youth Symposium Article

Last month JersVision.org participated in CATIE’s Intersextions & Interjetions conference. Check out this great article summerising some finding. 

Youth Symposium Article

It’s been 22 years in the making but worth the wait. On February 4-5, 2012, healthcare and frontline service providers, youth leaders, researchers, and policy makers, from across the country serving youth living with, or affected by HIV, gathered in Toronto to discuss their work and the communities they serve at the second national HIV and youth knowledge exchange symposium.

 

The first national conference that focused on HIV and youth was held back in 1992, at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Organized by Toronto-based Youthlink-Inner City and its Program Manager Laurie Edmiston, coincidentally now CATIE’s executive director, the conference aimed to raise awareness about the issues and effects of HIV/AIDS on youth, and to act as a catalyst for developing strategies to cope with the epidemic. Twenty-two years later, the evidence suggests that youth, and marginalized youth in particular, continue to be at risk for HIV, HCV and STIs. In 2009 alone (the latest available statistics) 582 new cases of HIV among Canadian youth were reported. The continuing fact of Canadian youth being at risk of contracting the virus underscores the importance of facilitating young people’s understanding and ensuring an ongoing dialogue around issues concerning sexual health and harm reduction.

 

The Youth Symposium, organized by CATIE, was entitled “Intersexions and Interjections” to reflect the “intersections” that increase vulnerability to HIV, such as experiences of stigma, socioeconomic status, racialization and transphobia, and the “interjections” that aim to address these factors through programming, research and policy.  In a retreat-like environment over a weekend, CATIE brought together 86 participants involved in sexual health and harm reduction work by and for marginalized youth.

 

The participants, many of them youth themselves, work with marginalized communities most affected by HIV and hepatitis C, including Indigenous youth; youth living with HIV; street-involved youth; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning and two-spirit (LGBTTIQQ2S) youth. Over half of the invited participants presented at the symposium, highlighting the personal experiences and skills ‘in the room’ and bringing critical themes and issues pertaining to HIV and youth to the forefront.

 

LLana James of Incwell Consulting launched the symposium with a powerful speech about, ‘Intersectionality in Practice.’ She explained that in the battle against HIV, “we are all allies from the outset” in spite of unique and often overlapping varied identities. This overarching notion of coming together in partnership and collaboration across diverse identities and mandates set the tone for the rest of the symposium.

 

A central theme discussed at the event was the ‘positionality’ of people in power, that is, where they are “located’ socially, racially and sexually. Youth leaders and youth workers talked about how their own identities affected how they relate to the work they do, and how they perceive their community — something that needs to be acknowledged in HIV work in order to better understand their relationship to power.

Also discussed was how societal barriers such as stigma, discrimination or lack of representation continue to exist and affect the lives of young people vulnerable to HIV. Erin Konsmo from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network commented: “Until researchers and everybody involved finally understand how violence affects HIV [rates] and start making those larger connections and start talking about the structural violence that happens… I don’t think we’re going to do justice to changing the rates of HIV in our communities.”

The conference also addressed the engagement of youth living with HIV. Participants identified that positive youth need to become part of meaningful decision-making processes, instead of being treated as tokens to simply lend credibility to organizations in the HIV movement.

 

The need for more integrated collaboration between individuals or organizations of different regions, identities and mandates resonated with most participants. Jeremy Jones from the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network’s National Youth Council of HIV/AIDS summed it up best: “I really maintain a belief that as people we need to have more diverse relationships in all sorts of communities… for a long time, I’ve just been looking at this [HIV and youth] as our Indigenous issue, but with the knowledge that it’s not just Indigenous. I really like that idea of being able to partner with people.”

While Jones identified that there is a lot of potential for youth partnerships all through the HIV movement, there was the overall recognition from the participants that, in order to lead the way of the future in the work of HIV/AIDS, youth-serving organizations representing various identities need not just come together, but become true allies.

 

For more details on CATIE’s Youth Symposium, or to read the full conference report, please visit http://www.catie.ca/sites/default/files/ykes-report-en-2.pdf