National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Spotlight: SMYAL

Apr 09, 2024 | Anthony Green


In honor of National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on April 10th, NACCHO is highlighting organizations that help address HIV and health inequities among youth. Keep reading to learn about SMYAL, an organization supporting LGBTQ+ youth located in Washington, DC.

1. What is your organization’s mission?

SMYAL supports and empowers LGBTQ+ youth. We actively work to create a world where queer and trans youth thrive through affirming programs and services designed to develop critical life skills, build community, and foster a sense of belonging.

2. How does your organization support youth living with or impacted by HIV/AIDS?

SMYAL runs a transitional housing program in partnership with the DC Department of Health designed to support LGBTQ+ youth using housing as a structural intervention to prevent HIV/AIDS. The program supports up to eight residents at any given time. Designed to support men who have sex with men ages 25-35, residents are provided with co-case management, health referrals, and PrEP coordinated through both organizations. LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience homelessness compared to their cis/straight peers, and Per the CDC, young people with unstable housing experience up to 12 times greater risk of HIV infection than those with stable housing. In addition to our housing program, SMYAL works closely with LGBTQ+-affirming health clinics to connect youth to testing, safe sex materials, and care navigation.

3. Why is National Youth HIV/AIDS important to you?

National Youth HIV/AIDS Day is important to us because it’s vital to continue to raise awareness, provide resources, and support young people in better understanding the impact of HIV/AIDS. Young people still make up about 20% of new HIV diagnoses in the US. It is vital to provide young people with comprehensive, non-judgmental sex education, but unfortunately, many young people do not have access to these kinds of resources. If they do, sex education courses do not always provide LGBTQ+-specific information. Queer and trans youth deserve access to medically accurate and inclusive sex education as they make decisions about their bodies and their sexual health. HIV/AIDS is an intersectional issue—age, socio-economic status, race, homophobia and transphobia, and other forms of oppression and discrimination impact a young person’s access to information, treatment, and care. Youth and adolescence are crucial times to build strong foundations for health and bodily autonomy.

4. What can local health departments learn from your work about supporting youth impacted by HIV/AIDS? What resources do you want to share with local health department HIV programs?

SMYAL works closely with our local health department and are grateful for their investment in creatively supporting LGBTQ+ youth. We would encourage increased investment in accessible and inclusive prevention education and programs and affirming and accessible treatment options for youth that recognize the barriers young people face when accessing services.

5. What should local health departments keep in mind when engaging youth and young adults?

Local health departments should keep in mind how to make programs accessible and engaging for LGBTQ+ youth- including the language they use, and understanding barriers to access like parental permissions, cost, transportation, etc. In addition, local health departments should keep in mind the role discrimination and stigma play in preventing LGBTQ+ youth from accessing services.

To learn more about SMYAL, please visit Home - SMYAL.


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