WASHINGTON, D.C. — North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams held a press conference at Time Out Youth in Charlotte on Aug. 23 to announce her introduction of the Youth Access to Sexual Health Services Act (YASHS) to the U.S. House of Representatives. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by a team of co-sponsors including Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and seven others.
The bill strives to allot federal funds to bridge gaps in access to information and services that many underserved populations — including LGBTQ youth — have lacked in the past. Sponsors of YASHS seek to open the doors for young people of color, in foster care, homeless and immigrant youth, as well as those in juvenile detention to access inclusive, scientifically-based sexual health information and programs.
“Far too many youth in this country face far too many barriers that prevent them from accessing very necessary health resources and services,” said Equality NC Interim Director Matt Hirschy. “Our current systems are struggling to reach LGBTQ, immigrant and homeless youth and we can’t rely on that any longer. That’s why Equality NC is proud to endorse Representative Adams’ YASHS act alongside so many other organizations.”
ENC isn’t alone in endorsing the legislation. The Human Rights Campaign announced its support, as did nearly 30 national organizations including the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
LGBTQ-inclusive sexual health resources have been sought before in recent years. In 2015, GLSEN called for just such legislation. Last year, a similar bill, the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, was introduced by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. For Rep. Adams, the need for the legislation was very close to home.
“Recent studies rank North Carolina among the states with the highest number of reported cases of STDs in the nation,” Adams said. “Across the U.S., youth ages 13-24 account for more than one in five new HIV diagnoses, an epidemic that must be stopped.”
Local political figures joined the press conference to reaffirm the need for the YASHS Act. Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield and Mayor Jennifer Roberts also spoke in support of the bill.
“We know that our youth faces challenges that we never faced… particularly pleased to see that grantees have to form a partnership with community organizations like Time Out Youth, use scientifically effect strategies, provide medically accurate information, provide an annual report on their uses of funds and how their efforts increased youth access to sexual health services,” said Mayor Roberts. “We are talking about a way that young people know that they are getting real information so they may have empowerment to take control of their futures and their lives.”