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MCC targets meth use and rising HIV rates
Effort will focus on drug’s role in the spread of HIV

by Jim Birkitt and Matt Comer
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — In 1991, Kharma Amos dressed up as a condom to pass out HIV prevention materials in Tulsa, Okla.

That same year, 16-year-old Joshua Love began volunteering for LGBT and AIDS service organizations in Santa Fe, N.M. He wanted to combat homophobia and honor the memory of his Uncle Patrick, who died of complications from AIDS.

Since that time, Amos has traded her condom costume for a clergy collar and Love is studying for ordination — they are on a mission. Both are ministers in the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) and in the New Year they are determined to spark important dialogue about HIV and crystal meth use in the LGBT community.

To set the stage for that dialogue, Amos and Love recently joined leaders from more than 30 organizations in Northern Virginia for a World AIDS Day 2007 health fair focusing on the LGBT community, HIV and crystal meth.

Public health officials are increasingly worried about the role of crystal meth and its impact on syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV. “Meth use is not a new problem,” Love says, “but we are living in a time where the intersection of meth and HIV is alarming.”

Amos believes the problem is complicated by meth users’ devastating lack of self-esteem. “With crystal meth, for a little while, they can be good enough, or beautiful enough, or loved enough,” she explains. The feeling can be a powerful incentive to keep using the drug, in spite of the damage it causes.

Love raises another point. “What do you say to someone who tells you, ‘I’m not sure I know how to have sex anymore without drugs in my body?’ Now we have people with a meth problem, who approach sex through the lens of their drug use.”

At the same time, however, he is also concerned by the alarmist rhetoric about crystal meth. “It’s really important to offer people accurate information, because a stream of dire warnings can make them feel that catastrophe is inevitable and that their day-to-day choices don’t make any difference.”

Both ministers are troubled by the inability of many support programs to handle the dual issue of drug use and sex. Many LGBT people are also unwilling to talk about those issues and are often unaware of the current impact of HIV/AIDS in their communities.

This worries Love, who is a recovering meth user himself, and who has been HIV positive for 7 years. “The most powerful experience I have is sitting in church and hearing someone say ‘I don’t know anyone who is HIV positive.’ I know their churches, so I know that isn’t true — it tells me that people have stopped talking and returned to the closet.”

Amos agrees. “The return to the closet is real. None of the current members of my congregation are public about their HIV positive status. They’re afraid of being stigmatized even in an inclusive faith community.”

Amos sees MCC as uniquely poised to facilitate difficult conversations about sex and drugs. “The church has not traditionally been known as a place where you can honestly share your deepest questions and real-life experiences with sex, disease or drug use,” she says. “But MCC is reversing that trend by bringing these issues out of the closet without judgment or shame.”

Amos and Love stress the need for faith communities and other organizations to take action — especially by offering people the space and support they need to speak out and tell their stories.

Love says, “To create change, we have to learn how to talk and listen differently.” At this turning of the New Year, they hope to encourage people to do just that.

Working with the Metropolitan Community Churches will make their jobs easier. The religious institution is the world’s largest and oldest Christian denomination with a primary, affirming ministry to LGBT people. Founded in 1968, the denomination has more than 250 local congregations located in 28 countries around the globe.

info: For more information on Metropolitan Community Churches, visit www.MCCchurch.org.

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