City of Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Bevan K. Baker and local agency leader Dr. Gary Hollander announced recently the expansion of a campaign to reduce health disparities among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Milwaukee by encouraging acceptance from their families and peers.
Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Infection and others have shown that various health disparities, including the sharp increase in HIV transmission among gay and bisexual men in Milwaukee, is in part attributable to anti-gay discrimination, social exclusion, unstable housing, and family upset. Currently it is estimated that between 2 and 4 in 10 African American gay and bisexual men in Milwaukee is HIV+. Other health disparities for LGBT people include higher rates of tobacco use, earlier use of alcohol, community and partner violence, and suicide.
The partnership of the Health Department and Diverse and Resilient continues to support the implementation and placement of media messages aimed at reducing anti-gay discrimination that makes gay and bisexual men vulnerable to HIV infection risk. The messages come in the form of pictures and stories by family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors who contributed their time to tell about their individual experiences to accept the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in their lives. The project, called Acceptance Journeys, includes 47 stories at this time, and an additional 15 stories are in production.
Media placements began in December of 2011, with ads at Milwaukee General Mitchell airport and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station. These were augmented in January of this year with 50 billboards and 50 bus ads asking, “Whose life could you change with love?” In July, new billboards announced, “I love my daughter (uncle, mother) just has she (he) is.” Radio ads in English and Spanish also aired this spring.
Between November 2011 and January 2012, United Way funded agencies received a 90-minute training on the stories of acceptance for LGBT people. Some of these agencies have asked for additional training tailored to their organizational needs.
The effort is funded in part through an award from the M·A·C AIDS Fund and from the Centers for Disease Control and Infection. The M·A·C AIDS Fund initiative aims to support programs that address the social determinants, including stigma, violence, racism, homophobia, and poverty, and community barriers that increase the risk of HIV infection among gay and bisexual men. The project also enjoys the support of the Charles E. Kubly Foundation to address suicide prevention.
Dr. Shawnika Hull of the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and Mass Communication works with the program to determine what messages would be impactful in the community. Dr. Hull also samples residents in Milwaukee and three other Midwest communities to assess if the project is working here.
The project, Acceptance Journeys, seeks to give greater voice to those people in the city who have confronted some of their own biases from the past. Their stories show a diversity of perspectives and relationships.
Gary Hollander, President and CEO of Diverse and Resilient, notes that he is “rarely moved by projects as much as I am by Acceptance Journeys. Dozens of Milwaukeeans have stepped forward to express their love and support of the LGBT people in their families and elsewhere in their lives. Our photo shoots and storytelling interviews are warm, engaging, and meaningful events.”