Pastor Steve Jerbi of All Peoples Church announced today that he will be tested for HIV on Sunday, March 3, 2013 at the congregation’s 11:00 AM service as part of an ongoing effort to address the pressing health and social problems facing his mostly young and mostly African American community.
Pastor Jerbi is partnering with Diverse and Resilient, a local agency with several HIV prevention programs.
The agency most visibly manages a large social campaign on acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, called Acceptance Journeys.
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 two and four in 10 African American gay and bisexual men in Milwaukee is HIV positive.
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 All Peoples Church and Diverse and Resilient continues to support the reduced rates of HIV transmission by knowing one’s HIV status, learning how to prevent transmissions, and addressing anti-gay discrimination that makes gay and bisexual men vulnerable to HIV infection risk.
In announcing his plan, Pastor Jerbi said, “Churches need to be raising the epidemic issue of HIV/AIDS in Milwaukee. And part of that happens by taking away the stigma of testing.
“If the only message people are hearing from churches is abstinence and sex within marriage, we are failing to deal with the realities facing our community.
“We need to also talk prevention and protection. We need to encourage testing.”
“Our reason for wanting to be publicly tested is to encourage the testing by others in our predominantly African American congregation.” Youth Director, Elija Furquan, also plans to be tested at the Sunday service. He added, “We need to help people take the measures
against one of the leading killers among Black people. We also need to promote perspectives that lead to good health outcomes.”
In the near future, congregation members will participate in short education sessions about acceptance presented by staff and volunteers of Diverse and Resilient. The sessions highlight other health issues made worse by social intolerance and isolation.
They feature stories of Milwaukeeans on their journeys to acceptance. 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 62 stories at this time. These stories include some by notables such as Mayor Tom Barrett, Health Commissioner Bevan Baker, and State Representative Sandy Pasch.
Brenda Coley, Director of Special Projects at Diverse and Resilient, notes that she is “rarely moved by projects as much as I am by Acceptance Journeys.
“Scores 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 for all involved.”
Pastor Jerbi added, “As Christians, we believe Jesus made healing a sign of the kingdom. We need to also be working for the love, support and healing of those living with HIV.”
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