-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

viewpoint

Navigating gay sexual health at Notre Dame

| Thursday, January 26, 2017

In the 1980s, America’s AIDS epidemic mushroomed, growing from a few hundred cases into a crisis that would eventually claim over 500,000 lives in the United States. When the Center for Disease Control first reported cases of AIDS in 1982, it wrote that while there had been relatively few thus far, one in three patients with AIDS died and the disease was spreading fast within the gay community. However, the White House took it far less seriously. When asked about then-President Ronald Reagan’s solution to the crisis, his press secretary famously joked that the President had never heard of AIDS because he didn’t have it.

The result of this homophobia was low funding for education, prevention or treatment of AIDS or HIV, the virus which can lead to AIDS. Eventually, through the efforts of many outspoken public figures, including Surgeon General Everett Koop, research on prevention and treatment was funded and disseminated. Today, acquiring HIV no longer means developing AIDS, but risk for HIV remains high among gay and bisexual men. The history of the crisis provides a cautionary tale — failing to identify the public health risk of HIV/AIDS and respond appropriately can ruin lives.

As a gay student at Notre Dame, the conversation about sexual health to newly out members of the LGBT community is always a difficult one. The most effective method of preventing transmission among sexually active people is, and has always been, both condom use and accessible testing for high risk populations. Newer treatments such as PrEP can also be effective. However, no organization on campus that serves the LGBT population disseminates information about sexual health, though I hardly blame them when University politics seem to preclude the University Health Services website from providing basic information about sexually transmitted infections or HIV/AIDS online.

While Notre Dame is a Catholic university, an acknowledgement of reality would be helpful — despite its teachings against premarital sex, our rates of sexual activity (regardless of sexuality) are equivalent to those other major universities. Because the number of sexually active gay and bisexual men on campus is small, an STI like HIV could spread like wildfire (not to mention the elevated risk of HIV in Indiana, thanks to former Governor Mike Pence’s defunding of needle exchange programs and Planned Parenthood/health department HIV testing).

Think this can’t happen at Notre Dame? In one study abroad program last year, several students contracted chlamydia, a common STI in the college age bracket. If you were developing a public health model for the Notre Dame gay community, this bounded, small group of ND students provides a pretty good estimate. Thankfully for them, chlamydia is easily detectable and treatable with antibiotics. HIV is neither — in fact, it often goes undetected in 51 percent of the college age group (2014 CDC Report). This is not to pass judgement on anyone who has contracted an STI, but whether your health issue is chlamydia or the flu, students need access to health services.

Given the threat to students’ well-being, one might think that the University would provide prevention and testing. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Condoms are not available on campus, and in fact, in 2013, the Boston Globe reported that while Notre Dame has no written policy against condom distribution, “their policies similarly do not allow students to distribute condoms on campus and … students who do so could face disciplinary action.” STI/HIV testing is only available by first scheduling a doctor’s appointment, and then either putting the cost on your insurance (not the recommended way to come out to your family) or paying over $100 out of pocket. Indiana is no help either — its health department does not provide STI/HIV testing services, and its lack of funding to Planned Parenthood means that its costs are similar to Notre Dame — either pay with insurance or eat a $118 bill.

If you are a sexually active gay or bisexual man on Notre Dame’s campus, your only local option is AIDS Assist, a nonprofit located at 201 S. Williams St. in South Bend. They provide free HIV, hepatitis C and syphilis testing between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The office is just an Uber ride away. Or ask a friend for a ride — if you tell someone about your plan to get tested, you’re more likely to follow through. Additionally, check out the services your state or city provides. Many of them provide anonymous, low-cost HIV testing that you can access during breaks — a quick Google search can find this information for you. If you do contract an STI, apps like So They Can Know can offer advice and support. Without the support of Notre Dame or Indiana’s state government, these are your best options for accessing the health care you need to keep yourself and your community healthy.

Bryan Ricketts

fifth year

Jan. 25

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Tags: , ,

About Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

Contact Letter
  • Bush O’Neill

    Refreshing. Bravo, Bryan.

  • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

    Are you from the vice and virtue police?