Thursday, January 17, 2013

Youth Voices: Finn

The T Side of Things
By Sean Finn, Marshalltown HS SOAR President

Practically everyone could tell you what it means to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Not all would be able to explain in depth, but they understand the general premise. But wait, there’s an initial missing from this set. There’s that ambiguous letter settled at the end of that common acronym - LGBT. What does it mean? Do people understand it? Unfortunately, not very many people fully understand or could explain what it means to be transgender. Even among those in the LGBT community, there are many who barely know what it means and who have several misconceptions about it.

Trans people are a huge minority! The numbers aren’t exact, but an estimated only 0.3% of the population fits under the category of trans. And that probably explains why so many people are so misinformed or uninformed about it. So I’ll go ahead and explain a few things about trans folk. Someone is transgender when the body they were born in doesn’t match up with their own idea of who they are. There are two main categories: FtM (Female to Male) and MtF (Male to Female). Typically, trans people like not to be called by their birth name, or by pronouns that align with their birth sex. There’s a lot about trans folk that many people don’t understand, so go inform yourself! Simply by Googling transgender, you’ll find an abundance of informational resources. Here are a couple:

Living in a world like ours is hard for me as an FtM. Yes, there are a lot of difficult, expensive steps to take in order to transition, but what is even harder is the psychological stress of everyday situations. From teachers continuing to call me “Miss Finn” and classmates not thinking to group me with the guys to avoiding public boys-or-girls restrooms at all costs and sitting with an application in front of me, staring at one of the first, usually easiest questions - check m or f.

In a world so oblivious to people like me, those who take the time to be informed and acknowledge me as a regular guy restore some confidence in me that there are non-trans people out there who can at least partially understand what I go through and who I am. They brighten my day, make me smile, and put some pep in my step. If you’re one of those people - I thank you sincerely. If not - become one! It’s always a good time to learn something new. You’ll never know how much of an impact just a few, well-intentioned words can make to someone.

Finn is a junior at Marshalltown high school and the President of SOAR (Sexual Orientation Alliance Representatives). He is very involved in the school community, participating in band, speech, Envirothon, Science Olympiad, debate, National Honor Society, mock trial, and SOAR. Finn writes that "as the leader of the school GSA, I have found the group to be a fantastic way to spread awareness and to establish otherwise unlikely friendships."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Leadership Team Voices: Stephen

Rates of HIV+ Gay Youth are Rising
By Stephen Boatwright, Member of the IPN Leadership Team and Board of Directors

Three long decades ago it became apparent in the medical community that men who have sex with men were falling victim to a cancer common among elderly people of Mediterranean heritage, causing word to spread rapidly that there was a ‘gay cancer.’ Once medical science confirmed that the syndrome manifests itself in other ways, it acquired the name “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” or GRID. It had not yet been confirmed that HIV/AIDS is spread through many more ways than unprotected anal sex, so this epidemic largely fueled homophobia and added heavy stigma to the LGBT community as whole.  

Thirty years later, according to the CDC new infections have stabilized to about 50,000 every year. However these rates are rapidly increasing among gay and bisexual men age 14-24. Collectively men who have sex with men (MSM) make up only 2% of the HIV+ population in the U.S., but MSM made up roughly 60% of new infections in 2009. Did we think the AIDS epidemic of the 80s was over?

If you feel like you’ve been exposed to HIV or you feel like you might be in the future—there are options for you called PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), and newer method called PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). After someone has been exposed to HIV, there is a 72 hour window period in which PEP medications can be prescribed. When taken orally for 30 consecutive days, PEP can decrease the likelihood of one contracting HIV by 90%. PrEP medications however are meant for individuals who are worried that they might be exposed to HIV in the future. Ethically, one might ask why an individual would put them self at risk of contracting HIV, or why these individuals should be helped at all. For individuals who are meth dependent however, PrEP medications would make a world of difference in terms of safer injections. Likewise, PrEP would greatly benefit individuals with ‘poz’ (HIV+) fetishes.

PEP and PrEP isn’t enough though, as gay and bisexual men we have a responsibility to protect our own health, our partners health, and thereby the health of our community. Work getting tested every 3-6 months into your health regiment, or destigmatize it by going with a friend as part of a lunch date. Embrace open and honest disclosure about knowing your own HIV status as well as your partners. We have the power to stop HIV in its tracks!

Stephen Boatwright is a student at Des Moines Area Community College and a long-time member of the Iowa Pride Network. Stephen started the first Middle School GSA in Iowa when he was in eighth grade and has been a youth leader ever since. In his free time, Stephen makes art and interns with the AIDS Project.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Young Adulthood and Youth Allyship

By Dana Stuehling, IPN Outreach Coordinator
Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be an effective ally to and for youth. I work with youth every day and genuinely believe that they are intelligent and creative and energetic and deserve to have a voice. When I was younger, I had adult friends and family members constantly supporting my decisions and choices, believing that even though I was still a minor, I had the right to make many decisions for myself. This belief has been engrained in my value system and I believe it to be true for the youth around me. 


While at the National Gathering of GSA Networks in Louisville, KY, I was surrounded by incredible high school activists and staff from GSA organizations all around the country. I attended with Ella, an Iowa Pride Network Leadership Team Member and GSA leader, and had an amazing time. Six months later, though, I’m still hung up about a conversation I had in Kentucky. 

As we were headed to dinner one night, I asked a young man that I recognized from my workshop earlier in the day where his staff was – youth couldn’t leave the hotel without a staff person present– and he laughed and told me that he was the staff. Horrified, I apologized profusely and turned beet red. I’m sure I made some remark about hating when people confused me for a high school or college student (it happens quite often, and understandably so), apologized again, and left it at that. 

Driving the ten hours from Louisville to Des Moines, Ella and I had great conversations ranging from her post-graduation plans to battling racism to GSA planning. Somehow, we got to talking about adultism and I brought up the fact that my response to the young man was actually pretty adultist. Why should we feel offended or embarrassed when “adults” are mistaken for youth? Why should we (especially as young adults) try to distance ourselves from looking or acting too “young”? It saddens and upsets me when straight people become angry or offended when they are mistaken as gay or lesbian – how is this any different? I look young. Many young adults look young. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, I’m more successful in my job because I look young – working informally with middle school and high school students is much easier when they realize that I’m not a “real” adult. I relish this; it means I can act young and be fun and still have effective working relationships with teens and pre-teens. So why do I get upset when other adults mistake me for being younger than I am? 

Society tells us that youth are reckless, immature, selfish, less intelligent, and irresponsible and that they should be talked down to. Clearly, I don’t want others to think that of me. But as a youth ally, I should instead see them as they are: as creative, energetic, open-minded, passionate, intelligent, mature, and thoughtful young people. Sure, some are impulsive and make bad decisions, but so do adults. Those negative traits are not specific to youth, and in order to be a better ally, I need to work on not automatically equating “young” with a lack of intellect and responsibility. 

I have such respect and love for the youth with whom I work; I don’t equate their worth or value to the number of birthdays they’ve had, and I am constantly in awe of their brilliance and passion. So the next time someone asks me where I go to college or to take my hat off in the high school hallway, instead of being offended, I will try to laugh and say thank you. 

Dana Stuehling is a 2011 graduate of Smith College where she studied Sociology focusing on race, gender and sexuality. As Outreach Coordinator with Iowa Pride Network, she works to support hundreds of LGBT and straight allied youth in Iowa. In her free time, Dana is playing with puppies, eating lots of garlic, thinking about privilege and oppression, examining her biracial identity, or drinking coffee. 

You can reach her at or 515-471-8063.

Friday, December 14, 2012

IPN applauds UI for LGBTQ Inclusive Admissions

Des Moines, IA – Iowa Pride Network (IPN) is applauding the University of Iowa for becoming the first public university to ask incoming students about their gender identity and sexual orientation.

“This is a huge step for the University and an important one for prospective LGBTQ students,” stated Ryan Roemerman, IPN executive director. “How colleges portray LGBTQ students in college admission materials sends a clear signal to LGBTQ students about how the university views them and their role in the institutional fabric.”

University of Iowa admissions wants to identify LGBTQ students and connect them to campus resources such as the U of I student group, GLBTAU (Gay, Lesbian Bisexual, Transgender and Allied Union—the longest, continually funded LGBT student group in the nation). 

Helping LGBTQ young people access such resources is important, as seen in the IPN’s College Climate Survey of LGBTQ students. In the survey, the majority of students (84.4%) reported attending campus LGBT group meetings with 56% reporting that they attend the meetings often or always, indicating how important these groups are for LGBTQ students.

A key recommendation from the Iowa College Climate Survey states that colleges and universities, “marketing and recruitment materials need to include LGBTQ students and reflect them in admission materials and other important documents.”

“What the University of Iowa is doing is providing a coordinated framework to provide support and resources to a population of students that are often overlooked. We applaud the University of Iowa for taking this step and hope that other colleges and universities follow their lead,” stated Roemerman.

About Iowa Pride Network
Iowa Pride Network empowers students to fight homophobia and transphobia in high schools and colleges by supporting gay-straight alliance (GSA) clubs and providing leadership opportunities and organizing projects centered on social justice. For more information call Iowa Pride Network at 515-471-8062 or visit