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A New Year, A New Opportunity: Metropolitan Community Church Leaders Urge Faith Leaders to Address HIV and Crystal Meth Use Among LGBT Youth
Date:12/19/2007

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In 1991, Kharma Amos dressed up as a condom to pass out HIV prevention materials in Tulsa, OK.

(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20071219/DC10343-a

http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20071219/DC10343-b )

That same year, 16-year-old Joshua Love began volunteering for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and AIDS service organizations in Santa Fe, NM. He wanted to combat homophobia and honor the memory of his Uncle Patrick, who died of AIDS.

Since that time, Amos has traded her condom costume for a clergy collar, Love is studying for ordination -- and 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 LGBTs, 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."

That can be a powerful incentive to keep using meth, in spite of the damage it causes. Love asks, "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.

Love is concerned, however, 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 LGBTs 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+ 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+.' 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+ 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.

Founded in 1968, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) is the world's largest and oldest Christian denomination with a primary, affirming ministry to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons. Known as "The Human Rights Church" for its commitment to social justice, more than 250 local MCC congregations are located in 28 countries around the globe. For more information on MCC's international ministry, visit http://www.MCCchurch.org.


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SOURCE Metropolitan Community Churches
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