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Byline: Mariko Thompson Staff Writer

Just before moving to Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850.  from a small town near Sacramento, 18-year-old Mario drew a self-portrait in his journal. In the pencil sketch, he looks lost and disconcerted dis·con·cert  
tr.v. dis·con·cert·ed, dis·con·cert·ing, dis·con·certs
1. To upset the self-possession of; ruffle. See Synonyms at embarrass.

. His loose-fitting shirt reads ``Pink Sheep of the Family.''

Mario drew the sketch a few months after telling his older brother he was gay. His brother didn't speak to him for six months. Mario has not yet come out to his parents.

Caught in that awkward phase between no-longer-a-kid and not-yet- an-adult, Mario looks dapper Dapper

lawyer’s clerk; swindled into believing himself perfect gambler. [Br. Lit.: The Alchemist]

See : Dupery
 in a black polo shirt and slacks, though he still wears a Garfield necklace pendant. Mario initially came to Los Angeles for a university summer science program. He's since dropped science and enrolled in an art class at Pasadena City College.

Even as Mario casts about in his new life, the one place that anchors him is AIDS Project Los Angeles AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by HIV disease, reducing the incidence of HIV infection, and advocating for fair and effective HIV-related public policy. , where he meets with a support group twice a week. Called the Mpowerment program, the group is made up of gay and bisexual teens, mostly between the ages of 15 and 20. That's where Mario started keeping a journal, filled with sketches, family photographs, high-school memorabilia and magazine cutouts.

The journals serve as an outlet whenever the kids feel scared or depressed. The entries also shape the group's discussions, which more often than not revolve around Verb 1. revolve around - center upon; "Her entire attention centered on her children"; "Our day revolved around our work"
center, center on, concentrate on, focus on, revolve about
 issues of acceptance, not sex, says program coordinator Ray Fernandez Raymond Fernandez (May 7, 1957 - March 6, 2004) was a professional wrestler who primarily wrestled in Florida and Texas before joining the World Wrestling Federation. He was best known by the ring name Hercules or variations thereof. .

``I spend very little time focusing on sex,'' Fernandez says. ``A lot of them are coming in with an entire lifetime of homophobia in their households, negative experiences in school, negative experiences in their churches, and feeling very stigmatized. How do they navigate these issues with little or no information available to them? That's what gets them behaving in a way that's sexually risky.''

Fernandez says providing a haven for these young men is a critical step toward HIV HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), either of two closely related retroviruses that invade T-helper lymphocytes and are responsible for AIDS. There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is responsible for the vast majority of AIDS in the United States.  prevention. AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, increasingly afflicts the young. In the United States, one in four new cases of HIV is diagnosed in a patient under the age of 21. The demographics of the epidemic also have changed. The face of AIDS used to be a gay white male. Today it's a Latino or African-American under the federal poverty line, says Chris Fritzen, APLA's senior development officer.

``AIDS is a much different disease than it was 10 years ago,'' Fritzen says.

Alarming numbers

Adding urgency to prevention efforts, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), agency of the U.S. Public Health Service since 1973, with headquarters in Atlanta; it was established in 1946 as the Communicable Disease Center.  recently did a comprehensive analysis of eight sexually transmitted diseases Sexually transmitted diseases

Infections that are acquired and transmitted by sexual contact. Although virtually any infection may be transmitted during intimate contact, the term sexually transmitted disease is restricted to conditions that are largely
, including HIV. The study found teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 account for 9.1 million - or nearly half - of STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialing) Long distance dialing outside of the U.S. that does not require operator intervention. STD prefix codes are required and billing is based on call units, which are a fixed amount of money in the currency of that country.  cases, though they make up just a quarter of the sexually active population. CDC See Control Data, century date change and Back Orifice.

CDC - Control Data Corporation
 researchers estimate the lifetime medical cost at $6.5 billion.

According to youth panel recommendations released in conjunction with the study, the best way to combat STDs is through sex education that teaches both birth control and abstinence. In the report ``Our Voices, Our Lives, Our Futures,'' the youth panel emphasized the need for an ongoing dialogue with parents, teachers and doctors.

``Parents, keep the conversation going and don't make it a one-shot deal,'' says Joan Cates n. pl. 1. Provisions; food; viands; especially, luxurious food; delicacies; dainties.
Cates for which Apicius could not pay.
- Shurchill.

Choicest cates and the fiagon's best spilth.
- R. Browning.
, the project's principal investigator from the University of North Carolina North Carolina, state in the SE United States. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (E), South Carolina and Georgia (S), Tennessee (W), and Virginia (N). Facts and Figures

Area, 52,586 sq mi (136,198 sq km). Pop.
, Chapel Hill. ``Keep talking with your young person. They said the same thing to health-care providers. Keep the conversations going.''

Neither teens nor parents should presume that only people who are promiscuous are at risk for STDs, says Dr. Coco Auerswald, assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine adolescent medicine
The branch of medicine concerned with the treatment of youth between 13 and 21 years of age. Also called ephebiatrics, hebiatrics.
 at the University of California, San Francisco Coordinates:  .

``Adolescents are stereotyped as hyper-sexual, as bad boys and girls boys and girls

 in society,'' Auerswald says. ``That's not the reason why the rates are high.''

People in monogamous relationships can get infected by a partner who has not been faithful or who had previous sexual partners. Lack of access to health care and ignorance of how STDs are transmitted are other major factors, she says.

``It's easy to feel overwhelmed, but parents shouldn't feel powerless,'' Auerswald says. ``Messages about healthy decisions are influenced much more by parents than adults believe.''

Reassuring as it may be that kids really do want to talk to adults, it's no secret that many families find conversations about human sexuality to be awkward. For gay teens, fear of rejection adds another layer of discomfort. Leon, 17, of the San Fernando Valley San Fernando Valley

Valley, southern California, U.S. Northwest of central Los Angeles, the valley is bounded by the San Gabriel, Santa Susana, and Santa Monica mountains and the Simi Hills.
 struggled to tell his mother that he was gay, despite the fact that she had dropped repeated hints that she knew. While she was on a trip to Mexico, Leon called her and told her over the phone.

``I couldn't spit it out until she was away,'' says Leon, who attends the Mpowerment program. ``She said, 'I love you the same as before.' My mom is one of the only people to give me so much support.''

Talking to each other

At APLA APLA AIDS Project Los Angeles (California)
APLA Asia Pacific and Latin America
APLA Atlantic Provinces Library Association
APLA Antiphospholipid Antibody (syndrome) 
, Mpowerment coordinator Fernandez plays the role of big brother, educator and mentor. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the teens make the trek to the APLA office in Koreatown. They come from all over the Los Angeles area, from Alhambra, Encino and Compton. The boisterous group crowds into a conference room, which has been stocked with chips and salsa, cookies, horchata Horchata or orxata is the name for several kinds of vegetable beverages, made of ground almonds, rice, barley or tigernuts (chufas). Etymology
The name comes from Valencian orxata, probably from ordiata, made from ordi
 and other snacks.

Most meetings are a two-hour rap session led by Fernandez. But for the past two weeks, the talks have been more structured. The teens have been training to become peer health educators, so that they can make presentations and talk to other young people about STD prevention and community health resources.

Fernandez spends part of the meeting preparing them for their written test. Some of the questions are basic to sex education, like how HIV can be transmitted. But other questions apply more broadly. Fernandez has them explain the steps of assertive communication with a safe sex scenario, in which a potential partner doesn't want to use a condom. The steps include stating intentions, laying out options and then negotiating to a conclusion. When they finish with the scenario, Fernandez hits them with the life lesson.

``Does this just apply to sex?'' Fernandez says. ``What about when Mom doesn't want you to go out this weekend? The biggest issue that you bring in here are problems in the house. When you say, 'Mom's a (blank) and I hate her,' that's the option you're creating. There are two people involved in an interaction. This is where you really need to use this model.''

Fernandez gives every new Mpowerment member a composition book to use as a journal. Flipping through the pages, Mario's story emerges from the images. Mario points to a photo of himself in the second grade holding a bat. Even in elementary school, Mario knew he was different. But it wasn't until his freshman year in high school that he said the words ``I'm gay'' aloud.

He points to a photo of Amanda, his best friend, at their high school prom. She was the first person to learn about his sexual orientation sexual orientation
The direction of one's sexual interest toward members of the same, opposite, or both sexes, especially a direction seen to be dictated by physiologic rather than sociologic forces.
. She was also the person who made him promise to stop hurting himself. Mario shows his self-inflicted wounds. His left wrist bears a cross-shaped scar. His right forearm has an oblong burn mark.

He points to a news photo of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was beaten to death in Wyoming in 1998.

``I can identify with him because there's so much hate in the world for us,'' Mario says.

He points to a photo of a birthday party for his mother and to a picture of green grapes that reminds him of his father, a field worker. Recently he heard that someone outed him to his parents. He's going home to visit soon. While he's nervous about facing them, he's also looking forward to it. The support group has made him better equipped to have this conversation.

``Ray is a big person in my life,'' Mario says. ``I don't want to leave this program, because it has helped me a lot.''

Mariko Thompson, (818) 713-3620


HIV 411

For more information on HIV prevention:

AIDS Project Los Angeles, (213) 201-1600,

UC San Francisco HIV/AIDS HIV/AIDS Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome  Web site for youth,

To read the ``Our Voices, Our Lives, Our Futures'' report from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, visit


3 photos, box


(1 -- cover -- color) Getting a grip on risky behavior

In face of AIDS, program helps gay teens deal honestly with their sexuality

John Lazar/Staff Photographer

(2) Mario, 18, says the Mpowerment program has helped him a great deal - to the point where he will soon talk to his parents about his sexuality for the first time.

(3) The gay and bisexual teens in AIDS Project Los Angeles' Mpowerment program keep journals that serve as creative outlets. Their entries also shape the group's discussions.

Charlotte Schmid-Maybach/Staff Photographer


HIV 411 (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 22, 2004

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