YSUnity, OHLA promote condoms to raise AIDS awareness

With 20- to 24-year-olds reporting the highest number of new HIV diagnoses annually, Tim Bortner realizes the importance of raising awareness at Youngstown State University.

Bortner’s close friend is rapidly approaching the end of his life as a result of the fatal disease.

“I’d like to try to prevent anyone else — not just in the LGBTQIA community, but all walks of life — from getting any sexually transmitted disease, for that matter, so they don’t end up like him,” said Bortner, vice president and treasurer of YSUnity.

Roughly 1.2 million Americans over the age of 13 are living with with HIV/AIDS, which is the ninth most in the world, according to the World Factbook. More than 600,000 have died since the first cases were reported in the U.S. in 1981.

Globally, an estimated 33.4 million people suffer from HIV/AIDS, and 25 million deaths have resulted since 1981.

According to AIDS.gov, the disease claimed the lives of more than 17,000 Americans in 2009.

Homosexual and bisexual men are the largest risk group to contract the disease, and they accounted for 61 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2009.

While Bortner isn’t HIV positive, his mission is to raise awareness.

On behalf of YSUnity and in conjunction with the Ohio Lady Advocates, Bortner is planning an HIV awareness table, which will be set up in Kilcawley Center on Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Bortner, along with a few other members of each student group, will distribute literature and nearly 2,000 condoms to YSU students.

“We have all kinds. From glow in the dark, lubricated, ribbed to flavored,” Bortner said.

The groups also have condoms from the “pride pack,” which features rainbows and homosexual imagery. Bortner said he’s concerned about passing those out, as their appearance draws snickers and uncomfortable sentiments from some less-accepting students.

“We’ve had some people make comments because they don’t want to take one that has [the word ‘gay’] on it, as opposed to a plain condom, even though it’s used for the exact same purpose,” Bortner said. “But some people are just judgmental.”

Although HIV and AIDS are commonly associated with the LGBTQIA community, YSUnity hopes to dispel some of the myths surrounding the virus.

“AIDS is not just a gay disease. It can happen to anyone — gay [or] straight, man or woman,” Bortner said.

Molly Toth, vice president of OHLA, said she understands the importance of raising awareness.

“These issues cut across populations who are particularly vulnerable to not receiving regular health care for a number of reasons, and it makes sense for us to work together,” Toth said. “I also think we can benefit from having more frank dialogue on these issues and work to remove the taboo surrounding HIV/AIDS and sexual health more generally.”

On campus, condoms can be hard to find. Neither the convenience store in the YSU Bookstore nor the Candy Counter in Kilcawley Center sells condoms.

Ian Brady, sales manager at the YSU Bookstore, said the bookstore doesn’t stock condoms, due to poor sales in the past.

Travis Battiest, the Student Government Association’s vice president for university, said that while condoms aren’t prevalent on campus, they’re available to students who need them.

Condoms are offered in the YSU Office of Housing and Residence Life, and safe sex resources are provided to campus residents.

Condoms and dental dams are also available in the Student Health Clinic.

“I don’t know how well that is advertised to students,” Toth said. “Making these more available would only benefit students.”

The campus community has been primarily open to Bortner and others within YSUnity. However, Bortner said he occasionally that feels the group’s message can be overshadowed by homophobia and prejudices.

“We’re not coming to campus as a gay organization passing out condoms. We’re just a regular organization passing out condoms,” Bortner said.