Local and Community News
New Orleans: NO/AIDS Task Force Takes to the Internet
June 23, 2003
When the New Orleans AIDS (NO/AIDS) Task Force formed in 1983, health educators took their risk-reduction message about the deadly disease to gay bars because they could count on reaching a big audience. In its 20th anniversary, NO/AIDS outreach workers are still going where people gather. Their destinations have expanded to include the Internet, where they mingle electronically with people who frequent online chat rooms tailored for local gay and bisexual men.Adapted from:
"The Net is a place where guys can be out but still be anonymous," said Jean Redmann, the task force's education director. Roberto Rincon, a community specialist for NO/AIDS who spends his days on the Internet, said, "There are things you can say on the other side of the [computer] screen that you can't say to the person in front of you."
The chat-room initiative came from Redmann and Noel Twilbeck, the task force's executive director. Underwritten by a four-year, $252,000-per-year grant from CDC, the chats started three years ago this month. It is the only such project in Louisiana.
The basic messages are the same ones that have been issued since the early 1980s, including advice to practice monogamy, use condoms and avoid high-risk sex. Though they may seem repetitious, the need for risk-reduction education is great because there is still no cure for AIDS, said Eric Johnson, who also works the chat rooms. "This is a lot like a bar," he said. "People go there to hook up, or they go to chat." Johnson and Rincon work in an office at the Community Awareness Network, or CAN, Project.
Even though there has been no formal data analysis, Rincon said about 200 people who showed up at CAN headquarters for testing said they did so after online chats. Felicia Wong, the project's coordinator, said such electronic encounters "are a great way you can talk to people and get them thinking about being tested and safer sex."
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
06.19.03; John Pope