New research initiative aims at reducing HIV infection and transmission among vulnerable youth

The University of Chicago Medicine's Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation (Ci3) in Sexual and Reproductive Health has launched a research initiative aimed at reducing HIV infection and transmission among vulnerable youth of color, including young men who have sex with men (YMSM) and young transgender women.

The goal of this project is to provide job readiness and employment skills to increase placement within companies with existing diversity and inclusion policies that protect LGBTQ young people.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions, this project, titled Work2Prevent, will explore how employment and job readiness skills can prevent adolescent homelessness, drug use, and migration to other "street economies" associated with increased risk for HIV infection.

"Recognizing economic hardship as a critical factor contributing to HIV risk, our goal is to help gear young people toward economic stability through job placement and training, identifying career trajectories for young people that embrace and support gender and sexual diversity," said Dr. Brandon Hill, Ci3's executive director. "This research intends not only to decrease the number of adolescent HIV infections among youth ages 16-24, but also highlight the significant role economics play in the spread of disease, as well as, overall health and well-being among marginalized youth."

In 2015, Chicago youth ages 30 and younger represented nearly 50 percent of all new HIV infections, with nearly 30 percent occurring among those ages 13-24. Individuals who identified as black/African American comprised 54 percent of all new infections and were more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age. Sexual and gender minority, including LGBTQ youth, are disproportionately impacted by HIV. Additionally, LGBTQ youth face social harassment and even violence, contributing to employment disparities including hiring bias, job discrimination, and unequal pay and benefits. As a result, studies suggest that a fair majority of LGBTQ youth, particularly those of color, live in poverty, experiencing high rates of homelessness, limited access to health care and HIV services, few economic opportunities, and increased reliance on survival sex work.

The project will work with collaborators from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Boston Children's Hospital, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Department of Psychiatry, Chicago House TransLife Center, and Thresholds to develop, tailor and test this new employment intervention program.

"Given shifting federal and state policies, including employment discrimination protections, restroom use laws, and access to legal name change on identification documents, understanding the potential impact such changes may have on LGBTQ health and well-being, including adolescent HIV infection, is crucial to the development of efficacious structural level interventions," said Hill.

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