Project Silk

A community needed a voice and a space in Pittsburgh, now one year later, the efforts of Project Silk are continuing to move forward. With a space Downtown for young men and transgender women of color, the HIV prevention initiative began in January 2012 under the guidance of Mackey Friedman and the HIV Prevention and Care Project.

“We’re pretty much entirely driven by suggestions brought forth by youth,” says Nayck Feliz, associate director.

A youth advisory board is one of the committees that steers the organization, whose mission it is to serve African American and Latino young men and transgender women between ages 13 and 29 with a safe space.

Feliz says Pittsburgh’s HIV statistics reflect those nationwide, which show that they are the highest risk.“They are some of the most stigmatized in
the community. A lot of them end up homeless and not having the support from their families,” he says.

Felix added, “The same urgency about HIV isn’t present today like it was during the early days of the disease, so young people need to be educated to help prevention efforts, while people who are positive need support and medical care.

“Stigma is a huge killer in this fight,” he says. “It keeps people quiet and in the closet about their status.”

Project Silk has hosted events like mini house drag balls and vogue competitions. They also provide HIV testing along with links to other resources such as organizations to help provide housing, job readiness and education assistance as well as drug and alcohol treatment.

Feliz says it’s also important for the larger LGBT community to help combat HIV by supporting those who do disclose their status, while practicing safe sex.

With the new year, Project Silk is hoping to expand programming to include STI testing, self-defense classes, and a Facebook page.

Anyone interested in donating, volunteering, or needing services should visit projectsilk.org to contact organizers.

The HIV Prevention and Care Project is part of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and guided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

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Stacey Federoff is a Sutersville, PA native, Penn State alumna, and reporter living in Park Place near Regent Square. She has written for The Daily Collegian, The Chautauquan Daily, Trib Total Media. She loves music, vinyl records, coffee, running, and volunteerism.