By Lily Bohlke - Public News service

Organizers of a summit about sexual health will provide a safe space on Friday for young Michiganders to have open, honest and affirming conversations about HIV prevention and care.

More than 15,000 Michigan residents live with HIV, and the stigma associated with it often keeps people from getting tested and knowing their status.

Natasha Thomas, Genesee County program coordinator for the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health, said it's important that young people are able to talk about HIV and sexual health.

"HIV is something that we should be aware of, it's something that we should be educated about, but it's not necessarily something that we should fear," she said. "It's not something that we should stigmatize."

She said the "HIV and You(th) Summit" is geared toward folks ages 13 to 24 and adults who work with youths. It will feature workshops on knowing your own medical rights, what it means to live with HIV, medications for prevention and care - such sa PrEP and PEP - and laws and history surrounding HIV and the LGBTQ community.

Thomas added that it's also important that conversations about prevention and care debunk myths about HIV and how it is transmitted. She said there are few spaces where young people can go to get up-to-date, medically accurate information about sexual health.

"A lot of young people then turn to their peers, or they turn to the internet," she said, "where they then have to kind of weed through all of this information - some of it accurate, some of it not."

Thomas said she hopes attendees will leave the summit with resources and services they can look to, on an ongoing basis. Health experts urge people who are sexually active to learn their HIV status through regular testing at a clinic, hospital or community health center.

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