Hoping to educate young girls on STDs, HIV and other dangers of sexual activity, Rev. Dwight Gunn and Heritage International Christian Church, 5308 W. North Ave., held a forum for teenage girls last Saturday.

It has been reported that every year some 3 million teens (about 1 in 4) contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The high rate of AIDS among African-American women is greater than other ethnic groups. There are many theories about why this percentage is so much greater in the African-American community-one being that homophobia in the black community causes many men to live on “the down-low,” meaning they have public relationships with women and secret sex with men. Or a lack of male partners, which can contribute to black men having a higher turnover of relationships. It also puts more pressure on women to have unprotected sex.

Educator and counselor Betty Jean Housley used various props that involved teen participation to show how early pregnancy can change a teen mother’s life. Counselor Charlene Bailey held a question-and-answer period after, discussing topics such as “Symptoms of STDs.”

Bailey explained that STDs can cause sores on the skin, pain during urination or flu-like symptoms. One teen asked about cold sores on a person’s mouth. Is this an STD? It was explained that not all symptoms are sexually transmitted. Some can come from normal illness. The point was stressed about not knowing if someone is infected because STDs don’t always show any symptoms. Bailey explained that being educated and asking questions is a first step toward avoiding this disease.

Betty Jean Housley explained how early pregnancy can hinder educational progress. In an audience-participation exercise, one young teen was given a pair of pants, indicating “getting too big for your pants,” a doll, backpack and high heels.

Using this visual demonstration, Housley was able to then explain the serious issues of being a young mother, explaining that teen mothers are less likely to finish school and be single parents. Health issues range from high blood pressure and weight gain to sexually transmitted diseases. Although the young ladies frequently giggled and laughed, Housley was able to reach them and, using props as well as their participation, made the message more significant.

Heritage International Christian Church is located in the Austin community and its pastor, Dwight Gunn, has continually worked in the community to bring about change, especially among young people. Last year in December, for instance, the Parish Nursing Ministry offered free HIV testing.