South Dakota Department of Health Rejects Grant Proposals From Two Agencies Seeking Funds for Gay-Targeted HIV Prevention
The South Dakota Department of Health in November rejected requests for HIV/AIDS education and prevention funding from two organizations targeting homosexuals, leaving $100,000 allocated for HIV/AIDS education unspent, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports. The Sioux Empire Red Cross asked for $21,296 to "promote, coordinate and facilitate two Men Who Have Sex With Men Risk-Reduction Seminars," and The Center, a gay and lesbian counseling service, requested $97,146 to expand and implement an HIV/AIDS peer education system. Bob Mercer, a spokesperson for Gov. Bill Janklow (R), said that the Red Cross' request was denied because the program closely resembled a San Francisco program under investigation by HHS that allegedly fails to meet federal obscenity standards. "The Red Cross' proposal was similar, and there were questions whether it was an effective use of CDC money. The DOH decided not to go forward with it because of that review," Mercer explained, adding that he did not know why The Center's request was denied. However, Kathy Knobloch, The Center's co-director, said her program was "singled out because we work with gay men," adding, "We lost because we used the word 'gay' in our proposal, rather than 'youth at risk,' or some other such generic wording." Barb Himmel-Roberts, president of the Sioux Empire Gay & Lesbian Coalition -- which was also denied a DOH grant although the grant was not HIV/AIDS specific -- said, "The state is just showing its true colors. We need to get the word out about AIDS, as it's not in the news as much as it once was," adding that the "population that is seeing the biggest increase for the disease is young people." Mercer denied that the DOH grant-making panel, composed of department employees and others who work in the public health arena, was biased. "There is not any gay stigma. This was a peer review by those who are active in the HIV prevention field. It didn't even get to the governor. What the DOH looks at is whether proposals are effective and meet the criteria and goals," he said, adding that the state does not have a "social or political agenda" with regard to the funding.
Funding Goes to Minority-Focused Groups
The DOH did allocate about $150,000 in federal HIV/AIDS education and prevention funds this year, largely to groups focused on minority outreach. United Migrant Opportunity Services received $30,000 to conduct "outreach and risk reduction activities" in the state's black and Hispanic communities, while Native Hope, a drug treatment facility in Sisseton, received $20,000 to "provide a[n] HIV prevention and risk-reduction program for youth at risk in treatment." Native Hope's Executive Director Dorothy Rice-McCurdy said that the funds will be used to conduct voluntary HIV testing and to purchase a new computer (Williams, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 1/19). Twenty-two new cases of HIV were reported last year in South Dakota, as figures remained steady from the previous year. The state has the second lowest AIDS rate in the country, with just 1.1 of every 100,000 residents diagnosed with AIDS (Dobbs, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 1/19).