If you want to make a difference and help others while learning about sexual health and keeping yourself safe, then you need to join SMART Youth! You can come to any of our events around the city or come to one of our movie nights or Open Mic events. Check out our schedule to learn what we are doing or e-mail

Thursday, June 26, 2014

SMART Youth Answers: Will This Neck Tattoo Stop Me from Becoming a CEO?

From eyebrow rings to tongue rings…from a small heart on your wrist to a chest tattoo saying “NO RAGRETS”, people choose to express themselves through different types of body art. So much so that 10% of Americans have tattoos and 14% of Americans have piercings in places other than the earlobe (one-third of those age 25 to 30 have tattoos or some type of atypical piercing). Although even grandmothers are getting tattoos and piercings today, there are still jobs where having and showing them can affect your career prospects. In a survey done recently, 42% of managers stated that a potential employee having an atypical piercing or visible tattoo lowered their opinions of them.  This is important to know because employers have the legal right to not hire you based on your piercings or tattoos.

So, here are a few things to mull over before getting that matching face tattoo with your best friend:

Where you Work: Generally, corporate jobs, face-to-face customer service, retail/sales, government, medicine, education, law still do not accept visible tattoos and piercings in the workplace. Some of the main reasons mentioned by employers include:
  • Employee image – Those with tattoos and piercings are sometimes still linked with rebellion and aggression. An employer is less likely to hire you if you’re associated with those characteristics. That butterfly tattoo behind your ear just screams aggression!
  • Company image – Many of the job fields listed above interact with customers or clients on a regular basis. Some companies don’t want their image to be represented with tattoos and piercings because it may distract or put off those that the company is serving. Some also want to maintain a “professional” environment, and tattoos/piercings are not associated with professionalism – particularly if they include naked women/men, misspelled words, or large facial piercings.
  • Safety – Some jobs like construction and mechanics are more accepting body art, but their main concern is for piercings that dangle or are large enough to risk injury during work. Jobs in these fields usually warn employees to remove those specific types of piercings.
Jobs based in the arts (graphic designers, film, dance, music), construction, and athletics tend to be more accepting of tattoos and piercings. Every job is different, so still check each job’s policy on tattoos and piercings.

Rookie or Veteran: If you've been working at your job for many years, and have proven yourself to be a great employee, getting a tattoo or piercing may not hurt your career prospects compared to if you just started (and given it’s not against dress code). When interviewing for a job, cover or remove your tattoos/piercings. It might be better to cover up, get the job, then get the tattoo/piercing (if it follows the company dress code). Be aware, the top three personal reasons that make an employer less likely to promote you are piercings, bad breath, and visible tattoos.  

I guess oral hygiene is REALLY important, too!
Everyone is Different!: Even in the fields where they’re generally not accepted, certain employers can still be accepting of tattoos/piercings, and vice versa. It can also depend on the type of tattoo or piercing you have. Some jobs allow visible tattoos, as long as they are not offensive. Others allow for smaller facial piercings, like a nose stud instead of a nose ring. For example, Starbucks is seen as a very relaxed and accepting work environment, but they do not allow tattoos to be visible and atypical piercings must be removed during work hours. Walmart allows for tattoos but not facial piercings. Always check work the dress code policy when before or during an interview to find out if your job would allow tattoos and piercings.

Religious/Cultural Tattoos and Piercings: If you have a piercing or tattoo for religious/cultural reasons, a job cannot deny hiring you for those reasons (depending on US or international employee discrimination laws). Ex: If you wear a nose ring because you are Hindu, you cannot be denied a job in the U.S. based on that. In New Zealand, if you are Maori and have a cultural tattoo (called a Moko), you cannot be denied employment based on that. 


Individual Discretion: Think about if your tattoos will distract you or other people while doing your work. Also think about if you will be a visible representation of your workplace. If you’re an elementary school teacher with a face or neck tattoo, this may distract students throughout the day and hinder your work. If you work in the corporate world, but do IT work, having tattoos and piercings may not be a problem. When you get your tattoo/piercing, think about what type of field you’re going into, the types of positions you want, and the people you would be serving.  

Well, what can I do about it??

If you already have tattoos/piercings, you can put makeup over your visible tattoos, or remove your piercings when at work. You can also use piercing retainers (clear or flesh-colored jewelry) if you have a fresh piercing or one that closes up easily.

If you’re unwilling to cover/remove them because you feel that they are an important part of your identity, your goal should be to find a workplace that is appreciative or accepting of body art.

If you don’t have tattoos or piercings, but are thinking about getting them, ask yourself: Can this tattoo or piercing be hidden/removed? Can this tattoo or piercing be done on a part of my body that’s already generally covered? Will my future job/career be okay with my body art? Is this tattoo or piercing worth the risk of being denied employment or promotions?

There is hope though! As more people are getting tattoos and piercings, they are becoming more accepted in the mainstream, which includes the workplace! Maybe in 20 years, tattoos and piercings won’t mean a thing!

  • Piercings and tattoos can be very beautiful ways to express ourselves, but they are also permanent (except for small piercings)!
  • Make sure you are being safe when getting a tattoo or piercing. For more information, read our blog post about tattoo safety.
  • In New York the legal age to get a piercing or tattoo is 18 years or older. If you are younger than 16 years old, you can get a piercing with a parent/guardian’s permission. For tattoos, you MUST be 18 years or older. Body Art parlors that are willing to break the law may not be the safest place to get a tattoo or piercing!  Check out this link for more information on other states. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SMART Youth Discuss HIV Criminalization and Advocacy

This past Friday, SMART Youth followed up on a previous discussion we had about HIV and Criminalization. Adrian Guzman from the Center for HIV Law & Policy returned to help us review what we learned from last time, which included an overview of HIV Criminalization in New York and in the United States. We also discussed some examples on how these laws are unfair, discriminatory, and sometimes not even backed by science.

One of the scary facts we learned is that people living with HIV/AIDS have been charged with a crime regardless of if actual transmission of the virus happened; just the possibility of exposure or transmission without prior disclosure is considered against the law. These laws show that HIV stigma is everywhere, including our laws!

Many laws in the US regarding HIV transmission are based on old, inaccurate, or completely false information. Despite years of scientific research proving that it is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to transmit HIV through saliva, some states in the US have HIV-specific laws that include spitting or biting as a mode of transmitting the HIV virus. Although New York does not have any HIV-specific laws, those living with HIV are still unfairly targeted using laws like Reckless Endangerment or Aggravated Assault.

We were also provided with some resources and tips for next steps in our advocacy efforts. These included information about the Positive Justice Project, which is a collection of organizations and individuals who are fighting to end HIV Criminalization in the US; endorsing the National Consensus Statement on the Criminalization of HIV in the United States (which SMART and SMART Youth have already done!); and links to toolkits/guides on advocacy strategies and how to write to our elected officials about this issue. The links to the toolkits and guides will be provided at the end of this post.

Together we can end HIV Criminalization in the US, and even the world!
Links to toolkits and guides:

Thank you to Adrian from The Center for HIV Law & Policy for discussing this very important topic with us!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

SMART Youth July & August Calendar

We have many awesome activities planned for July and August, including our SAY! Advocacy University!
Check out our calendar below. Hope to see you soon!

SMART Youth and Harlem Dowling Talk Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol

This past Friday, Harlem Dowling joined SMART Youth to talk about Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol. We discussed the different ways that being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can impair our judgment and lead us to make unsafe sexual decisions. When we make decisions while under the influence, it increases our risk for unintended pregnancy, getting HIV and other STIs, or being involved in unsafe situations. We first reviewed the reasons why people turn to drugs and alcohol. We were able to correctly list some of the many pathways to drug/alcohol use, which included depression, peer-pressure, or a need for community. These reasons, plus many more, can lead to addiction.

We then talked about several common drugs and how they can affect our judgment and libido. All of these drugs lowers our inhibitions and impairs our judgment, leading us to do things like:
  • have sex even if we didn't plan/want to
  • not use a condom or other birth control
  •  not put on a condom or use other birth control correctly
  • share needles

Other ways we put ourselves at risk is when we drink to excess. It can cause us to blackout or become unconscious, which could not only lead to unsafe decisions, but also physical harm.

One way avoid making unsafe decisions is by not mixing sex with drugs or alcohol. If you feel that you need to use drugs/alcohol to have sex, you might not be ready to have sex. Sex is best when all parties involved are ready, sober, and making clear choices together.

Thank you to Harlem Dowling for leading this important discussion! 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

SMART Youth Answers: From Stranger Danger to Catfishing - How You Can be Safe When Meeting Someone from the Internet

Ten years ago, you would probably be laughed at or called desperate if you told your family and friends that you met your significant other on the internet. Nowadays (whether it’s from a dating website like OKCupid and Tinder, or from other social media sites like Facebook and Instagram), so many people are meeting each other on-line. This can range from buying a couch from someone to finding the love of your life online. Although this trend is becoming more socially acceptable and common, the cautions and dangers of the internet still exist. Part of the reason is because you never actually know who’s behind the other computer screen. They may not be who they say they are, which can range from just a white lie to actual physical harm and danger. So -- how can you meet someone IRL (In Real Life) that you’ve made a connection with online while staying safe? Here are a few important tips:

Do a little research!
No, you don’t have to do a full background check on the person! But if you have some basic information about the person, do a quick Google search. Check to see if they have a Facebook or a Linkedin account and check the details of their profile. Google Image search their picture and see what comes up. Even simply finding out if the area code for their phone number matches up with what they’ve told you (if they grew up in Boston, but now live in NYC, they would most likely have a Boston or NYC area code) can give you a little reassurance that the person you’re meeting is who they say they are. Also remember that they may be doing a little research on you as well, so be aware of how you represent yourself on social media!

Have a Skype date first!
If you have access to a computer with a webcam, this can be a great first way to meet the person without actually meeting the person. You won’t necessarily be able to tell if they are trustworthy or safe, but at least you’ll know if the person on the webcam matches the person in the pictures! Plus, it keeps you physically safe because you’re meeting virtually and not in person. Just make sure you’re not in a place where they can identify where you live or go to school!

Meet in a well-known open and public space!
When you set up your meeting spot with this person, suggest open and public spaces like parks, restaurants, bars (for those of you that are 21+ and always keep it to moderate drinking! )…anywhere where there are many people and good lighting. Avoid meeting in places that you’re unfamiliar with, like someone’s house or a place in a city or town you’ve never been to. If you don’t follow this tip, then you should especially follow the next tip on this list!

Tell someone where you’re going and what you’re doing!
Letting someone you trust know that you’re meeting up with someone from the internet is very valuable for many reasons. If something bad happens to you (hopefully not!), at least one person knows where you were, what you were doing, and who you were with. Also setting up an emergency/exit plan with a trusted person is a simple way to have your loved ones keep in touch with you. Plus, if you’re having an awkward or bad date, someone checking in on you can be your exit strategy!

Suggest a group date!
Not only is this a great tip to ease your nerves and make the date more relaxed, but it’s also a great strategy to have someone keep tabs on you because they’re right there with you! If you feel like it would be too awkward to have a group date with someone (or you just want a more intimate date), maybe suggest your friends be in the same location with you, but away from you. This way, your date can feel more private, but someone you trust is nearby to keep an eye on you!

Keep it a little mysterious…
Of course we want you to be open and truthful about yourself when making a connection with somebody, but you don’t need to give away TOO much about yourself. Information like your home address, school address, parents’ names, and other personal information should be kept to yourself. Not only could this information in the wrong hands put you in physical danger, it can also affect your identity. Scammers and thieves only need a few pieces of information (like your birthday, mother’s maiden name, or address) to hack into email addresses, bank accounts, and much more…and identity theft is NO joke!

Meeting someone from online can be a fun and positive experience, but it doesn't have to be unsafe. Following these tips can help protect you from possibly dangerous situations!

Although this was mostly focused on online dating, these tips can be used for anybody new you meet from the internet, such as new friends or buying an item from someone on Craigslist!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

SMART Youth and MNN Youth Channel Together to Discuss Disclosure

Last Friday, SMART Youth collaborated with MNN Youth Channel to lead a discussion before their monthly Movie Nite. The theme for both the discussion and the movie was disclosure and the many complexities that come with communicating in our sexual relationships. Disclosure is a topic that can include sexual health status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, but also includes other private aspects of our sex lives. Everyone from SMART Youth and from MNN Youth Channel shared valuable information, asked great questions, and even told personal stories about disclosure in their own lives. We discussed that although it may make us feel scared, nervous, or uncomfortable to share personal information during our most vulnerable moments, it is important to be open and honest about ourselves when involved in intimate relationships.  If we are not ready to talk about sex and our bodies, then maybe we aren't ready to engage in sexual activity!

After our discussion, MNN Youth Channel screened the movie “Gun Hill Road”, a film about a father struggling with changes in his life after being in prison, including his son struggling with gender identity. We saw how the theme of disclosure was present throughout this great film.

Thank you to all who came, and a special thank you to MNN Youth Channel for letting us be a part of your wonderful event!

 Click for more information about MNN Click for more information about MNN Youth Channel

For more information on the legal definitions and obligations for STI disclosure, check out these links below: