By Angel C. Fabian
Despite a debilitating global pandemic, racial justice protests, and natural disasters, the Fijate Bien program has been busy continuing our activities fighting for the health and rights of Latinx gay and bisexual men in the United States. Between the months of May and August, we engaged Latinx HIV health service providers and local community activists from the Central Valley of California, the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Texas, and throughout Puerto Rico in a virtual version of MPact’s Speaking Out Toolkit entitled “Alzando La Voz.”
First developed nearly a decade ago, MPact’s Speaking Out Toolkit has served as a catalyst to mobilize global coalitions of gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men around issues of HIV, sexual health, and human rights. In 2019, we launched a two-day, in-person pilot in Oakland, California with local service providers and HIV advocates. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s training was implemented through four, two-hour workshops over the course of two weeks.
Over 40 Latinx gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and allies registered for the workshops and a total of 30 people completed the full training. At the end of the training, participants had the opportunity to create an action plan using tools learned from the training to address the structural barriers contributing to HIV prevention, care, and treatment disparities for Latinx gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Fijate Bien also provided one small grant per region to support breakthrough initiatives.
Upon registering for the training, participants were asked to name the biggest challenges impacting Latinx gay and bisexual men and transgender Latinx people in their local communities. The top responses included HIV stigma and discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, hate crimes and alcohol and substance use, especially meth. Other key challenges reported were mental health and behavioral health needs, HIV and STI prevention, homelessness, survival sex, lack of family/community acceptance, lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services, lack of transportation options, and lack of access to basic needs such as food.
The participants were also asked to name the biggest strengths of their communities. The most widely reported strengths were friends and intimate partners, families (born into and/or chosen), community (cultural and/or created), community-based organizations, educational opportunities, creativity/innovation, advocacy, activism, and harm reduction practices/recovery.
Below are some highlights of each region and why Fijate Bien undertook our training and programming in each of them.
Central Valley, California – Also known as the Bible Belt of California, Latinx gay, bisexual, and transgender communities face similar challenges in this region as the rural South. HIV diagnoses doubled in 2017 among youth aged 15-24 years. The Valley has limited access to biomedical prevention services, non-existent planning councils in some counties, and limited clinical sites for the uninsured or underinsured to access HIV specialty care. The Central Valley, birthplace of the Chicanx Movement among farmworkers, is also home to a vibrant community of Latinx gay and bisexual activists and organizers are in dire need of resources to combat HIV/AIDS, homophobia, stigma, and discrimination. Community partners include; The Living Room/WestCare Inc., Fresno Barrios Unidos, Spectrum Center, and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.
U.S.-Mexico Border (McAllen/Brownsville area) – Southern Texas was prominent in the news in 2019 when Donald Trump visited the region to highlight his Administration’s ongoing and vicious attack against immigrant communities on both sides of the border. The region has faced major flooding this year due to Hurricane Hanna. Southern Texas is also home to a vibrant community of Latinx gay, bisexual, and transgender activists and organizers who are reshaping the national discourse on border cities and home-grown interventions such as Drag Out HIV! Advocacy efforts to address HIV-related stigma, meth and other substance use, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 infections and associated deaths, and ensuring that adequate financial resources reach the Rio Grande Valley were some of the needs that community partners expressed. Community partners include Poderosos, Valley AIDS Council, and Maverick County Hospital District.
Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico has been ravaged for decades by the U.S. colonial presence that has decimated its economy, hate crimes against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, and debilitating natural disasters. Nevertheless, Puerto Rico’s Latinx gay, bisexual, and transgender activists and organizers continue to courageously turn their voices into action. Although new HIV infections initially had a disproportionate impact on the injection drug using communities, new HIV infections now pose rising challenges for gay, bisexual, and other MSM and transgender individuals.Community partners include Coai, Directorio de Servicios LGBTQ de Puerto Rico, and Cero VIH Puerto Rico/AIDS United.
MPact and the Fijate Bien program will continue to highlight the breakthrough initiatives implemented locally in these three regions in a second blog in the future. We would like to thank all the organizations that partnered with us to bring these trainings to fruition and to continue to ALZANDO LA VOZ!
HIV Skyrockets Among Young Adults in Fresno. Plus. 2018. https://www.hivplusmag.com/treatment/2018/6/26/hiv-skyrockets-among-young-adults-fresno
The HIV Crisis on the Texas-Mexico Border. Plus. 2018. https://www.hivplusmag.com/stigma/2018/6/28/watch-hiv-crisis-border-texas-mexico
Factors Contributing to the Debt Crisis and Potential Federal Action to Address Them. U.S. Government Accountability Office. 2018. https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/691675.pdf
Puerto Rico Integrated HIV Surveillance, Prevention and Care Plan 2017-2021. 2016. http://www.salud.gov.pr/Dept-de-Salud/Documents/PUERTO%20RICO%20HIV%20INTEGRATED%20PLAN%202017%202021.pdf