October 28, 2013
Latinos and Latinas bear a disproportionate burden of HIV, accounting for 20% of new HIV infections while representing only 16% of the total United States population. It's a statistic that National Latino AIDS Awareness Day aims to change -- and one that Jorge Zepeda works to reverse every day of the year.
"We celebrate Latino diversity," says Jorge. "Everybody is welcome." As the manager of Latino Programs at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Jorge coordinates Spanish-language services and weekly educational and support groups for HIV-positive and HIV-negative monolingual Latinos and Latinas and their families -- folks who face huge barriers to health and wellness, he notes.
Jorge recently partnered with San Francisco State University's Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality and the Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas to produce Nuestras Mil Caras: Latino Sexual Rebellions, a beautifully illustrated collection of stories from Latino men exploring issues around disclosure of their sexual identity -- to themselves and to their families.
"We wanted to offer tools for men to develop their insight about how to relate to other men in a healthy way, using cultural structures that they already know," Jorge says of the collaborative project. And as with other facets of Latino Programs, diversity was key: "One of the core elements was to celebrate sexual diversity among Latino men. We took shame and stigma out of the picture by celebrating Latino men as they are."
Jorge has seen participants make amazing changes in their lives, and he credits Latino Programs' core values of diversity and equality for keeping people coming back. "At the beginning of every group, we start with these words: 'We celebrate diversity, and everybody is welcome as equals. Everybody's voice has the same value.'"
To learn more about Latino Programs at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, visit them online or call (415) 487-8000.