October 29, 2010
The fourth annual Latinos, Faith, Culture, HIV and Mental Health Conference, held on Oct. 25 in downtown Los Angeles, drew 175 participants who discussed topics including drug use and the needs of LGBT youth.
The conference, funded by CDC and other public health agencies and organized by The Wall Las Memorias Project, aimed to tackle social taboos in the faith community. "Quite a few churches in the community are very active on issues of immigration reform, on feeding the homeless or cancer awareness, but AIDS is something they probably don't discuss as much," said Eddie Martinez, associate director of TWLM. "The truth is, sexuality is attached to this and if they talk about sexuality, then they also talk about gay issues, so they'd rather not talk about AIDS at all."
"At the first conference, we were very careful on some of the education that was provided because the Latino faith community can be very conservative, but we've learned there is hunger for knowledge on issues that are normally not discussed at the churches," said Martinez. The goal is not to change church teachings but to put a human face on HIV/AIDS, which then opens up conversations that can lead to change, he said.
Xavier Mejia attended to become a better resource for his clients: HIV/AIDS patients at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "I came to know how to identify the need that people have to be connected to faith and also to understand how faith affects the decision-making process in the HIV world," he said.
"I've been on the side of giving HIV-positive results, so I've seen clients who I've known from the very beginning, and an important thing to do is to link them to care and to follow up and make sure they are connected to a support system," said Mejia.