How Cycling Helped One Young, Gay Latino Man Own His Sexual Health

Luis Legaspi on the AIDS/LifeCycle ride 2016
Luis Legaspi

Luis Legaspi, age 26, first found out about AIDS/LifeCycle, one of the world's larger annual HIV fundraisers, through a best friend who lives in San Diego. When he found out, he signed up on an impulse and shortly after began to ponder why he was participating in this particular cycling fundraiser.

"At first it was about the excitement about the long distance, and then I began to think that I didn't really know anyone who was HIV-positive or who had died from AIDS, so I began to think about it in terms of my life and what it meant to me," he said.

"I personally didn't understand how to become infected [with HIV], and it affected how I interacted with men," said the young Mexican-American man. "Through my AIDS/LIfeCycle team, I started meeting more people and learned how more people were affected by HIV, and it made me realize that I was affected."

The majority of his teammates were older than Luis, and he spent time getting to know them and hearing their stories.

"For me, participating in this ride has let me take ownership of my sexual health, and I even went to the doctor to learn about and eventually get on PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis]," he notes.

Luis' mom and brother went with him to the doctor when he decided to to look into PrEP, and he took that opportunity to talk to his family about his sexual health and the decision he was planning to make.

"I remember my brother mentioned that I only wanted to be on PrEP so that I could be promiscuous, but I quickly corrected him and let him know that it didn't matter why I was getting on it, and I remember my mom looking at me and saying, 'Mijo, you know what's best for your body.'"

Luis Legaspi and his mom
Luis Legaspi and his mom
Luis Legaspi

Luis' story is not typical, because we don't normally hear about supportive family members when it comes to sexuality and especially sexual health, but he was thrilled to let people know that not all Latino families are the same.

"It was great to see how supportive my family was regarding my coming out and later about me wanting to be on PrEP," he said. "I think it's cultural, and I also think that Latino culture is portrayed as more reserved and conservative, but first and foremost, it's actually more loving and caring, ... and I think my experience is perfect example of that," he expressed proudly.

Luis admitted that his mom being sex positive was unusual. "It's more [open] with gay men due to the hypermasculinity that occurs within the [Latino] culture, and I think people aren't talking about it or getting tested," he said. "It's this invisible idea: If it's not happening to me, let's not talk about it, and if it does happen within the family, it's quickly hidden away and silenced."

Luis has already signed up for the ride next year.

"It's not easy to engage your community and friends while fundraising," he said, "but one of the things I am reminded about is that I get to live the life I do because so many people before me fought so I can live this unfiltered, authentic, raw life that I live, so for that reason, I have to ride the ride."

Each year, thousands of cyclists ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles as part of the AIDS/LifeCycle. This year, participants ranged in from ages 18 to 83 and came from nearly every U.S. state and 17 countries. AIDS/LifeCycle 2016 departed from San Francisco on June 5th, the exact date of the world's first reported HIV case 35 years ago, at that time referred to as a "gay cancer" affecting a small group of gay men in Los Angeles. This year, 2,386 cyclists and 605 roadies hit the road to trek the 545-mile, seven-day journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Participants raised more than $16 million to support the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the HIV/AIDS-related services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.