David Michael Pérez is the director of development at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). The oldest and largest Latino civil rights membership organization, LULAC has expanded their work recently to include HIV education across the United States.
This National Latinx HIV and AIDS Awareness Day, we caught up with David to learn more about LULAC's work in HIV, the impact of HIV on the Latinx community, and his passion for work with the LGBTQ community.
How did you become involved in this work?
As director of development at LULAC, my main job is fundraising, but I manage our strategic partnerships with the LGBT community as well. We've been working on HIV issues since the early 2000s, but more recently, as part of our Latinos Living Healthy initiative, we implemented a five-year plan with the CDC to raise awareness on HIV among the Latinx community through the Partnering and Communicating Together to Act Against AIDS Partnership (PACT).
LULAC is a civil rights organization, not a health organization, but we know how to educate the Latinx community and are a trusted partner. So having a strategic five-year plan to get HIV messages out to our partners, members, and Latinx community as a whole is really exciting.
What is important to share when we think about Latinx HIV & AIDS Awareness Day?
Even though HIV incidence has decreased among some populations, in particular there have been increases in new diagnoses among Latino gay men. So, raising awareness about HIV testing and treatment is critical in our community.
What is really great about National Latinx HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is that is an opportunity to mobilize national and local campaigns to talk about HIV in our community. We have days to talk about bullying in LGBT community, days to talk about Hispanic Heritage Month, and it is equally important to have a day focused on HIV. Also, having a day to organize around helps amplify our message and increase our impact.
A lot of our members will be organizing phone banks, working with their local Spanish language tv station, or doing social media outreach to get the word out for people to start talking about HIV. We are working together to reach the whole Latinx community with messages about HIV. You can access resources to get involved here.
What are some of the challenges faced by the Latinx community regarding access to care, HIV testing, or other services?
Barriers may range from issues with immigration status, language barriers, to stigma around being LGBTQ. We try to address these barriers through our local activities. For example, our Dallas chapter has partnered with their local LGBT center to offer HIV testing in parks where a lot of Latinx families gather. So instead of just going to traditional LGBT neighborhoods or Pride events, we really look at different Latino community events and offer testing there to reach a diverse segment of the city.
In terms of health care, there can be many challenges which vary by state and someone's documentation status. The ACA does not cover undocumented immigrants who still need health care services. A lot of these services can be accessed through local community health centers, but some cities and states give more health services to undocumented people than others. This can create additional barriers to accessing PrEP and HIV testing.
Regarding language barriers in health care, it is important to make sure that providers are culturally competent and bilingual to be able to meet with a person and have a full conversation around their needs. A lot of communities have a promotoras model, where people from the community act as health educators to make sure folks are getting connected to preventive care.
How people are breaking down stigma in the Latinx community?
A lot of communities have stigma against the LGBTQ community. When you look at survey data for the Latino community, there are a lot of Latinos that support LGBTQ individuals, anti-bullying efforts, and marriage equality. But when you look at folks feeling comfortable within their families, there is a lot of fear. This can lead to not getting the care or support they need.
We've partnered with the Familia es Familia campaign, which has a toolkit to help start conversations about being LGBTQ. There's some great resources out there. Marco Castro-Bojorquez has made great documentaries, Tres Gotas de Agua and El Cando del Colibri, about immigrant Latino parents and their experiences of accepting their LGBTQ children. These two pieces are very powerful and great conversation starters to start talking about what it means to be LGBTQ with your family.
You can also find great conversation starters to start talking HIV testing, treatment, PrEP, and more here.
What are some creative ways that you've gotten the word out about HIV in the Latinx community?
We've created some innovative partnerships to help expand our reach, which has been especially fun for me to brainstorm with our young Latinx leaders. For example, we worked with PACT to create a Snapchat geofilter to promote HIV testing during our LULAC National Convention. It's a fun tool to reach a younger demographic.
We've also partnered with Grindr4Equality to take over the Grindr Snapchat for a weekend through their Grindr Natives program. Through this program, advocates from around the world take over Grindr's Snapchat account for a weekend to show people around their city. I got to show people around Washington, D.C. for Día De Los Muertos. I showed them a picture of Sylvia Rivera on the altar -- representing her groundbreaking work as a transgender pioneer in history -- and it was an awesome opportunity to share Act Against AIDS materials and other fun snaps about PrEP and testing to a huge audience.
What keeps you motivated in your work?
I grew up in an evangelical family, and I did not come out as a gay man until my 20s. I felt like there was not a lot of discussion around health resources or access to sex education in the home. I am passionate about sharing with folks the message of accepting our LGBTQ families. I am proud that LULAC has been great about working with our members, external partners, and board of directors to reinforce that we are fighting for all rights including LGBTQ Latinx sisters and brothers.
Sarah Hashmall is communications manager at AIDS United.
[Note from TheBody.com: This article was originally published by AIDS United on Oct. 11, 2017. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]