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Dallas Organizations React to High HIV Rates Among Minority Gay Men

By Kurt Hubler, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Dallas, TX – (Ambient sound of dance music)

Kurt Hubler, KERA 90.1 Reporter: For the past three years, the Resource Center of Dallas has been coming to gay nightclubs like this one north of downtown. They offer free counseling and testing and try to educate young gay men about HIV. But according to the CDC study, one in five gay Latino men in Dallas between the ages of 23 and 29 have the virus. It also says a third of all young gay African American men in the city also have been infected. Jesus Geliga is the group?s HIV Prevention and Education Manager.

Jesus Geliga, HIV Prevention and Education Manager, Resource Center of Dallas: It?s a little alarming to see that the behaviors continue and that people continue to become HIV positive. However, what is positive about this is that we are making sure that everybody who needs to hear the message gets it.

Hubler: Geliga?s co-worker, Frankie Cortez, explains how difficult it is to communicate that message after talking with a 26-year old Latino man.

Frankie Cortez, Latino Programs Coordinator, Dallas Resource Center: He doesn?t perceive that he is a risk. He does not know the status of his partner, and he does have other partners also. And usually he does engage in unprotected sex. Probably his friends don?t use condoms also, so they don?t have the support with each other or that communication as far as them using condoms or practicing safer sex.

Hubler: Similar attitudes were found in a focus group the Resource Center recently conducted. There, young gay men identified diseases like Alzheimer?s or cancer as greater health risks than AIDS. Cortez and Geliga say this new generation being exposed to the epidemic is prone to the belief the disease limited to older gay white men; or that it?s less dangerous with the advent of new drugs that slow the virus? progress in the body. Strong family values within the Latino community also keep many young men from admitting their homosexuality. Don Sneed, the Executive Director for Renaissance III, an AIDS relief organization serving gay black men, says these beliefs are also found among African Americans. The result, he says, is a lack of unity in fighting the disease.

Don Sneed, Executive Director, Renaissance III: White gay men took to the battlefield and took the charge against HIV and AIDS. Had we mounted a similar response to the epidemic as the white gay community mounted to the epidemic, I do not believe we would have the problems we are having now.

Hubler: Renaissance III has begun airing a locally produced program called ?Blacks and AIDS: A State of Emergency? on public access cable. Sneed says it provides a private education for those reluctant to visit a clinic or even buy condoms. The group is also working on campaigns aimed directly at reaching African American men. This tailored approach is how AIDS awareness groups used to get out their messages of prevention. It?s a tactic Rodney Holcomb, the Executive Director of service provider AIDS Arms, says more groups may have to revisit in order to bring infection rates down.

Rodney Holcomb, Executive Director, AIDS Arms, Inc.: In the ?90s we went to a more generic message of not targeting individual groups, but targeting large segments of the population. And there?s discussion now that those messages may in fact not be as effective, and that an effective strategy may be going back to target specific populations.

Hubler: Holcomb says some progress has been made in convincing groups, particularly African American churches, to rally behind AIDS prevention campaigns. But he predicts more people will have to become infected before the wider minority community treats the epidemic as a serious threat to all. Tonight?s town hall meeting at the Resource Center of Dallas will give the general public a chance to hear how local groups might try to get that message out in the wake of the CDC?s study. For KERA 90.1, I?m Kurt Hubler.