The rate of HIV infection among young Latinos is a serious problem, but raising this population's awareness about the disease doesn't have to be dull and downbeat.
'Our mode of outreach has to be very fun and engaging,' says Dianna Manjarrez, program coordinator for Generation L, a HIV awareness and prevention campaign run by the Vida/SIDA project of Chicago's Puerto Rican Cultural Center.
Launched last December with a five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Generation L seeks to spread the safer-sex message with events held at nightclubs, in conjunction with drag pageants at colleges and universities, and in other fun venues throughout the city. Its primary target is gay, bisexual, and transgender Latinos aged 18 to 24.
'There's a need for a program' for these youths, says Manjarrez, and the numbers back her up: Figures from the CDC indicate that the rate of new HIV infections among Latinos is 2.5 times the rate among whites. Men who have sex with men represent the majority of the new diagnoses among Latinos, and within the population of Latino MSM, the largest number of diagnoses is among those under 30.
Some observers attribute HIV's disproportionate impact on Latinos partly to this population's discomfort in discussing sex and sexuality. Generation L aims to make such conversations more comfortable with its distribution of safer-sex information at recreational events as well as business-and-pleasure mixers like the Loud & Proud event held during Pride season, which offered speakers and workshops on how to avoid HIV, along with free food and raffles for iPods.
Generation L also invites interested youths to attend periodic meetings where safer-sex issues are discussed, has a drop-in space available throughout the week, and encourages participants to do informal outreach to friends and family members to help them make healthy decisions. So far, Manjarrez estimates, the various components of the program have reached 300 people'and that's just the beginning.