When Francisco Cortes read that one in two black gay men and a quarter of Latino gay men would be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime, he was struck.
“For me that was such a staggering statistic,” he said of the 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cortes is the Youth Programs Manager at GALAEI, a queer Latino social justice and health nonprofit based in North Philadelphia that focuses on HIV prevention.
“The national rate of HIV infection has significantly dropped,” Cortes added. “But then you have smaller demographics that are ridiculously getting affected by this.”
According CDC data published in 2017, there were about 37,600 new HIV cases nationwide in 2014, a 3.6 percent decrease when comparing the period between 2008-2014.
To help combat increased rates of HIV diagnoses in people of color, Cortes has organized Project Y.E.A.H. — Youth Education and Art Advocacy on HIV — a 12-week program for black and Latino queer or trans-identifying teens focused on HIV prevention. About 10 teens ages 16 to 18 will meet weekly to participate in HIV education and art workshops. The program launched yesterday.
“We know that statistically speaking these are one of the demographics that are most hit, most impacted by HIV and also those that receive less services,” Cortes said. “Inner cities that have poor or no sexual education are predominantly black and Latino schools, at least here in Philadelphia.”
The first three weeks will focus on HIV education based on GALAEI’s gender and sexuality curriculum, which they teach in city high schools. The rest of Project Y.E.A.H. will consist of art education workshops led by Erika Guadalupe Núñez, a Philadelphia-based queer and Mexican artist.
The teens will work with wheat paste, screen printing and photography. The program will culminate in an art show featuring artworks the participants made to combat a specific HIV stereotype.
Cortes said art can be impactful in youth programming.
“A lot of the young people that we work with actually utilize art in other aspects of their life, whether it’s self-care, their mental health,” he said, “so it just seemed like a good fit.”
According to HRC’s website, one of the goals of the fellowship is to “develop fellows as thought leaders on issues related to HIV & AIDS.”
HIV prevention is one of GALAEI’s five main programming areas.
“We definitely do a more educated background like, ‘What does it mean to get diagnosed? What does it mean to get test?” said Jorian Veintidos, an HIV tester at GALAEI.
Veintidos administers HIV and STI testing at multiple sites. He himself is HIV positive and uses his story to help others.
“It’s just about normalizing HIV,” he said, “and understanding HIV is on the same level as being a diabetic.”
“Knowing my status is a way I change how people think about HIV,” Veintidos added. “So it’s really just changing that dynamic…you know, that it’s not the scariest thing in the world.”
GALAEI tests at their center at 149 West Susquehanna Ave. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Testing is also held Tuesdays at the Washington West Project at 12th and Locust streets from 1 to 6 p.m. On the third weekend of every month, GALAEI tests from noon to 4 p.m. at Philly AIDS Thrift on South 5th Street.