Chicago Prevention Campaign Targets High-Risk Latinos

By: Joe Thompson

Generation L, a HIV awareness and prevention campaign run by the Vida/SIDA project of Chicago’s Puerto Rican Cultural Center, is making a bold move in reaching out to the young Latino population—a group where the HIV infection rate is a serious problem. Their approach?

A recent HIV-Plus article from author Trudy Ring explains that Generation L is trying to raise this population’s awareness about the disease in a way that is neither dull nor downbeat. “Our mode of outreach has to be very fun and engaging,” says Dianna Manjarrez, Generation L's program coordinator. So using a five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Generation L is spreading the safer-sex message at nightclub events, in conjunction with drag pageants at colleges and universities, and at other social venues throughout the city. The images and messages don't sanitize or shy away from the idea that sex is part of the story; rather, they acknowledge that it may happen and encourage participants to act in a thoughtful, caring manner.

The primary target for this campaign is gay, bisexual, and transgender Latinos aged 18 to 24. 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 these recreational events, as well as at 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.

Read more HIV / AIDs news on HIV-Plus.