New Life

It may be the thought that counts, but only donations will keep the Colorado AIDS Project out of trouble.

Recent numbers showed something else as well.

Between 1982 and 1990, black people accounted for only 8 percent of those presumed to have been infected with AIDS in Colorado; of the HIV cases tracked by the CDPHE between 1995 and 2000, black people accounted for 17 percent. In the Latino population, the number has also increased -- from 10 percent between 1982 and 1990 to 19 percent between 1995 and 2000. The number of women living with the disease has likewise increased; in 1999, women accounted for 9 percent of Colorado HIV and AIDS cases, up from 6 percent in 1990 and 3 percent in 1985.

Not only are the demographics changing, but so is the number of infected people with more than just health problems. In 1997, 44 percent of CAP's new clients were homeless or had chronic mental illnesses or drug or alcohol addictions; so far this year, CAP reports that 69 percent of new clients are suffering from those problems. But while AIDS organizations in the rest of the country have been experiencing similar trends, both in the rise of black and Latino clients and in the number of clients with needs ranging beyond HIV, Denver is behind other major cities.

Lorenzo Ramirez is program supervisor at Servicios de la Raza, a Latino services agency.
John Johnston
Lorenzo Ramirez is program supervisor at Servicios de la Raza, a Latino services agency.

"Denver tends to be three to five years out on the curve in changes in the epidemic, and it has been for the last twenty years," says Terence Shea, president of CAP's board of directors. "As these issues come up in Atlanta and Los Angeles and Miami but don't show up here, we get a false sense of security that Denver isn't going to follow the trend -- and then five years later, we follow the trend. That hinders our ability to get the message out."

Those changes, combined with the fact that people who have the disease are now living longer, has put a huge financial strain on CAP, which has had to transition from being an agency focused on helping people live out the remainder of their lives in comfort and die with dignity to one focused on helping people become self-sufficient so that they can live not only with HIV or AIDS, but with all of the other problems they face.

The Turmoil

The organization's emphasis on reaching out to these new populations has caused a lot of strife within CAP -- and within the gay community that helped build the nonprofit.

Two years ago, the organization made a concerted effort to make sure that straight men, young men, women, Latinos and blacks would feel comfortable with its services. As CAP explained in its 1999 annual report, it saw its client base "increasingly diversify in 1999. A growing number of adolescents, women, heterosexuals and people of color became infected. CAP decided it was time for action."

That year, CAP's board of directors appointed a task force to examine the organization; as a result, it was restructured in an effort to be more cost-effective.

It also adopted a new image. The plain, corporate-looking CAP logo and the slogan "The loving touch of a caring community" was replaced with an image of different-colored hands reaching skyward and the motto "Hope Until Victory." The phrase was printed on press packets and CAP literature, and the nonprofit's public-affairs staff began to emphasize a new campaign called "Changing Face of AIDS, Changing Face of CAP."

But some of the gay white staffers at CAP resented the attention being paid to other populations. Gay men, after all, still constituted the largest population of people infected with HIV and AIDS both in Colorado and in the rest of the nation. Men who have sex with men accounted for 66 percent of the newly diagnosed AIDS cases and 64 percent of the newly diagnosed HIV cases in Colorado last year. The majority of those men are white.

"In their 2000 annual report, they say they strive to 'prevent the spread of infection in every community,'" says Joe Mauro, a grant writer who left CAP in May 1999 to work for another nonprofit. "That's a pretty tall order. If you're following an infectious disease, shouldn't you aim prevention at the majority of the population infected with HIV?"

In a February 22, 2001, interview in Resolute! a newsletter published by the People With AIDS Coalition Colorado, Julian Rush, who was about to step down as CAP's executive director, addressed the problem directly and talked about the tensions CAP's broadening focus had created within the organization.

"I can remember distinctly having staff discussions about things that we needed to tone down in the agency, because it had been a pretty freewheeling gay atmosphere...and it was a realization that we needed to have a place where gay people can still feel at home but not have the straight people feel uncomfortable," he was quoted as saying.

"I think the gay men that we had on staff who had come out early, whose socialization had been primarily with other gay people, really weren't that sensitive to how other people might feel.... But we became aware of needing to tone things down as we got more hemophiliac children who were positive, and that started the discourse among the staff on how to deal with these changes," Rush said.

"I can remember getting into a real argument with one of our case managers, who said, 'I have fought too hard for my gay world to make my office neutral,' to which I replied, 'It's not your office. Your office is a piece of CAP. Your home is your castle, but this is CAP's office that you're using, and you have to act accordingly.' I think there were all shades of response. There were the gay people who wanted to be more sensitive to everybody, and there were also the gay people who were digging their heels in and saying, in a sense, 'This is our epidemic, and we don't want to share it.'"

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