New Life

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

Thomas Bruner, executive director of the Cascade AIDS Project, which serves Oregon and southwest Washington, understands exactly what Rush was talking about. He has seen similar attitudes among people he knows. "As a gay man myself, what's that about? What's with the investment in owning AIDS? As gay men, we need to quit looking at AIDS service organizations as quasi-gay community centers that we founded for ourselves and begin looking at them as human-services agencies for everyone," he says. "Gay men ought to feel just the opposite. I mean, look at what we did. We stepped into the middle of a scary crisis and created a community-based response. Look at the gift we gave. These organizations are now poised to help others in addition to ourselves."

Maloney was also aware of those attitudes when she assumed her new post in October. She'd been CAP's director of public affairs and marketing for two years prior to that. "I was nervous about that," says Maloney, who spent the first few weeks in her new job meeting with longtime CAP supporters. "I wanted to make sure that the people who supported us all along the way wouldn't feel a disloyalty from us. I wanted to make sure we showed them we were grateful to them." A lot of those feelings have since dissipated, she adds. "I think people realize it's a disease that doesn't discriminate and that we need to reach out to everyone. We are in a place now where we continue to serve the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community while also addressing the new trends in the epidemic."

But CAP's slow reaction to change in the past few years and the perceived attitudes of some of the people involved with the organization have had the effect of driving clients away from CAP and toward newer organizations.

 
Clay Sisk
 
Colorado AIDS Project director Deirdre Maloney has a lot of work ahead of her.
John Johnston
Colorado AIDS Project director Deirdre Maloney has a lot of work ahead of her.

Five years ago, Lorenzo Ramirez, program supervisor at Servicios de la Raza, a 29-year-old agency that provides Latinos with substance-abuse and mental-health treatment as well as senior and youth programs, formed La Gente, a program within Servicios for Latinos who are HIV positive. But Ramirez had to fight for five years to create the program. "Our executive director really struggled with taking [HIV] on because of the social and cultural issues," he says. "It's a taboo issue to talk about. Sex is taboo in the Latino community, and to talk about HIV, you need to talk about sex. As a community, we had to talk about homosexuality, too. I told him, 'If we don't deal with this now, we'll have to talk about it later.' We weren't sure people would even come, but within one year, our caseload went from three to sixty.

"Agencies like CAP weren't handling those cases, because they didn't know how to or because they didn't have the cultural competency to reach out to the Latino community," says Ramirez, who served on CAP's board of directors for six years before leaving in August, when his tenure expired. "What they're trying to do is be the agency for everyone and serve people of all backgrounds. I have heard that cultural competency is not there, but the whole notion of cultural competency is a journey. It's not just a workshop you go to and walk out of. It takes time to become culturally competent. They really have their work cut out for them if they want to be the agency for everyone."

Abel Alvarado, the case manager for La Gente, says Latinos with HIV are often too intimidated to go to CAP, which is located on East Colfax Avenue, because it serves a mostly English-speaking clientele in a predominantly white neighborhood. "They're located in a heavily gay area because that's where the infections first started. As long as services are not in the Latino community, Latinos won't get the services," he says. "Even gay Latinos tend to stay in their own neighborhoods. Why should someone in North Denver travel to Capitol Hill?" (CAP does have a clinic in Five Points, a neighborhood that's 43 percent Latino and 25 percent black, according to 2000 census data.)

The People of Color Consortium Against AIDS is another organization that formed in response to the growing number of Latinos and blacks with HIV. It was created in 1990 to provide AIDS-prevention education in different ethnic communities; four years later it started providing case management in response to the growing demand for services from minorities who felt they weren't getting their needs met at CAP, say people who have been involved in that organization. POCCAA started the first support group for black people living with the disease, as well as the first Spanish-speaking HIV/AIDS support group. La Gente also offers a support group for its clients.

The People With AIDS Coalition Colorado, which formed in 1987, went through its own growing pains as it saw its clientele diversify. The PWA Coalition is a minority-based organization, meaning half of its board is made up of people of color. But it wasn't always that way. "We turned our organization around in the last three years because we saw that minorities and women weren't getting the same results [in terms of HIV prevention] as white men, so we figured they weren't getting the same access to services," says executive director Al McKittrick. "We had to unseat the board and start over, and it wasn't fun, because our board president, who was a wonderful man, was also the donor of $50,000 a year. We had to kiss that goodbye. It was most of our budget then.

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