You might have seen them pass out brochures at venues like Club Papi and Pan Dulce (Thursday night at the Café in the Castro District), or coach patrons on safe sex practices during San Francisco Pride. Wherever gay and bisexual Latinos gather, Aguilas (Eagles) will make a cameo and spread their message of safe sex through their self-empowerment counseling model.
Since its inception in 1991, Aguilas has impacted the life of over one thousand members, and given Latino men alternate hang-outs to bars and nightclubs. Originally, most of the events were BBQs or camping trips. However, as the AIDS epidemic spread in San Francisco, Aguilas saw a need for services outside the social umbrella.
El Ambiente is Aguilas’ HIV prevention service, which offers individual and couples counseling to both HIV positive and negative men in English and Spanish. Volunteer Coordinator Eric Arguello says, “We’ve all heard that condoms are a must in our day in age, but the numbers of infected Latinos are alarming.” In his fifteen year of involvement with the agency, Eric noticed that the practice of unsafe sex in many cases is a sign of low self-esteem. “Our self-empowerment model is key in helping our members overcome feelings of doubt and inferiority,” states Eric.
The quaint and welcoming Aguilas office at 1800 Market Street also houses their Skill Building workshops, which include dance classes, career development, technology training, and even mask making. Most of their workshops are produced by their volunteers and sometimes exceed thirty members in attendance.
Although the agency’s earlier members were mainly second, or later generation Latinos, the increase of Spanish speaking immigrants created a demand for bilingual services. Eric says, “The English and Spanish groups have different concerns, but at Aguilas, they can learn how much they share in common.”
For donations or to get involved, visit www.sfaguilas.org.
Who is Belo Cipriani?
Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams, a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the career expert for the Ed Baxter Show on Talk Radio San Francisco 910AM. You are invited to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.
Logo from SFAguilas.org