Several organizations, including Vida/SIDA, an extension of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center that has provided education, resources and testing services to at risk people, participated in one or both of the parades to build awareness of their respective causes.
Attendees from the morning’s parade — on Columbus Drive from Randolph Street to Balbo Avenue — made their way to the launch point at Division and Western of the 34th annual People’s Parade in Humboldt Park. Well-known organizations like Puerto Rican Parade Youth Committee, Roberto Clemente High School and Casa Puertorriquena were on hand to showcase their pride in the accomplishments of their community.
One of the most notable floats was that of Vida/SIDA AIDS Education and Prevention Program. In addition to providing testing, education and resources, the organization has also provided support services to individuals living with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones.
As youth participants from the program marched alongside the float, they passed out safer-sex packets to parade attendees.
“Reaching out to the community is one of our expectations – to be active, participate in safer sex distributions, and build awareness in the community,” Program Director Juan Calderon, said.
“Our queens have fostered engagement,” said Calderon. “That type of community approach to embracing who we are, it just speaks to combatting homophobia and trans-phobia.”
The Puerto Rican community offers a large contingent of support for LGBT people, which is evident in the program offerings at Vida/SIDA. Just this past March, Vida/SIDA opened the doors to Humboldt Park’s first LGBT youth shelter, El Rescate. The wider community has been supportive of their efforts to provide a safe space for LGBT youth. Andre Perez, Mpowerment Coordinator and Sexual Health Educator says that there is a high level of acceptance of queer individuals in Humboldt Park.
“There’s a lot of ways in which we have these allies that seem non-traditional,” said Perez.
Since the inception of the youth homeless shelter, Calderon says that there have been many allies; one woman in particular has taken on the role of mothering the youth, referring new LGBT youth to the program and helping to give them the unconditional love that they need, he added.
“We are the only LGBTQ space that is Latino-specific as a target population in the Midwest, and we definitely hope to count on the continued moral and financial support of the community,” said Calderon.
Recognition gained in its more than 20 years of attendance in the Puerto Rican Pride festivities is only a part of how Vida/SIDA plans to get the message out about the lives of LGBT people, and individuals living with AIDS. They are also currently working on creating a YouTube documentary which will feature some of the ambassadors and other participants in the program. They’re hoping for wide viewership after its release in about a month.