Whether it's through his involvement in the leather community (he was Mr. LA Leather Bear 2017), his activism with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (a grassroots, sex-positive nuns-in-drag protest organization), or his day job (as a PrEP navigator), Daniel Soto is making a difference in his community. As California's Mr. LA Leather Bear, Soto had to pick a social cause to promote, much like Miss America does.
"I just stepped down, but my title year was pretty much advocating for PrEP use within a community that is hyper-sexual, that is a little bit more free to express their sexuality," says Soto. "And how that can better service them and the activities that they do outside of just their regular sex lives."
Though the 28-year-old Guatemalan-born activist and educator came to this country at the tender age of 5, he is very connected to his roots and culture. Soto's family would visit their hometown of Jutiapa every summer, so he would "not lose my culture or... the ability to speak Spanish. My parents were very adamant about me continuing to speak Spanish."
Today, he says this is especially helpful for the young people he serves in the East L.A. area, since many of his clients are monolingual Spanish-speakers, generally uninsured or under insured, and sometimes immigrants without legal paperwork.
"Yeah, this is my passion.... I've always been passionate about the LGBT community and specifically that of LGBT youth," he explains. "When PrEP came out, I thought this was a great opportunity for our community -- and not just the LGBT community, but just anybody. There's a handful of my participants that are just cisgender straight women that are on PrEP and I've been able to help them navigate that through their lives... It's been a growing process for me to kind of expand my knowledge with not just men but women as well."
So, what exactly does a PrEP navigator do? Soto explains that a PrEP navigator is someone who helps you navigate through the process of accessing, paying for, and perhaps more importantly, maintaining PrEP care.
"I know a few individuals that have [gotten on] PrEP and have been a little bit lost after they received it, and so a PrEP navigator is kind of there to make sure that we help you with the continuation of PrEP."
Soto says he does so by helping clients at Wesley Health Centers keep follow-up appointments, complete labs, and by just being available for their questions and concerns from a place of love, acceptance, and non-judgmental support.
At their East Hollywood clinic location, Soto says, "we do a little bit of everything." In addition to the medical clinic, they have a men's wellness center, which is open in the evenings "because we found out a lot of individuals work 8 to 5 and so it's a little hard for them to come during regular business hours."
And if that wasn't enough to keep this tireless young activist busy, Soto (in partnership with L.A.-based youth shelter, Covenant House) runs a separate program for sexual health and substance abuse education, focusing on helping young queer men of color. He'll also be riding his bicycle the 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles this summer as part of the annual AIDS/LifeCycle event to raise more money for HIV causes.
Becoming the youngest fully professed Sister of Perpetual Indulgence when he was 24, Soto has been working in HIV Prevention for four years now. The older brother to two young men, who are also gay. Soto admits his coming out to his parents first paved the way for them to simply be accepted for who they are.
But Soto's work took a deeply personal turn when he found out one of his younger brothers was HIV-positive. He admits that "it really solidified [this issue] for me because when my brother seroconverted, that was a really huge blow to me."
Soon, "it just kind of became more of my driving force in life to end this epidemic. Anything I can do to stop this, I'll try to make an effort--to at least make a dent in it."