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This HIV Ally is Spicing Up Sexual Health

This HIV Ally is Spicing Up Sexual Health

<p>This HIV Ally is Spicing Up Sexual Health</p>
photo by RVJ Studios

photo by RVJ Studios

Pedro Coronado isn't afraid to add a little kink into conversations around sexual health.

[Haga clic aquí para leer este artículo en español]

It was actually the experience of getting tested for HIV over two decades ago that first led Pedro Coronado to his career in community health work.

“Well actually, it really all started when I went to go get an HIV test. I think I was 19 years old, after a breakup,” Coronado recalls. “A friend of mine referred me [to a local clinic] and he’s like, ‘Oh, there’s a place in downtown Brownsville, you can get tested there and you can get condoms.’ But when I went to go get tested, they had a sign that they were hiring for a youth advocate, to work with youth and try to get them to get tested and all of that good stuff.”

“So I got tested — and this was 20 years ago, when they had to draw your blood, send it out…you had to wait two weeks,” he says. “When I came back two weeks later, they were still hiring. I got my results; it came up that I didn’t have HIV. And then I said, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool what you all do. Are you all still hiring for that position?’ I applied again and I kept bugging them for three months until they hired me. I was persistent.”

Pedro Coronado speaks at the 2023 National Latinx Conference on HIV, HCV, & SUD in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ironically, Coronado says that the first person he ever gave positive HIV test results to was the same friend that he went to get tested with previously at the clinic. He says this personal connection only fueled his passion further for working in HIV prevention and care.

“Weeks later he ended up at the hospital diagnosed with AIDS, that was stage 3 HIV, and then I think that’s what really…just at that moment, I was like, This is where I need to be at,” he recalls. “I need to make sure that my community gets tested, my friends, everybody that I care for. Even those that I don’t care for, they need to get tested anyway, know about their status. And starting within that position, just doing different things in this organization have always…driven me to do more because I’m never going to be done here until we find a cure.”

In the 20 years since his hiring, Coronado has worked his way up at Valley AIDS Council, a health care network that provides HIV prevention, education, and testing as well as medical care and supportive services for people living with HIV. VAC primarily serves the Rio Grande Valley area near to the U.S./Mexico border, located at the southernmost tip of Texas. This is also where Coronado was born and raised.

Coronado (far left) listens to Demetre Daskalakis, the director of the U.S. Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention (center), during a panel discussion at this year's conference in New Orleans.

After his initial position at VAC as a youth outreach worker, Coronado moved on to work with people living with HIV. He created support groups, a peer mentor program, and managed the food pantry program. In 2012 Coronado and a colleague started a Linkage to Care program, which expanded to a Retention to Care program, and eventually added case management and Ryan White eligibility. Today he is the vice president of access and continuity of care and the South Central AETC manager at VAC.

Coronado is also part of a multidisciplinary team that launched the annual National Latinx Conference on HIV, HCV & SUD, which focuses on the best practices for those working in health care within the Latinx community. He currently serves as the conference’s director and says he and his fellow organizers have really tried to infuse a lot of fun and positivity into the event — because after all, sex and sexual health should go hand in hand, shouldn’t they?

“This time around, for some reason it just felt like we got this jolt of energy from everybody,” Coronado says of 2023’s conference, which took place in May in New Orleans. “So we did quite a few different things this time around, also being in New Orleans. We did a parade down Jackson Square all the way to Bourbon Street…. We incorporated a lot more art, [gave it] an artsy feel. We did an ‘Unplugged’ session, like MTV Unplugged, with one of our hep C providers in one of the general sessions. We literally had a band that would play music, and it was music relating to harm reduction, and then the clinician would jump in and talk about how they would relate that to hep C work. It was really, really interesting.”

Some participants having fun during La Marcha del Amor (the March of Love), which was part of this year's conference in New Orleans.

Coronado says they continued to use unconventional, outside-the-box tactics throughout the conference, which proved to be a bit hit with attendees.

“We closed it off with a kink and fetish talk at the very end,” he says. “We talk about Latinx communities [and] that kink and fetish are not just for white people or heterosexual people. We wanted to make sure that anybody who serves Latino communities, that they also understand that. Hey, we also live in this world of kink and fetish, and it should be celebrated. And we need to understand so we can better serve our communities.”

Coronado’s own adventuring into the fetish world has helped him see the unique opportunity this connection provides. It certainly is a fun and fresh way to start conversations around sex, health, and HIV rather than overwhelming, or worse yet, boring people with the often colder, clinical approach many similar conferences have utilized in years past.

“I’ve been trying to connect a lot of what I do in my own personal life with the work that I do, because this is it, right?” he says. “My life is everything about what I do here at work. So recently, I’ve been involved in the leather competitions. I competed for a local title, then I got the title of Mr. RGV [Rio Grande Valley] Leather. My thing with that is to be able to promote sexual health awareness and normalize that, hey, people have their kinks and fetishes and whatever, and we want to make sure people feel comfortable talking about it and talking to their health care provider about it. So in a lot of the messaging of any events that I’m at, it’s always like, ‘Hey, if you’re not on PrEP, get on PrEP, and I can get you connected.’ Or, ‘Hey, if you’re a person with HIV, remember U=U [undetectable equals untransmittable].’”

Organizers and participants of the 2023 National Conference on HIV, HCV, & SUD take a quick moment to pose for a pic.

Coronado also explains why the conference specifically combines the issues of HIV, HCV (hepatitis C virus), and SUD (substance use disorder).

“The first thing that came to mind when we put this conference together is addressing three chronic conditions — and one of them has a cure, hep C — but these conditions, for the most part, all carry stigma,” he says. “So the whole goal of the conference has always been to be able to provide any health care provider with additional tools or knowledge on how to better serve the Latinx community…. One size does not fit all, even for our community, having so many different Latin American countries and people that represent those countries here in the U.S.”

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