The moniker “City of Angels” certainly rings true for employees of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). A global nonprofit organization and the largest medical care provider in the world, the AHF reaches over 1.4 million people in forty-five different countries.
Caring for the Community
The AHF’s LA office has always prided itself on being a key health and wellness resource for HIV prevention. Still, targeted outreach to the city’s large Hispanic population had long been lacking, in part because the community too often doesn’t speak enough about its members living with HIV. So, when a wellness division catering to the needs of Latinos and their sexual health was implemented, it was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Thirty-three-year-old Laura Morales Garcia, manager of affinity groups at AHF, grew up in Los Angeles and spent her entire life in the Mid-City neighborhood. Today she spends her time between her old neighborhood and Inglewood—two areas where brown and black communities intersect daily and have limited access to information, testing, and medical treatment. As such, she knows the obstacles that communities of color face every day.
“A lot of older people in our community don’t want to even talk about sex or come into our testing van to take a three-minute HIV test,” Morales Garcia says. “You have to speak to them in their language.” That might mean stressing the importance of their own well-being via the one thing they care about the most: their family’s well-being. “I want to help people in those communities who need it most,” she emphasizes.
For the AHF manager, the work she does is intensely personal, as she grew up in both brown and Black households. When she was fifteen years old, she told her abusive father that if he couldn’t control his temper, she would leave. She spent the next few years living with her African American godparents, eventually escaping that household to avoid the prevalence of drug addiction.
Morales Garcia spent her twenties jumping from job to job, networking her way around town as many Angelenos do. However, she always knew a more meaningful opportunity would come her way. And, indeed, after she accepted a temp job as a receptionist at AHF headquarters, Morales Garcia immediately took a liking to two key aspects of the environment: the people working around her and the fact that this organization is dedicated to helping others.
It’s no wonder that she has found the sense of purpose she was looking for at AHF. That purpose has continued to motivate her in the two years she has served the organization as manager of affinity groups. Today, she oversees the Foundation’s FLUX, Spark, and BLACC (Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition) affinity groups as well as LOUD, AHF’s Latino division.
Say It Loud
The big brother of all of affinity groups at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is Impulse. Now a global division, Impulse was created by Jose Ramos and is arguably the catalyst that helped break new ground for AHF by reaching community members on the ground via event activations.
Edwin Millan, director of sales outreach and community integration at AHF, had been working as both an AHF employee and a supporter of Impulse when he noticed that though Impulse was thriving and making a difference by providing an outlet for young men in the LGBTQ+ community, there was still something missing.
“I went to [AHF President] Michael [Weinstein], who I had built a solid working relationship with, to propose the idea of a Latino division, and he agreed that I should build one for AHF,” explains Millan.
Millan did just that. The division was named LOUD (Latino Outreach and Understanding Division), and Millan subsequently watched it grow in such extreme popularity that branches have now been established across the US. Millan also began integrating the transgender community into LOUD initiatives, spurring the next logical step for the organization: to build its transgender division, FLUX. That division is currently led by transgender royalty, Queen Victoria Ortega. Millan handpicked Ortega to lead FLUX, which reaches trans women and men as well as gender nonbinary individuals of all backgrounds.
“The lack of services for the Latino community in the US and beyond is what has always motivated me,” says Millan, who serves as national president for LOUD in addition to his role as sales outreach and community integration director. In recent years, while HIV cases have decreased overall in the nation, many Latino communities have seen a rise in case numbers. On top of that, undocumented individuals living in the United States are often afraid to seek medical advice or attention.
It is these struggles, which Millan and others witness every day, that motivate them to continue expanding LOUD throughout the country.
Nearly all of AHF’s affinity groups, including FLUX, operate solely based on the efforts of the organization’s many volunteers. Morales Garcia is actually one of the only paid employees for the Foundation, and she depends on volunteers like Millan, who pulls double duty in leadership positions with both AHF and LOUD.
Los Angeles is most certainly a City of Angels. Look no further than Morales Garcia and Millan for proof—they earn their wings every single day.
Campaigning for Care, Campaigning for Justice
On top of the work done every day by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to provide care and services for people in the US and around the world, the organization and its affinity groups have also launched several campaigns designed to support and advocate for communities in need.
These include the Foundation’s #StandAgainstHate campaign, a BlackTransLivesMatter & Immigration Support campaign led by FLUX, a DACA and Immigration support campaign spearheaded by LOUD, a Connections through Conversations for All Women’s Wellness campaign led by Spark, and a Black & Brown Unity Campaign run by the FLUX, LOUD, Impulse, and Spark affinity groups.