AHF Affinity Groups
By John M. Hayden
Back in the day, we were known as the gay and lesbian community. Later we became the LGB community. Now the letters are more plentiful, and in 2014, NOW’s national conference adopted a resolution encouraging people to use the acronym LGBTQIA. The letters keep multiplying because, even 50 years after Stonewall, our community is still learning how to define itself. And that’s a wonderful thing, but it can lead to challenges when trying to address common threats to our increasingly diverse community.
That’s never been more clear than in the HIV/AIDS crisis. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has spent decades working to bring education and healthcare access to the millions of patients and their families fighting the disease. There is no one-size-fits-all message because our community has never been homogenous.
That’s why AHF came up with affinity groups, a series of organizations, each as unique as the part of the community they are designed to serve. “Their creation came about as a reaction to the shift in the epidemic,” Imara Canady told me. “AHF and all AIDS service organizations need to give culturally appropriate information to targeted populations.” Imara is the National Director for Communications & Community Engagement for AHF. “Each presents different opportunities. They are not cookie cutter by any means.”
AHF says the organization is organically working in culturally sensitive ways with primary, high-risk populations to create education, awareness, testing, and prevention initiatives and messaging that resonates with the various targeted populations. They created five very specific groups for five very specific populations.
Impulse Group was the progenitor, and focuses on gay men, and Imara says it inspired the rest of the project. “Impulse was first of the groups, and has grown to have tremendous impact across the globe. It started the trend to see how to connect in communities with communities.”
Now there is BLACC, Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition, which reaches into the African-American community. That is a place where too often the stigma of being gay is compounded by the HIV crisis. The group points out Black-American families—and young people in particular—are the highest risk demographic for new HIV cases and AIDS-related deaths in the United States. BLACC focuses on increasing awareness and access to testing and care.
FLUX works with the transgendered community, and its slogan is “Powered by Identity.” Maybe no other segment of our community is as misunderstood and underrepresented than the trans community. From intense discrimination to the additional health and wellness costs, it’s almost like there is a tax of sorts just for being trans. AHF targets emerging issues that directly impact our communities and mobilize them to create change. Their advocacy is geared to raise the profile of the trans and gender non-conforming persons.
LOUD works directly within the Hispanic community. From entertainment stars to religious leaders to local businesses, LOUD uses every open avenue to our Hispanic brothers and sisters and brings them a culturally targeted messaged.
And then there is the newest group, SPARK, which is dedicated to reaching the lesbian community. They describe themselves as a women’s empowerment, enlightenment, and engagement group, and to inspire them to be leaders of change in their communities.
Imara says each of the affinity groups thrives by being so specific. “It’s not just coming from the voice of AHF, but from our group of community partners. All of these developed to have more culturally sensitive relations to this work.” That means engaging on an almost neighborhood by neighborhood level. “These are led by folks in those targeted organizations. The dialogue is spearheaded through conversations and input from the specific targeted communities. It brings people to the table who often are not at the table.” Imara says the ultimate goal is to share powerful and truthful conversations between different communities.