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Gay Latinos Find a Place to Be Both

Culture: East L.A. center is the first in the nation to specifically serve their community. For many, La Casa makes them feel at home.

January 07, 1999|ART MARROQUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Part of that is educating young men about safer sex. In 1985, Latinos accounted for less than 15% of the total AIDS cases in Los Angeles County. Last year, that number jumped to 36%, according to Los Angeles County epidemiologists.

Sanchez says he now plans to expand La Casa's services to drug and alcohol intervention, mental and physical health referrals and an arts program.

"We just want to offer what the agency's name implies--good health that helps the mind, body and spirit," Sanchez said.

On Mondays, more than 30 young men crowd into the center to attend the 20-Something for Him support group. For those rejected by their families, the group acts as a surrogate.

"I try to keep the discussion topics interesting," Sanchez said. "I have to be both Jerry Springer and Oprah Winfrey to keep their interest."

He has kept Reyes' interest, and the center has afforded him the friends and acceptance he was looking for.

"I thought that being gay always had to have sexual connections," Reyes said. "But coming to Bienestar adds depth to being gay for me."

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