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Armando Villegas

My name is Armando Villegas and I’m a 29-year-old Gay Hispanic male. I was born and raised in Houston.

I grew up on the southeast side of Houston in the Pecan Park area. It’s a middle-to-lower class community composed of Latino and African American families. Although I lived in the area, I attended magnet schools throughout the Houston area which really allowed me to meet people from all over town as I grew up. This impacted who I am today because it allowed me to be more tolerant and accepting of others who were unlike me or my family.

I currently reside in the Texas Medical Center area. This is my first time living outside the southeast side of town.

I am a clinical research coordinator at the Crofoot Research Center. Our center conducts clinical research trials on behalf of major pharmaceutical companies developing new compounds (medications). Our focus is on compounds primarily for infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis. Last year, we began working on the PrEP trials. As a coordinator, my role is to oversee the progress of the trial from start to finish and the safety of its patients alongside the provider, ensuring that the trial is being conducted as required by the review board-approved protocol. In a nutshell, I wear many hats in this profession and aid in different capacities to patients I oversee.

I am a mix of a medical assistant, counselor, linkage to care expert, data entry specialist and visit coordinator. My job really puts me in the forefront — not only as the face of the center, but as the point of contact for many of our patients. It is remarkable to me how we develop strong relationships with our patients, often being the ones to whom they turn in times of crisis while knowing there won’t be judgement on our end.

I’ve volunteered for the Houston Food Bank and I’ve done community outreaches with the City of Houston, handing out condoms and providing educational information to at-risk individuals.

I am currently a senior at the University of Houston-Downtown, earning a bachelor’s degree in social work. I currently have an associate of arts degree from Houston Community College.

At an early age, I understood the importance of education. Knowledge is power. Although, my educational successes were praised in my home, education itself was not something that was truly valued nor set as a priority. I later came to the realization that the reason for this was because neither of my parents continued their education past the 8th grade. I knew that without an education, the number of opportunities disposable to me were limited, so I had to continue my education beyond high school, completing one semester at time, never giving up on myself or my dream of receiving a college degree. I graduate in May 2019.

I am an ambassador for the College of Public Service at the University of Houston-Downtown; a member and communications officer for Phi Alpha Honor Society; a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success at Houston Community Council; and a SWSCAN member at UH-D.

What helped me embrace who I am? A number of things, such as:

  • Acceptance from my job played a major part in my ability to embrace who I am today. When I first came out, I was very scared of losing my job at T-Mobile due to someone telling my boss I was gay. So, what I did was have a sit-down with him and out of respect, came out to him. Little did I know that my sexual orientation had no influence on how he perceived me as an employee, so there was absolutely no issue. He even congratulated me for having the courage to be myself. This experience enabled me to come out early on at my next job, thus removing any fear I had regarding my employment.
  • Becoming a member of my softball team, Toros Houston, has really helped me feel more comfortable as a gay man. The team is made of gay men of all ages who are nothing more than that. I can be gay, love a sport, and be around other fun, competitive, athletic men.
  • Experiencing Gay Pride: It wasn’t until I experienced Gay Pride for myself that I felt what it’s like to be a part of the Houston Gay community. I always felt like we were all categorized into subgroups or cliques. Pride really showed me that it’s OK to love how I wish to love, and how to love those like and unlike me. It was such a beautiful experience to be able to be myself within a group of thousands of people — and have it be OK.
  • My family has always been very loving of my partners. My mom especially has always be the most welcoming to them in our family. She greets them with arms wide open and refers to them as her son or her boy. Before I came out, I never thought I would, so I had planned to live closeted and thought of the miserable life I would have. So, for me to bring my partners around and let them feel the love that they do, it reassures me that my family does accept me and them for the people we are.

I am currently in a relationship of five years. This is my second gay relationship. As much as I like to say that we are opposites because he’s timid and shy compared to me, over the years I have learned that we are mirrors to one another and share a lot of the same values. He is very understanding and supportive of my goals, as I am of him. We depend on each other to be one another’s cheerleader in life. I have been very fortunate to find someone who is very responsible and caring.

We are both homebodies and enjoy spending time at home together. I have to say that he is definitely more precautious than I am in many things, for example, I am on to book a trip and go whereas he would rather research and plan everything before doing anything for sure. The one thing that I appreciate about my relationship most is that we have boundaries within our relationship that take our feelings and points of views into consideration and don’t engage in heated or unnecessary arguments. Marriage for me is not something that I ever really considered however it seems like it’s a random topic of conversation lately.

We are both social workers in training (he is currently finishing his master’s degree) and enjoy traveling to new places together. Currently, neither of us are on PrEP mainly because we have a closed relationship and are not at-risk individuals.

For someone who has a genuine interest in media and media productions, the ability to participate in a campaign for my city that could reach the entire nation is an amazing opportunity. As a member of the community, I can already see the stigma associated with PrEP brewing in our social circles.

Labels such as “sluts” and “whores” are being placed on individuals who are openly taking the medication. Every time there is an update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding new STI infection rates, people on PrEP are wrongfully being blamed. It’s upsetting to me that my patients who are simply trying to take an additional protective measure are being bullied for taking a pill that can help maintain their negative status and that they have a right to choose to take or not.

I wanted to join the campaign to show the face of someone real who may use PrEP in today’s society. Not someone who is the stereotypically gay idea that much of America thinks is a PrEP user — i.e. the circuit party, fit, go-go dancer who gets drunk and high in a jock strap with glitter all over them while dancing to the heavy bass of club music.

When I came out in 2009, there was no PrEP and to be honest, after a few bad experiences, I hated wearing condoms, so I didn’t. I had so many sexual encounters where I put myself at risk that I wish I had known of something like PrEP during those days.  I was ignorant and I don’t want our youth and sexual active individuals to not be aware of the benefits of protecting yourself and your sexual partners by using PrEP.

During a point in my current relationship where we took a break, I did begin to take PrEP during the time I felt I was at risk of contracting HIV. Once we got back together, I stopped. The reason I feel it would be most beneficial for the targeted populations to consider taking PrEP is because it’s another form of protecting themselves. HIV does not discriminate and it often times has many faces with no symptoms. It’s important to emphasize that if you engage in sexual practices without condoms, you are at risk. People aren’t aware that it only takes one sexual encounter with a partner who is HIV positive to contract the virus.

Statistics show that these two populations are not getting regularly tested for HIV, meaning that the sexual partner you may have contact with might not know they are positive.

Sex is easily accessible thanks to use of social media apps like Grindr, Facebook, Instagram for that reason if you are having sex with strangers, and are or not using condoms, PrEP is something that can be used to protect yourself.

The biggest reason I think its important to get tested for HIV is because we put others at risks. I think getting tested should be something that is emphasized in our communities as a norm and something that is done as a personal responsibility. There is a fear in our community about testing positive for HIV that deters many individuals from getting tested. HIV is no longer a death sentence and we need to talk about that so that people aren’t ashamed of living with and/or having the virus.

My first relationship at the age of 20 was with a man who was HIV positive. He disclosed this to me before we began dating. I didn’t care, I loved him regardless of his status. I think it’s important to shed light on the fact that although PrEP is aimed at reducing the risk of contracting HIV, there is nothing wrong with being with someone who has HIV. There are so many people who are willing to love wholeheartedly without second-guessing it, regardless of a diagnosis.

I am HIV negative. When I was younger, I would only get treated when I thought I had contracted HIV, in the course of four years, that was twice. Every time I went with a knot in my stomach scared that the result would change my life forever and I not have no information on where to go or who to talk to. We need to make testing and testing location information more accessible in places that people will see.

As a gay male, I care about equality and justice for every individual despite their sexual orientation or gender. I have been very fortunate to be employed by individuals who did not discriminate against me for being openly gay in the workplace. I support gay marriage, gender-neutral bathrooms and gender-accepting employers.

I was very fortunate to have a very accepting and supportive family. The first person I came out to was my mom. And then, although I asked her not to, she told my immediate family. My aunts and uncles were all very loving — reminding me that they loved me regardless of anything.

I have been very respectful over the years in trying to not make anyone feel uncomfortable around my partner. So, I try to be mindful of the things I say and do. My joking and fun personality has helped cross boundaries with my family, so It’s never been an issue. I also have made it a point to not bring around any random joe, mainly because I respect my family and am well aware of our Mexican traditions and beliefs.

I think for my family, what helped them accept my lifestyle was the fact that I have shown them that I am no different than they are. I have house payments, I have responsibilities, I cook and clean and do everything as they do just with a man as my partner.

The only person I hadn’t told was my father. He isn’t around much, but over the years he has made more and more of an effort to be a part of my life. It was during the Orlando shootings that I was able to come out to my dad as a gay man and tell him about my molestation as a child. He told me he had seen some posts here and there on Twitter that made him wonder but didn’t think it was true. Nonetheless, it didn’t matter. I was his son and he loved me.

I aspire to be a life coach, motivation speaker and author. I feel like I have the power to connect with people and change their lives. I can be the reason someone didn’t give up on life. I can be the reason why someone reached a goal. I can be the friend they thought they never had.

The phrase, “Live Healthy. Live Longer” comes off as a more nutritional and fitness-focused statement. I think of eating healthy and living longer and working out. This is primarily due those words being used so much in advertising. But the phase also could mean taking care of yourself so that you can live longer choosing to live your life as you wish.

The phrase that came to mind as I thought about PrEP was “Real People. Living Responsibly.” The phrase uses two words. Real and Responsible. The person who takes PrEP is your classmate, your co-worker, your friend, your brother, your Instagram crush and they are taking the pill because they are taking responsibility for their health. They are ensuring that they protect themselves as well as their partners. It’s a representation of love, unity and sexual responsibility.

“I am here. I exist. I matter.” What came to mind when I heard that term was that it’s like a political statement for an under-represented population, a slogan. What it means to me is that I am someone who is at risk and someone who wants to do something about it. I, as a gay man, am here, I as a male who has sex with men exist, and I matter enough to take care of myself and my sexual partner.