Josh Swan doesn’t hesitate when asked about the lasting impact of North Idaho AIDS Coalition (NIAC).
“In a small community, it can be scary to go to the same clinic where you’ve gone all your life,” said Josh, a 21-year-old gay man living in Coeur d’Alene and an outreach coordinator at NIAC. “There is fear someone might see you there, judge you, or even out you, for getting an HIV test. Our staff is dedicated to helping those with HIV and preventing further infections, and they do it with heart.”
Many LGBTQ people living in rural areas experience isolation and lack access to culturally-competent services. That’s why the safe, non-judgmental space that NIAC provides—along with their inclusive education, resources, and referrals—are so critical.
“We are a place where people can come and ask questions about sexual health that they may not be comfortable asking anyone else,” shared Stacie Lechot, NIAC’s executive director.
This year, the organization launched a new program called the Men’s Amity Project. Based on a national model, this HIV-prevention program is specifically designed to meet the needs of young gay and bisexual men ages 18 to 29, with a focus on community building and HIV prevention through gay-positive and sex-positive messaging and discussions.
“As we were coming back from our retreat in September, the excitement was palpable,” Josh reflected. “We formed such a bond over the course of the weekend that over half of the group showed up at a later event to support one of the attendees in his drag performance. We had an entire bench taken up to cheer on that one member. Forming this much-needed part of our community has been amazing.”
The Men’s Amity Project is offering the local community hope for a healthy future. Years ago, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, this wasn’t something many gay men thought was possible.
For Josh, this work has come full circle, allowing him to bring this important program to his hometown and home state; “I had the opportunity in my own coming out to be a part of a similar project. At a time when I needed it most, I was involved in an HIV-prevention program that taught me how to be safe, strong, and myself. Now, we are able to give that same sense of encouragement and support to people living in rural Idaho.”
North Idaho AIDS Coalition is a Pride Foundation grantee. Over the years, our funding has helped NIAC with general operating expenses, HIV 101 community educations, a transgender support group, and the Men’s Amity Project.
Steve Martin is the regional development organizer in Idaho. Email Steve.