Jose Ramos: The Impulse Group

Sex Positive
Jose Ramos Helps Create a Social Movement to Aid Gay & Bi Men
by Dann Dulin

Photo courtesy The Impulse Group

There’s somebody out there whose sole intent is to maintain my health?

True! There’s an organization that keeps you up-to-date on sexual lifestyles in this ever-evolving world of the Internet, social media, and apps, and they aim the spotlight, in particular, at this new generation of gay men. Earlier outreach programs were helpful at the time, but they didn’t always resonate with today’s young men.

New and innovative programs were needed. The architect of the new program was Jose Ramos, who spun it into the organization, Impulse Group. Working in his kitchen a decade ago, with some like-minded individuals, his idea has sprung to over twenty international cities and ten countries. The Impulse Group, with the help from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), is an all-volunteer group, the only all-volunteer LGBT group globally. (No, Jose does not get paid either.) Many volunteers at Impulse Group lived through the height of the epidemic and know the importance of education. Through events, campaigns, and online content, the organization is tailored for a new generation, but certainly not exclusively.

Rising HIV stats (especially in twenty-five to thirty-four year-olds), a spike in Latino, blacks, and bisexual males, and the rampant increase in hepatitis B and C, gonorrhea, and other STIs motivated Jose. Then it got personal. Jose’s best friend was diagnosed HIV-positive, but did not engage in treatment until he really got ill and landed in the hospital. He suffered ulcers, hair loss, and had a twenty-eight T-cell count. The doctor said he wouldn’t last a week. He did, but the shock jolted Jose into helping others.

Born in Mexico, Jose moved with his family to California in 1989 when he was ten. They settled in Oxnard, just an hour north of Los Angeles. At fifteen, he was a peer educator at his high school, and eventually, earned his masters in organizational psychology. Currently, he’s the Western States director on the AHF Board. He lives in West Hollywood, California, with his partner of five years and their pug, Lil Bu. Jose’s extracurricular activities include yoga classes, running the L.A. Marathon, and watching The Golden Girls!

By the time this article goes to print, there could be a branch of an Impulse Group in Houston, Chicago, South Africa, Amsterdam, and Peru.

Dann Dulin: What was the idea behind naming your nonprofit Impulse?
Jose Ramos: Impulse comes from that crucial moment when you are having sex, and you have that urge—impulse—to go for it! In that moment, people make a decision about their health. Use a condom or not? Bareback or not? Our job is to equip our community with the information and resources for them to make the best decision for themselves. We all have that impulse to act on our needs or wants. We celebrate that; we just believe that you can also be healthy.

How do you celebrate your sexuality?
By not taking part in societal expectations or traditional roles. I am passionate… and very experimental.

What technique, or approach, does Impulse use to educate?
We use social peer-to-peer education. Most of what we do is social. Our goal is to create an environment in which members of the LGBTQ community can come together and talk about sexual health with no stigma.

How do you keep up with this rapidly changing world when it comes to approaching safer sex?
I am linked to it all! My teams around the world keep me relevant. There are demographic challenges in how HIV prevalence is different in each city. I also read a lot about sex and health.

Now, I work as Director of Sales and my team is in charge of linking people to ARVs, PrEP, and PEP. Because of my work and Impulse, I stay very current with research, treatment, and any other information that relates to sexual health.

Due to the development of PEP and PrEP, your objective over the past several years has changed. How do you update and keep up?
PEP and PrEP have been included in our prevention strategy. When we started, only condoms were available. One important factor we are incorporating is “U=U” which means Undetectable = Untransmittable. It’s a huge win for everyone that if you’re positive and on treatment you’re not transmitting the virus! Finally, we are dealing with mental issues of self-esteem and drug addiction, especially meth.

What is Impulse’s approach to the issue of crystal meth?
This is a great question—and a very complicated issue. It’s the new epidemic of our lifetime. We are working with addiction rehab centers and promoting the topic by sponsoring movies or organizations that have services. We bought the rights for a movie named Chemsex and we are showing it around the world. We are encouraging new methods of working with and treating addicts. We have also created PSAs about it to assist with bringing it out of the darkness.

How often do you have events and what do they consist of?
We have on average an event per day among all twenty-one chapters around the world. We cover a topic of sexual health (testing, drugs, PEP, PrEP, mental health, shame, stigma) and create a social space in which the community can engage and talk.

Photo courtesy The Impulse Group

Being Hispanic, you may have a better understanding than most about the machismo ethos. How do you address that factor in the Latinx community?
Machismo is hard to break, that’s why Latinos are the second highest at risk groups. We teach them that the condom is manly, educating them about PrEP, and how it can be a good option; in addition to teaching them about treatment and helping them know their status.

Impulse is ten years old. What one thing stands out the most that you’ve learned?
People do care; they just need a platform to show it. Impulse provides that and a way to express themselves. I have also learned that once you become an advocate you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

How do you mean?
Discomfort comes with the territory, as taboo topics need to be discussed, such as drug use, “slamming” or injecting meth, and mental health.

Some perceive gay people as self-indulgent, more concerned about ourselves than our community, but that’s not true—like I originally thought.

In one sentence, Jose, how would you express to someone the concept of safer sex?
Own your health and take accountability for your sexual behavior.

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Dann Dulin is a Senior Editor of A&U.