by Ruby Comer
It’s finally here. Election time!
A few weeks ago, I asked a smart person of color and millennial, Hector Jimenez, his views. He was adamant and boisterous when he replied, “I am definitely voting, as I want to see anyone in office but that joke of a president now!” He also made it known that he’s a huge supporter of the “strong dynamic” that makes up the Democratic ticket, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris——especially since she is a Black and South Asian woman!
I hope by the time this is published, Hector’s wish has come true! And I couldn’t agree more. Okay, now I do realize a reporter is not supposed to air their opinions, and keep their outlook neutral, but I am not a PC kind of broad. Okay?!
Hector believes that “every vote counts” and he influences others to get out and vote! (After talking with him, I hope the well-spoken and gifted man runs for political office one day. We certainly could use an advocate like Hector.)
I encountered this young compassionate lad at an event held by the brilliant nonprofit organization, Safe Schools, located in the Palm Desert area of Southern California. They work with GSA’s (Gay-Straight Alliances) in middle and high schools, supporting and protecting LGBTQ+ youth. They are a multifaceted group that includes a scholarships and awards program, and in their curriculum they provide HIV education, as well.
Hector turns twenty this month and was born and raised in Indio, California, a neighboring town to Palm Springs. He currently lives at home with his parents and two younger brothers. He’s a teacher’s assistant (TA), a tutor, and has also worked with Inland Empire Future Leaders, which inspires and supports kids to graduate from high school and to continue on with college.
Hector attends College of the Desert majoring in early education, studying to become an elementary school teacher. The kid is just wild about kids! He’s a huge advocate of safe sex and continuously spreads the word amongst his peers and others.
Off the cuff about this man: Love, Simon is a favorite film, he likes to hike, swim, and bike, he considers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a role model, he sees his smile as his greatest physical asset, and the wallpaper on his phone is “Avatar the Last Airbender.”
Since the event is near City Hall on Frank Sinatra Drive, we walk a bit up the street and hover on to Cancer Survivors Park. I have passed this cozy niche many times before while driving by in Mother Lincoln (my classic auto), but have never stopped. The memorial has figurative sculptures (some quite playful), rippling ponds, a waterfall, and bustling palm trees abound. Hector and I perch our butts on a vivid circular kaleidoscope-colored tile bench. So pretty.
Ruby Comer: Walking into this park, I feel utter serenity, Hector. (He nods and glances about.) What made you volunteer for Safe Schools?
Hector Jiminez: I was a senior in high school when I first heard about them. I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of it. [His dramatic Mick Jagger lips turn into a broad smile.] Knowing that there was an organization that revolved around taking care and being active with people of the LGBTQ+ community just sounded so amazing to me! They make it a safe space where kids can be themselves.
Yippee-ki-yah, you said a mouthful! So tremendously important. Indeed. What do you do with Safe Schools?
Volunteer for events, like the one this afternoon, or the Rainbow Youth Summit, Pride Parades, and youth organizations that meet in parks. Then there’s the annual Harvey Milk Diversity breakfast that gathers over two hundred students, a Leadership and Empowerment Camp that trains youth leaders, and even bus tours of various culture-oriented trips like the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. I discuss what it means to be LGBTQ+. I talk about the importance of safe sex, educating them about STI’s and about the history of the epidemic.
What a diversified organization. Hector, you are a mentor, a role model for these kids to look up to. How special and…it is needed! Say, what bugs you about the AIDS epidemic?
Those who don’t use protection and scandalously hook up with random people.
So you are more of a dating kind of guy and not a wham-bam-thank-you kind of man, huh?
I’d like to think that I’m more of a loyal and committed person when it comes to relationships, but I can’t say that I haven’t done the one-night stand routine before. It excites me more to get to know the person first, you know, get all cute for a date and walk around the town talking about random things. [He clears his throat.] But I also must be honest. I have worn condoms most of the time but there have been occasions when I haven’t as well.
I understand. It’s not easy being human! How do you go about meeting other guys, and how do you broach the STI topic?
When it comes to meeting a guy, I can be a complete idiot. [I raise my eyebrows in disbelief, looking at this cute guy.] I usually get really nervous meeting other guys, but I try to approach them with a calm and cool manner. When it comes to talking about HIV it’s never an easy subject to bring up. But what I usually do is just rip the Band-Aid right off and straight out ask them, “Are you safe?”
That’s a classy approach to start the conversation. Where did you first hear about HIV?
I first heard the word when I was in middle school when they did a presentation in my class about safety and health.
That’s good news that you were taught at an early age. How old were you when you first got tested for HIV?
I was seventeen. My school offered it as part of health awareness week. My teacher escorted us to an RV station set-up they had, and we all got tested. It was important for my school to let us know what it’s like to get tested, hoping to eliminate the fear and anxiety of doing it by yourself.
Now that’s progressive education. Of course, leave it to California to lead the way! What motivates you to be a teacher, Mr. J?
I truly enjoy being around the students, see how they interact with everyday life, and to help them in any way I can. My motivation just comes from seeing the kids’ faces!
As a young adult, I find myself stressed over things I have no control over. But when I go to work and see the kids go out and play and talk to each other with no care in the world, it reminds me of what I have to be grateful for. Sometimes they have the best opinions to give, and you’ll be surprised of what goes through their minds. [He pauses while his animated auburn eyes rise toward the full illuminated moon.] These kids keep me grounded, Ruby.
What a great mantra, Hector.
It makes me feel good to be able to make a difference in their lives and to be honest with them, telling them things I wish someone had told me. I can help keep them safe, especially when it comes to educating them about HIV and other STIs.
As you know know, your generation, unfortunately, has one of the highest rates of HIV infection, especially gay young men. Please comment.
It seems that a lot of our community is filled with kids who have hook-up sex——it’s so easy now with these apps——and who don’t really care or know about the negative outcomes unprotected sex may lead to. Most gay kids I have talked to don’t always think about being safe all the time and when they do they don’t know how or what measures they can take. The only resources we get are from short school presentations that don’t go into depth about what gay boys can do specifically to stay safe.
Yeah, that’s not good. Any idea how?
I feel like if we had more schools that support and motivate kids for their creative differences then it would open up more space for self-confidence, self-worth, and respect. Hopefully this then would create a freer space for people to talk about sex——which they are too scared to do now.
Duckie, that is right as rain! You’ve said some golden words. Any last thoughts before we rock-on back?
[Hector gazes upward, straightening his body.]Through personal experience I’ve learned that going to get tested is nothing to be scared about! The people there from Planned Parenthood are so professional, nice, and comforting to talk to. [He takes a beat.] Stay healthy, take control and. . .do it! [His remark hangs in the fresh crisp evening air.]
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]