HOPE D.C., a social/support group for local poz gay men, has its 25th anniversary gathering Saturday night at 7 p.m. at a private residence in Arlington.
Jim Garza, the non-profit group’s vice president, discovered the group in 1993, though it had formed in ’88 when a small group of HIV-positive men met at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital during clinical trials of possible treatments. They started meeting outside the hospital for moral support and the group has grown tremendously over the years.
The HOPE Facebook page has about 700 followers. Garza says anywhere from 50 to 100 attend the monthly gatherings. The locations are kept private to protect members. Anyone interested can get information by calling 202-466-5783 or visiting hopedc.org/events. A HOPE hotline is available at 202-466-5783.
Garza says even with the treatment options available now, the group is still important.
“Stigma and the social aspects of it are still a problem,” he says. “Coping with it, peer support, all those things. Even in this day and age, you feel alienated. We understand there have been huge medical breakthroughs, but there’s a social aspect to it and mental aspect and that’s what we focus on.”
The gatherings are informal, though the volunteer-led group has a board of directors and officers. At this weekend’s gathering, hot dogs and hamburgers will be served. Members will bring snacks and it’s BYOB.
“You can just be yourself and talk about anything there,” Garza says.
Garza came to Washington in 1993 and retired from the Navy in 1998. Just last week, the 48-year-old Beaumont, Texas, native started a job as a Lyft driver, giving people transportation around the city.
He’s single and lives in Arlington. In his free time, he enjoys Civil War sites, museums, visiting Virginia plantations, the Smithsonian museums and movies.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Twenty-three years and my mother (oh wait, my brother took care of that one).
Who’s your LGBT hero?
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Describe your dream wedding.
A bonfire on the island of Kau’i.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
What historical outcome would you change?
I don’t believe in disrupting the space/time continuum.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
“Men on Film” during Super Bowl 1991 half time.
On what do you insist?
If you’re still doing drugs, stay away from me.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“I just bought this groupon and can’t use it!”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“How am I still here?”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Not answer my mother’s call.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
They see what we do and sometimes unhappily step in on our behalf.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Put your seat belt on.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
A hot 23-year-old Latino.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
Not enough space here to type.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Prayers for Bobby”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
The block feature.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Nine years of not having any reason to get high.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That 30 years later you would be typing this.
Retired Navy. Just decided to stay here and help people with drug addictions and HIV, which helps me.