By Jeff Walsh
"The Radical Right Has Blood On Its Hands" screams a yellow flyer emblazoned with a bloody red palm print. "They're killing us," the flyer continues on the flip side, "The Radical Right tells us that we're abnormal and forces us to live our lives locked in the closet of fear and shame."
The flyer is promoting SQUIRM! a coalition of queer youth planning to protest this month at the GOP National Convention in San Diego. The youth will speak out at a special time from the protest area outside the convention. Queer youth "action teams" will also be posted near events around town that will be attended by the GOP delegates.
"SQUIRM! is a coalition who want the Republican party to stop using queer youth as some sort of football," says Robert Perez, 25, of San Francisco.
Perez is one of the organizers of the event, and admits that, for SQUIRM!, "The convention is really just a starting point."
For over a year, Perez has worked as director of Q Action, the young men's program of the STOP AIDS Project. Perez majored in political science and is very frank about why he works at STOP AIDS. "I wanted to do HIV-prevention work. I applied, and got the job," he says.
The job has put him in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, although he thinks recent studies which focus on young gay and bisexual men being unsafe are skewed.
"I think there is a overreaction that young queer men are going out and having unsafe sex all the time. There are clearly issues specific to young queer men that have an impact around the decision making on whether to have unsafe sex," he says. "I always try to focus people on the reality of the situation, which is the instances in which they might have unsafe sex. The issues we deal with are people who are coming out, being under the influence of drugs of alcohol before they have sex which creates an imbalance, and so on."
Even more misleading than the studies are the media's reaction to the studies, he says, which make it seem like all young queer men aren't being safe. "They seem to really oversimplify everything. Decision making around safe sex for anybody is a highly complex thing, and I wish the media would look at the entire population and see why it's happening," he says.
As part of Q Action, Perez also oversees something they call "FLIQ Video Outreach," where members go to clubs once a week with video cameras and ask people questions on a different subject each month.
One recent month asked "Why do queer boys love risk and danger?" and prompted people to share that they like how it feels when their heart starts racing, and why some of them have unsafe sex.
"We go out to clubs once a week with video cameras and we do a different subject every month," he says. The resulting video is shown at a FLIQ party later in the month, which is open to the public.
Unlike many cities, where people would run if they saw a video camera outside a gay club, Perez says people in San Francisco don't care if they are on camera.
"People are pretty willing to talk about issues. There's certainly greater freedom to be out here," he says. "But by and large, people are willing to answer questions. We're still learning more techniques to get people to open up."
Despite his intense activism with the Project, Perez only came out at 21. "I came out, I feel, at a very late age," he says. Prior to coming out, he had been involved in many political issues, including queer politics.
He does say that despite coming out late, he knew he was gay much earlier. But once he did accept himself he didn't waste too much time telling people. "A lot of it was rapid, my family was the probably the last step, but it wasn't very long after," he says.
When he's not working at STOP AIDS, Perez keeps up on politics, which is still a major interest. But he does admit that his days at STOP AIDS often go into the night, and he needs to slow down.
"We have a saying around here: 'There's a real life outside the epidemic, get one,'" he says. "I often break that rule."