Carl Navales is an HIV prevention specialist in an interesting situation: he’s married to one of the Utah AIDS Foundation’s programs.
At least, that’s how he describes his decision to take over The Village, UAF’s outreach program to gay and bisexual men, when director Jeremiah Hansen left last year. Navales said that he enjoyed The Village’s programming so much that he decided to apply for Hansen’s job.
“[I said], you know what, if I really like The Village, I would like to marry it,” laughed Navales. “Again, it’s probably one of those passions I really crave.”
Before he became an HIV prevention specialist at the Utah AIDS Foundation (who specializes in helping MSMs — or men who have sex with men), Navales earned a bachelors degree in business management, which enabled him to work at a number of different companies, including those in fields as diverse as telecommunications, tourism and travel. In fact, he worked as a front desk manager for Hotel Monaco, one of Salt Lake City’s most gay and transgender-friendly hotels, before becoming director of The Village. But while his current job is very different from replacing room keys and checking in hotel guests, Navales says he couldn’t be happier.
“I was already a member of The Village at that time [when I applied for the job],” he said. “I really like it. I like the people with me. It challenges me all the time — like intellectually, spiritually, emotionally as well.”
One of the first challenges Navales faced in his new job was giving the program a much-needed face lift. He started with a name change. Under Hansen’s leadership (and that of David Ferguson before him), the program had been called Queer Village. Although Navales shortened the name, he said the program’s teachings remained the same — gay and bisexual men empowering each other to stop the spread of HIV, to encourage each other to make “healthy decisions with their sexual encounters,” and to build a community that is as responsible as it is fun. And above all, to encourage, as Navales says, “brotherhood instead of division.”
“Really no man is an island out there,” he said. “They really want to reach out and have support and be friends with other MSM.”
To keep The Village fun and educational, and to help the men involved become friends and support to one another, Navales also got rid of some of the program’s less popular activities, such as Gay Movie Night, which had been declining in attendance and added some fresh new programs for Villagers to try.
“Right now we have a lot of new programs, such as Fancy Feet, for MSM who love to run, job, bike or even walk,” he said. “We’re meeting in the mouth of Memory Grove and you just walk run or bike at your own pace. It’s part of being healthy.”
For Villagers who miss the movie nights, Navales has created a club called Beyond Black and White, for cinema and book aficionados to meet and discuss a film or book. The program launched May 19 and meets every other Tuesday in UAF’s group room. Villagers Alex Larson and Richard Matthews serve as moderators. Other popular Village programs, such as Coffee Talk and Gayme Night (held every second Saturday of the month) are still going strong.
As June approaches, and with it the Utah Pride Festival, Navales said that Villagers can also take advantage of the warmer weather to play outdoor sports, including and especially those that promote health without being too stressful on the body, such as cricket, volley ball and tag.
“We have a lot of games being invented too,” he added, “And some [like tag] touching on childhood memories.”
Overall, Navales encourages gay and bisexual men to check out the Village not just to participate in fun activities, but to help tackle the loneliness and isolation that many queer men can experience. Whether the Villagers are meeting during December for Homo for the Holidays—a kind of family away from family event—or a summer Bar-B-Queer, Navales says the Village is ultimately about community.
“You really need someone, not partnering but being friends really,” he said. “It’s always fun to be in a group especially with like-minded, educated individuals, and sharing some of your experiences and growing with a group. That’s what I’m doing with the village right now. It’s really growing. They [the members] really like to be with each other.”