Puerto Vallarta's LGBTQ center closes

  • by Ed Walsh, BAR Contributor
  • Tuesday January 9, 2024
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SETAC Executive Director Paco Arjona, shown here in 2018, did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the Puerto Vallarta LGBTQ health center. Photo: Ed Walsh
SETAC Executive Director Paco Arjona, shown here in 2018, did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the Puerto Vallarta LGBTQ health center. Photo: Ed Walsh

Puerto Vallarta's LGBTQ center, SETAC, which focused on health and wellness and ran the city's PrEP program, effectively closed late last month amid financial struggles and allegations from employees of mistreatment and management. Meanwhile, gay business owners in the Mexican city have already launched an effort to raise money to continue to provide some of the services offered by the center.

SETAC stands for Solidaridad Ed Thomas Asociacion Civil. It is named for Ed Thomas, a former Bostonian and one of the center's founders who retired in Puerto Vallarta. The center was founded in 2009.

Paul Crist, owner of Hotel Mercurio, is one of those leading the effort to have the center continue services.

"Our first priority will be to continue providing PrEP medication (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and the required laboratory testing to the approximately 700 individuals that were on the now-terminated program at SETAC," Crist wrote on his Facebook page Saturday, January 6.

"A group of business and community leaders, including myself, are working very quickly to put services in place and to set up a new nonprofit association," Crist added. "There is still much work ahead but we've made tremendous progress in just a few days. We have a plan for moving forward, an initial budget, a preliminary draft (still in development) for organization statutes, and mechanisms for patients and the community to contact us."

Emails to SETAC, including to Executive Director Paco Arjona, were not returned by press time. After the publication of this story online, Arjona responded to a Facebook message.

"SETAC is not closed, you will hear soon about all, gracias," Arjona wrote.

Business owner and longtime SETAC supporter Mike Owens volunteered to restructure the organization last year. He told the Bay Area Reporter this week that he left his work with the organization.

"Unfortunately, I resigned from my involvement with SETAC two or three months ago," Owens wrote in response to a Facebook message from the B.A.R. "So, I'll have to refer you back to Paco (Arjona), the executive director of SETAC. I think what you will find is he will tell you SETAC is not closed. I will just say that there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes, but it's not my place to discuss publicly."

An open letter from SETAC employees that was published last week in the LGBTQ magazine Out and About Puerto Vallarta read in part:

"Some of the staff were fired, others decided to resign due to lack of payment, and the staff who continue to have worked, have done so without receiving their respective biweekly payments," the statement read. "Neither those who resigned nor those who were fired have received the corresponding compensation. There are many other problems as well, all of which made for a difficult and harmonious workplace.

"This unfortunate situation was triggered as a result of what we think is a lack of direction, decision making that was incongruent with the situation, absence of the board of directors, and lack of financial resources. The entire team actively expressed interest and concern in this regard for more than one year, with team members proposing ideas and activities for fundraising, which were sabotaged with actions and threats by the director and legal representative," the statement read.

In his Facebook post, Crist linked to an article in Out and About Puerto Vallarta that noted that a temporary space has been donated inside Thrive IV & MedSpa on Basilio Badillo 277-A, in the Zona Romantica neighborhood so that the medically supervised PrEP treatments can continue. Organizers hoped that that temporary space would be operating by this week.

In a news release issued January 6, Jet De La Isla, who runs a gay hostel and boat tour and administers the very popular Puerto Vallarta Gays Facebook page, wrote on Facebook in response to a post reposted by Crist and gay other business leaders:

"If you were previously enrolled in the SETAC program you can use the following WhatsApp number 322 128 67 93 and our contact form to follow up with your appointments. New enrollees can also use the contact form to be signed up for new registrations.

"Current patients will be asked for a $300 MXN ($18 U.S.) monthly optional donation, as it was with the previous program," he added.

The post included that people can sign up to volunteer, donate, or stay informed at casajojofoundation.org.

The Facebook post stated that for U.S. donors Casa JoJo is a tax deduction because the foundation is headquartered in Texas and is a registered nonprofit under section 501(c)3 of the U.S. Tax Code. When donating people should mention "Vallarta's Gay+ Health Clinic." People can donate using the one-time donate button found at the bottom of the website landing page.

The post concluded by listing the effort's organizing committee members: Mikel Joseph Alvarez, treasurer of the new group and owner of Thrive IV & MedSpa; Crist of Hotel Mercurio; Jet De La Isla; Owens, who owns Studs Bear Bar; Casa Cupula owner Don Pickens; interim manager Fer Bolanos Cruz; and medical advisers Dr. Alain Hernandez and Dr. Galileo Vargas. The post noted major support from Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Updated, 1/9/24: This article has been corrected to state that Mikel Joseph Alvarez is treasurer of the new group and owner of Thrive IV & MedSpa.

Updated, 1/10/24: This article has been updated with a comment from SETAC's executive director.

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