Puerto Vallarta leaders start new health center

  • by Ed Walsh, BAR Contributor
  • Tuesday February 20, 2024
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Casa Cupula owner Don Pickens has agreed to help lead the new Vallarta Gay+ Community Center in Puerto Vallarta. Photo: Ed Walsh
Casa Cupula owner Don Pickens has agreed to help lead the new Vallarta Gay+ Community Center in Puerto Vallarta. Photo: Ed Walsh

Puerto Vallarta gay business leaders are establishing a new LGBTQ program named Vallarta Gay+ Community Center. It replaces SETAC, the Mexican resort city's LGBTQ center that effectively closed in December amid financial troubles and allegations of mismanagement.

Don Pickens, a former San Franciscan and owner of the upscale LGBTQ boutique hotel Casa Cupula, agreed to help lead the new organization that will take over the essential health services provided by SETAC. The old center focused on health and wellness and ran the city's PrEP program.

"With teeth tightly clenched, I have agreed to lend my name to the paperwork as legal representative and board president of the new Vallarta Gay+ Community Center, along with an amazing collection of movers and shakers," Pickens wrote in a Facebook post on February 14.

Pickens noted he is working with support from Jet De La Isla, owner of Jet's Gay Youth Hostel and Jet's Private Boat Tours; Javier Jimenez, Vallarta Pride president and owner of Mr. Flamingo, Industry, Wet, and La Margarita; Mike Owens, owner of Studs Bear & Leather Bar, who will serve as the organization's secretary; and Mikel Joseph Alvarez, owner of Thrive IV and MedSpa, who will be the center's treasurer. The organization's executive director is Realtor Fer Bolanos Cruz.

For now, the new center is operating in a donated space out of Thrive IV and MedSpa, in the gay-popular Zona Romantica neighborhood, just south of downtown Puerto Vallarta. It is on Basilio Badillo Street, just two blocks from the gayest intersection in the city where Mr. Flamingo, CC Slaughters, and Paco's Ranch are located.

Pickens noted the outpouring of support since SETAC's troubles came to light in December, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

"I've lived and run my business here in Vallarta for 21 years and have participated in at least four gay business associations and three HIV/AIDS service organizations and seen 'em come and seen 'em go," he wrote. "I've never seen our community pull together like this and it is so heartwarming!"

Pickens continued, "SETAC for 14 years provided health and community services to the community, a huge achievement! They were distributing PrEP to 700 men and we couldn't sit back and do nothing as they were unable to continue the program. We have already seen over 100 patients and will keep the meds coming.

"It's going to take months to form a legal A.C. (not-for-profit) and to find a permanent facility to build up to offering all the STI testing and treatment programs SETAC offered," the hotel owner wrote, referring to sexually transmitted infections.

Pickens noted the support from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS of New York, which has been the largest funder of SETAC for over 10 years, totaling almost $200,000. Broadway Cares Executive Director Tom Viola has pledged a matching gift of $20,000 on top of an initial $10,000 startup donation, according to Pickens.

Studs owner Owens wrote on Facebook, "I'm so excited to share this new organization with all of you. As many of you know, I have been involved in HIV/AIDS support organizations for almost 29 years since my younger brother, Tim, died of AIDS in 1995."


One of the first fundraisers is scheduled for February 21 at Oasis Condominiums in the El Caloso neighborhood east of downtown. The minimum donation to attend the event is about $35. Organizers hope to raise $20,000.

Paul Crist, owner of Hotel Mercurio, is organizing a fundraiser cruise Friday, March 1, on the luxurious 48 foot gay-owned yacht operated by Vallarta Yacht Rentals. A minimum $400 donation is requested, 100% of which will go to support the new Vallarta Gay+ Community Center.

The center is working with the Casa Jojo Foundation, whose website is set up to take online donations. Pickens noted that as a full 501(c)3 based in Texas, the Casa Jojo Foundation can qualify for corporate matching gift programs.

In a Facebook text message to the B.A.R. on January 10, Paco Arjona, SETAC's executive director, insisted that contrary to reports, SETAC had not closed.

"SETAC is not closed, you will hear soon about all, gracias." Arjona wrote. A follow-up text to him last week was not returned by press time.

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