Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach, Geena Rocero among evening’s honorees
Apicha Community Health Center marked its 26th anniversary with a benefit gala called A Thousand and One Champions, in honor of the countless individuals over the years who have championed their cause. Formerly named Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Apicha was founded in 1989 to address unmet HIV/AIDS-related needs of Asian and Pacific Islanders in New York City.
This year, they recognized three extraordinary people who have helped strengthen their mission to effectively meet the health care needs of New York City’s underserved communities.
Therese Rodriguez, Apicha’s CEO has been at the helm of Apicha Community Health Center‘s management since 1997. She led the development of multiple initiatives including the establishment of Apicha CHC‘s culturally competent one-stop HIV care model, and the most recent transformation of Apicha CHC from an AIDS Service Organization into a Community Health Center.
She is a long-time advocate of civil rights and health and social services for Asian and Pacific Islanders, especially those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
“We have transformed from an AIDS service organization to a fully-designated Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). Apicha was initially conceived to help Asian and Pacific Islanders who were infected with HIV/AIDS and as we delivered these services, we saw that we were also serving other people in the LGBT community so we expanded our services and included providing primary care, which is very important in preventing the spread of the epidemic,” she said.
APICHA will now turn this model of care and bring it to the medically underserved poor in the neighborhood, especially in Jackson Heights where they will be expanding so that they can help immigrants who have limited access to care.
“Regardless of whether you are a very small population, if you have a voice, or you develop a voice to speak for those who are on the edges or margins, it will be worth it and if you succeed, it will be a huge legacy,” Rodriguez said.
“I’m looking forward to the work of Pia and Geena, Pia in her work on HIV/AIDS awareness and Geena on her transgender rights advocacy. For Pia, we will be providing her with all the necessary information and resources that she wants to develop so she can really become an advocate for HIV/AIDS especially in the Philippines. I think she is prepared to use the power of her celebrity for a very important cause,” she added.
Miss Universe 2015 Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach has previously worked with organizations that are champions in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Philippines, an issue that is a growing problem in the country and one that is just now beginning to receive national recognition for the severity of the disease.
As Miss Universe, Pia would like to work with the LGBT community specifically to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS education and prevention and will work with groups such as Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Apicha Community Health Center.
“I chose to focus on the LGBT community because I want to give back to this community. I was very lucky to have this group of trainors take me in as part of their family and I owe a lot to them,” Wurtzbach said in her speech. “And whenever I hear about their stories, when they get discriminated against, or it took them a while to come out in the open or they had a friend or relative who passed away because of something like this, it really hits home.”
Geena on the other hand, has shown APICHA her grit and flair for life to become whatever she wants to be, Rodriguez said.
Rocero, born and raised in Manila, is a model, producer, trans rights advocate and host of the new USA Network TV Show ASPIREist.
“I feel so honored to be recognized here tonight. It is also important that we support the work that APICHA has been doing for the longest time, serving the most marginalized in the community,” Rocero said.
On March 31, 2014, in honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility, Rocero came out as transgender at the annual TED Conference, and her talk has since been viewed almost 3 million times. She is the founder of Gender Proud, an advocacy and media production company that tells stories to elevate justice and equality for the transgender community.
“We need to speak out and stand for each other, now more than ever. I truly believe that we are moving towards progress and we are on the right side of history,” Rocero said, referring to the current transgender and bathroom issues in North Carolina.
The evening’s third awardee was New York City Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents District 3, the area which covers Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, the West Village, and parts of Flatiron, SoHo and the Upper West Side.
Corey Johnson was raised in a union household where his mother, a homeless services provider, and his father, a Teamster, instilled in him the values of community service and political engagement. Corey first came to national attention in 2000 when he became a trailblazer for LGBT youth.
As a member of the City Council, Johnson has championed legislation to help end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, helping secure $6.6 million in funding to fund access to PrEP and promotion of viral load suppression. Additionally, Johnson has introduced legislation to expand housing access to all people living with HIV.
“The Filipinos and the Filipino community here have not let me down through these years,” Rodriguez said. “I am so proud that in this long journey, we still find people out there who are willing to battle it out and help fight the stigma against the struggle with HIV/AIDS.”