Gay Group Under Scrutiny for Charging Fees to Older Folks

In two weeks SAVE will honor Impulse Group South Florida at their 2015 ‘Champions of Equality’ event inducting them into their Hall of Champions.

The irony though Impulse is currently being accused of age discrimination and facing a barrage of scrutiny for their practice of charging fees to older folks, while letting the younger ones in for free.

SFGN requested an interview with Impulse South Florida but only received two prepared statements, both of which only appeared to add fuel to the fire, causing even more controversy.

The first, sent last Friday, did not even directly address the continued accusations the group is facing.

“The purpose of events like Evolution is to create a lively, fun atmosphere where these men can interact while simultaneously being exposed to information about HIV in a non-judgmental environment. Condoms, HIV testing, and linkage into medical care are provided at every Impulse event, always for free,” the first statement reads. “Impulse is supported by its partner, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and also works with corporate sponsors. The organization operates as a non-profit, with its prime directive being to prioritize its limited funds to identifying and educating members of the targeted younger gay male audience. Impulse Group South Florida events are open to everyone and the group welcomes broad community participation.”

Few people appeared to be satisfied with that response.

“This was an opportunity for your organization to make things right. Instead you created a memo that failed to listen to the valid concerns from a segment in our community,” Jesse Antonio Lopez wrote on Facebook. “While it is clear that you are targeting a particular age group in your events, it does not make sense to alienate the very people who marched and fought for the rights you obviously take for granted. Learn your history. Honor your history.”

The second statement, received four days later, did address the brewing discontent, but still failed to answer why they charged fees to people over 40 while allowing those under 40 in for free.

“We want you to know it was never our intent to discriminate against anyone, for any reason, may it be age or any other factor,” the second statement reads. “We apologize for any misinterpretation of our intentions and would like to say once and for all, that ageism played absolutely no role in the decision towards our pricing structure for the last event.”

The group has faced harsh criticism on Facebook for their decision and responses. In the second letter they go so far to say they’ve receiving threatening comments, but fail to cite anything specific.

Five minutes after posting the apology letter on their Facebook page they posted a photo — which appeared to be at odds the apology — minutes earlier. The photo had the words “unapologetic and misunderstood” written across it.

One commenter, who calls himself Colorful Kent on Facebook, immediately blasted the photo.

“This new image calling us haters and expressing no remorse, is arrogant and insulting,” he said. “You are hearing us but I'm not sure you are truly listening. This picture is stirring up the fight, rather than trying to by sympathetic.”

Someone posting from the Impulse page responded with, “No where do we use the term haters, that is your word. With respect, you are stirring up the fight, not us. We will no longer entertain this circular argument with you. If you are not satisfied with what we've said, as many are, we can't help it.”

President of the local group, A.J. Alegria, told SFGN that the second statement would be “the final response regarding the event.”

Founder and president of the national organization, Jose Ramos, said at least one other chapter, the LA chapter, has charged different prices for different age groups. But he explained that each chapter has tried to come up with unique ways to serve their community and attract their target audience of 18 to 35 years old. For example, one chapter gave away free tickets to their event to those who got tested.

“In that case the HIV positive people felt left out,” he said. “There’s always somebody that might feel offended.”

The latest controversy though has prompted the group to start having internal discussions on how to make sure no one feels discriminated against in the future.

“This isn’t because of the media attention, I don’t care what they think,” he said. “I don’t want anyone in the gay community to feel that way, so moving forward we’re going to try to prevent that from happening. It was never our intention for anyone to feel discriminated against.”

Ramos explained that in order to reach the group’s target audience the messaging has to be different.

“The conversation cannot be the same at 22 years old and 42 years old,” he said. “We’re giving them a space where they can talk.”

Ramos explained that Impulse is not a program of AHF. Instead it is fully funded by AHF and he called it an affiliate of the organization.

As for why SAVE chose to honor Impulse Group in the first place Executive Director Tony Lima had this to say:

“We've decided to honor AHF as our 2015 Hall of Champions inductee for ALL of the programs they develop and fund that work to balance the inequalities that affect the LGBTQ community,” he said. “AHF services and programs help fulfill vital and unique needs of LGBTQ people, including the important work of reaching younger generations which need education about testing and treatment of HIV/AIDS in order to make the best decisions about how to protect themselves. We are proud to induct them into the 2015 Hall of Champions for their hard work towards this endeavor.”

While Lima did not mention Impulse by name, their ads and e-blasts for the event certainly do, and suggest they are in fact directly honoring the Impulse Group.

“… as we honor… as our 2015 Champions of Equality, as well as Impulse Group South Florida as our 2015 Hall of Champions inductee!” reads one such email.

Michael Weinstein, President of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, previously told SFGN, “Prevention efforts have really declined over the last 10 years. That’s part of the reason we’re pushing so hard on the prevention front. Such as starting the Impulse Group.”

Many folks on Facebook and on SFGN’s website though were less kind.

“Not sure how photos of men in swimsuits is supposed to raise awareness/prevention of HIV,” wrote Ato Apanay on Impulse’s Facebook page. “This page looks like a fan page for Grindr or gay sex hotel or a gay cruise.”

And many folks see Impulse’s pricing structure as ageism.

“Yes I saw their ad also and was taken aback by it. Free for under 40 but $50 for over 40? Are you effin' kidding me?,” David Balton wrote on Faecbook. “No thanks; I will hang out with a crowd that doesn't engage in such blatant age discrimination.”

Some people suggested that those who are offended should simply not attend Impulse’s events going forward. While others pointed out that senior citizens frequently receive a “seniors” discount at many establishments, and for decades women have enjoyed “ladies nights” at bars.

“That is a discount that is meant to promote sales, not a fundraiser,” Ed Garcia wrote on Facebook.

While Impulse has received some harsh criticism for their pricing, they’re not the only group that has based admission fees on age. The Pride Center at Equality Park also did so in February where they charged $50 for people 35 and under and $125 for those over.

Pride Center Chief Executive Officer Robert Boo defended his organization’s decision to charge less for younger folks saying it had nothing to do with age discrimination, but rather encouraging younger people to join in community causes.

“We offered a discounted price to get them more involved and to get that age group to participate more in community events,” Boo said.

Boo said he felt readers may have gotten the impression that the Pride Center was trying to divide the community after SFGN’s story last week.

He was adamant that was not the case.

“It was not meant to divide the community,” he said. “That was not our intent.”

He said the Pride Center did receive some criticism because of the February event from seniors who felt the pricing structure was ageist. And now says he doesn’t know if they will choose to base the price on age again.

“It was very successful in attracting the younger crowd,” Boo said. “But I don’t know if we’ll be repeating it or not.”

SFGN contacted Compass, the LGBT community center of the Palm Beaches, and the LGBT center of Orlando, who both said they do not hold any events where price is based on age.

Ed Stevens feels both organizations could have avoided any controversy if they had handled things differently.

“The Pride Center and Impulse Group both do terrific and much needed work in the community. I understand their commitment to connect with a younger demographic at higher risk who did not live through the worst part of the AIDS epidemic,” he said. “But when they do that in a very public way like variable admission charges, they need to explain their rationale clearly and sensitively.”

Original Story: Impulse Group Accused Of Age Discrimination


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