Gina Lamar Evans, MPH, owner of NEFUSE and creator of Monday Night Mingle is normalizing the discussion of sexual health within the black community. Recently featured in Crain’s Chicago Business, Gina has created both an educational space to reduce stigma around sexual health, as well as providing case management services for those living with HIV. We sat down with Gina to discuss more of her work with our community.
Chante’ Gamby (CG): Could you tell us a little more about yourself?
Gina Lamar Evans: I am known in the public as Gina Lamar. In the science world, I am a mental specialist and am known as Gina Lamar Evans. I have a Master’s in Public Health, and I am an HIV training specialist and case manager by trade. I have worked in the field for 20+ years. My tagline is ‘I talk about sex for a living’ because unprotected sex is the main mode of transmission with HIV.
Monday Night Mingle is a company that I created 11 years ago that was a way for us to have conversations outside of the clinic. My goal is to talk about HIV and healthy sexual practices before you are diagnosed so it can make it easier to engage in safe practices and talk about it more. I think it will make it healthier for people and they won’t shy away from things because they will know how to get treatment. I started with a couple of focus groups of men in my hair salon and then we had a focus group of women to talk about sexual health and eventually brought both groups together to talk. Then, I took it to a bar and added tequila, condoms, and lubricant, and kaboom, over 5,000 followers later, we have Monday Night Mingle.
CG: I imagine COVID must have greatly impacted your method of getting this information out to the community…
Gina Lamar Evans: Absolutely-before COVID, it [attendance] had started to slow down. The bar where we usually hosted the event had just closed-we were the biggest night that they had. Once it closed, we moved to a couple of other places. The first place was in the perfect spot-we would get a crowd heading home from work or attract more people from the growing crowd, so once we started moving it around, it didn’t go as well. So, we decided to move it to a virtual space.
Also, during the middle of COVID, I left my County position after seven years and started my own agency, NEFUSE, which is an HIV case management agency for individuals who receive home care services. All referrals must come through the state from the AIDS Foundation. This way I can do what I want for my people. We are starting to do fundraising that will allow us to stay connected to the community.
CG: What can your clients within NEFUSE expect?
Gina Lamar Evans: We offer home services such as a homemaker for those who need that. We also assist with healthcare appointments. While some clients may have been on medication for 30+ years, we know that having case management services can help. We want to make sure that people can sustain their housing and healthcare and we help with medication adherence and additional support. We refer and get them connected to any additional services they may need.
CG: Could you tell us a little more about your virtual space?
Gina Lamar Evans: Now Monday Night Mingle is an adult fan page, over the age of 21 to access, on Facebook. We put anything and everything about sex and relationships. We model healthy relationships by holding each other accountable-if someone is disrespectful the room creates a space. We serve as an interrupter of negative thoughts and believe that no one should be dying of HIV.
CG: Are you involved with any other virtual spaces?
Gina Lamar Evans: I am going to be starting virtual conversations through CDPH in April. I survived COVID in March of 2020. Now I am fully vaccinated. So, I will be doing COVID conversations starting in April to talk to the black community about COVID. We are going to create a virtual space.
CG: How is your organization fighting stigma?
Gina Lamar Evans: You do know that I am a woman first. And we are losing. The numbers are starting to creep up. We have new HIV treatment in which women were not even studied, but we also want women to take this treatment. I thought, how dare they just exclude us. Unfortunately, in the black community, we don’t allow men to be gay right away and that puts our women at risk. The numbers are so disproportionate because gay white men don’t feel like they have to go back and forth with women. It shows us that we women are being overlooked. I am black and female-I am a double minority and I want to do more to fight these disparities through advocacy, education, and conversation.
CG: In honor of women’s history month, what are a few words of wisdom that you can share with women today?
Gina Lamar Evans: Consistency is key. Don’t give up on yourself. You never know who you might influence. Always operate in excellence. Also, I stand tall only because I stand on the backs of my sisters-Terri, Cathy, Mary/Marlene.