Empowering & Assisting Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth in Texas

April 10 is National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This is a day to educate the public about the impact of HIV and AIDS on young people. The day also highlights the HIV prevention, treatment, and care campaigns of young people in the U.S.

Here in Texas, several organizations work to support a particularly vulnerable population: homeless LBGTQ youth. One of these organizations is Thrive Youth Center, Inc. in San Antonio. Thrive was established as a 501(c)(3) in February of 2015, and their mission is to “provide a safe, effective, and supportive center for homeless LGBTQ youth, so they may become productive, skilled, educated, and successful adults with the ability, opportunity, and possibility of achieving their dreams.” Thrive’s emergency shelter, which is located on Haven for Hope’s campus, opened in 2015, and currently there are 10 beds for LGBTQ young adults ages 18-24. In addition to clients onsite in the shelter, Thrive received a federal grant in 2017 that allowed them to house 20 young adults in their own apartments with rental assistance for up to one year. Through its street outreach program, Thrive strives to get young adults off the streets and into shelter, either at Thrive or through another program.

Services provided by Thrive include:

  • Case management
  • Education services
  • Empowerment resources
  • Mental health services
  • Life skills
  • Medical care
  • Legal services
  • Aftercare support for residents after leaving Thrive

Thrive is one of only a handful LGBTQ-specific programs serving homeless youth in Texas. Others include the Dune LGBT Foundation in Dallas. Dune’s programs offer emergency housing resources, rapid rehousing programs, housing programs offer an expected stay of up to 6 months. Tony’s Place in Houston also works to empower homeless LGBTQ+ youth and helps them “survive on a day-to-day basis by providing services to meet their immediate, basic needs.”

While not a shelter, Out Youth, based in Austin, provides much needed services and care to LGBTQ youth. Out Youth has compiled several resources guides, which can be found here

Texas HIV Advocacy Day

Monday, March 29th is the Virtual HIV Advocacy Day at the Texas capitol.

The HIV community has a long-rooted history in public advocacy.  In truth, all advances in HIV treatment, including funding and medical advances, can be traced to community mobilizing to demand action.  One of the first, and best known, HIV advocacy and protests that began in the first decade of HIV is ACT UP.  Begun in 1987, ACT UP was created in response to the silence and inaction of the Reagan administration as the HIV epidemic ravaged communities across the country.

Early HIV advocacy, such work to draw attention to the need to develop and release treatments were successful in creating new fast track processes at the FDA.  These processes shortened approval processes to allow lifesaving medications to be released without protracted and often bureaucratic processes.  Today we can trace the rapid approval of COVID vaccines to the early days of HIV advocacy that resulted in new review and approval processes.

These early advocacy efforts also lead to the creation of the Ryan White CARE Act.  First passed in 1990, the Ryan White Care Act is the largest funder of HIV treatment in the United States.  In 2020, the Ryan White program provided $2.39 billion to support programs providing care and treatment to people living with HIV. 

More recently, the HIV community has led efforts to effectively end the HIV epidemic.  Communities across the country have worked to develop plans and lead efforts to stop the continued spread of HIV.  Here in Texas, community members have come together to develop the Achieving Together plan to lay a framework and vision for reducing the number of people who contract HIV annually and effectively end the HIV epidemic in our state by 2030.

Progress has been made but has now been heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic which has interrupted prevention programs, created barriers for HIV treatment programs, and has stretched local and state public health systems.  The COVID pandemic has threatened the safety net programs across the state, most notably the Texas HIV Medication Program.  Advocates from across the state have mobilized to address these challenges locally and at the state. 

The 2021 Texas HIV Advocacy Day is organized by multiple agencies and organizations to draw together community to ensure that the voices of people living with and affected by HIV are heard.  Advocates from across the state will gather on Monday, March 29th to meet with HIV change-makers and state policy makers to discuss some of the most important HIV legislation of the 2021 Texas legislative session, including HIV treatment and prevention, HIV education, HIV criminalization, and funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

To learn more about the 2021 Texas HIV Advocacy Day and to get involved visit and register at:

Texas HIV Advocacy Day

Reflecting on the “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US IS FOR US” Webinar on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and we here at Achieving Together Texas would like to honor that day by reflecting on a recent webinar hosted by the Black Women’s Affinity Group of the Texas HIV Syndicate. Black women represent 10% of people living with HIV in Texas and represented 8% of all new HIV diagnoses in 2018 in Texas. The CDC provides an informative fact sheet as well about women living with HIV in the United States.

Since Black women are one of the five vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by HIV in Texas, the Black Women’s Affinity Group and the Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative work to address health issues affecting Black women in Texas. The affinity group recently kicked off a webinar series entitled, DYK (Did You Know?). As part of the series, they hosted a webinar on February 8th addressing medical mistrust in the Black community, medical research for HIV/Covid19 involving Black women, and how to identify “good” research. The webinar included a panel of experts who each presented on different topics. Presenters included:

  • Mandy Hill, DrPH, MPH, Director of Population Health and Associate Professor, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s McGovern Medical School & Delta Sigma Theta
  • Teriya Richmond, MD, Chief Medical Officer, AIDS Foundation Houston
  • Shanterra McBride, Alpha Kappa Alpha
  • Jennifer Jones, Zeta Phi Beta
  • Camille White, MD, Sigma Gamma Rho
  • Karen Shores, community advocate

The webinar included a mixture of presentations, interactive polls, and open discussions and prompted some great questions and responses from attendees. One organizer, Sattie Nyachwaya, a Community Engagement Coordinator with Prism Health North Texas, shared her thoughts on the webinar afterwards:

“Being a part of this webinar was a huge honor for me. Being in the space with some powerful Black women involved in this work for many years continues to inspire and motivate me in my long term personal and professional development. One of the things I took from this webinar was empowerment behind medical research. I was never aware that Black women are needed to be a part of medical research, and that we take back the power and break barriers by being active in our own health. I believe that mental health is a part of the foundation of Black women’s health, and by having open conversations with our providers and asking questions we make sure we are at the table with conversations of change. I learned that mistrust lives among misinformation, and it is so important in my own health to empower myself to ask and speak up.”

As part of the work of Achieving Together, the Black Women’s Affinity Group works to empower their community through social justice, education, and advocacy, while working towards the goal of eliminating health disparities and HIV in Black women and all Texans.

You can watch the entire webinar below:

Sex Ed 2021: Pandemic Edition. Promoting Safe(r) Sex During COVID-19

“I have a confession: I’ve had sex since social distancing began. With someone I met on Tinder, someone I don’t live with. And I know friends doing the same. 

With the pandemic still a major concern across the United States, people having sex or even just wanting to have sex may feel shame — even more shame than usual in this Puritanical wasteland. We’ve been told to abstain from pleasure and release at a time where we need it most.”

This is the opening to Anna Iovine’s article “The practical guide to mid-pandemic sex, because abstinence isn’t cutting it.”    While the safest approach is to abstain from sex with partners outside of you household, this doesn’t work for many people.  Like early messages about HIV prevention, abstinence may be the ideal but we’ve learned that for most people, negotiating safety when it comes to sex is the most practical strategy.  Sexual harm reduction approaches have long been a staple in the HIV world, but now those approaches are expanding to help guide people during the COVID crisis.

Achieving Together is excited to partner with Kind Clinic to share their strategies and approaches to supporting communities during this time of uncertainty, particularly around sexual health and wellness. Kind Clinic’s approach to education is non-judgmental, sex positive, and playful in order to develop educational but relatable messaging. We’re excited to share their efforts to help inform and shape other work across the state in supporting communities.

From Kind Clinic:

Safer sex practices have been and always will be vital to the community’s sexual health, but having responsible, safe sex is even more important now during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has introduced new challenges to sexual health education and outreach. At Texas Health Action’s Kind Clinic, we are educating the community on how to reduce the risk of contracting HIV, STIs and COVID-19, while STILL enjoying a healthy sex life. The most effective tools for us have been colorful, fun, and easy to read graphics. Our “Safer Sex During COVID-19” infographic is a great example.

Additionally, Kind Clinic has actively used traditional media such as the Austin Chronicle to highlight and share information on negotiating sexual health during the pandemic.  Holly Bullion, a nurse practitioner and director of clinical quality at the clinic, has taken opportunities to share information when possible.  In the Austin Chronicle article Kissing Is Out, Glory Holes Are In for Students During Pandemic, Bullion continues the practice of sharing critical information in a relatable and non-judgmental fashion as can be seen in the excerpt below.

(Holly Bullion, Kind Clinic; photo courtesy of Austin Chronicle)

Holly Bullion, nurse practitioner and director of clinical quality with Texas Health Action, the parent organization of Kind Clinic, says during the pandemic sexual “playtime” should be focused below the waist. COVID is transmitted through respiratory droplets, so kissing and sexual activities that involve the mouth come with increased risk of viral spread.

“It’s really best to keep your mouth out of any kind of in-person sex play,” explained Bullion. “Or really diligently use barrier methods like dental dams or external or internal condoms.”

She emphasized there are many places for people to get tested and treated for STIs without feeling stigmatized. People should not avoid getting tested for fear of judgment for having sex during the pandemic.

“For many of us, sex is a really important outlet,” said Bullion. “Being sex positive and empowering yourself and knowing what your resources are, I think is the most important thing.”

To complete their messaging, the clinic has created and shared numerous fun social media posts that reflect their emphasis on harm reduction and safety.  We are sharing several to highlight the frank and honest approach.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – Perspectives on ending the HIV epidemic among Black Texans

February 7th is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.  It is a day to raise awareness and spark conversations on the disproportionate impact that HIV has on Black communities.

There were 35,834 Black Texans living with diagnosed HIV in 2019.  Black Texans are about 13% of the total population of Texas but disproportionately carry roughly a third of Texans living with diagnosed HIV. 

The number of Black Texans acquiring HIV each year has fallen over the last decade, and progress has been made to ensure that Black Texans living with HIV are aware of their status. In 2019, 88% of Black Texans living with HIV were aware of their HIV status, close to reaching the Achieving Together goal of 90%.

More work must be done to address the impact that HIV continues to have on Black communities in Texas.  While significant progress has been made to address and decrease HIV among Black women, they still carry a disproportionate burden among women in Texas.  The number of Black gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who acquire HIV each year has remained flat for almost a decade and more must be done to support this community in reducing the impact of HIV.

As we approach National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we asked several partners across the state to share with us their perspectives on what we all need to focus on in order to end the HIV epidemic among Black Texans.

Chris Allen, Health Equity Coordinator

From my perspective, ending the HIV epidemic among Black Texans requires a focus on systems; 

  • Ensuring access to economic, educational, and political opportunities;
  • Transforming organizations and building capacity within Black communities where we are able to make decisions and affect change for ourselves;
  • Ensuring social and environmental safety where we live, learn, work, worship, and play – and working with Black communities to identify what this means (it does not mean increased police presence)
  • Offering culturally competent, appropriate, and affirming health care when the need arises

We have to understand the historical context that has created the inequities we see today and allows them to persist. The first step towards doing this is realizing that a problem exists and making a commitment to be a part of the solution. For some, this may mean stepping back and allowing people with the lived experiences to take the lead.

Michele Durham, Executive Director B.E.A.T. AIDS

From my perspective, in order to end the HIV epidemic among Black Texans, we need to launch a full-on campaign in the churches, schools and in the African American families’ homes.  Some Black Pastors don’t want to talk about HIV or recognize that members of their congregations are affected by HIV.  Also, a lot of black families do not want to acknowledge that they have gay family members or that their children are having sex or that the community needs accurate information and education.  The public campaigns must saturate all of Texas saying “I’m Black and I’m Proud”, “Black Lives Matter”, “Black Girl Magic”, “Black Men are Strong Providers,” and “The Black Family is Loving, Caring, Kind and Beautiful.”  In other words, Black Texans need to know that they are important and loved and worth life.  Texans everywhere must speak-out to sisters and brothers everywhere and say “We Love you No Matter What and We are in this Fight with You!”  After all, “Together, We Can Beat AIDS.”  

Marsha Jones, Executive Director, The Afiya Center

We need to change the lens from which we view HIV in Texas and be prepared to do the hard work that will get us to an end. Ending stigma, access to affordable healthcare, housing, and equitable and fair wages are key.  However, if we are going to truly end HIV and its impact on Black people in Texas, we will have to change the lens to one that is informed by anti-Black racism and its direct connection to why in 2021 Black people continue to carry the greatest disproportionate burden of HIV in Texas.  The existence and practice of implicit biases among the folk who write and pass policy, run programs and serve those most marginalized in this state must be rectified if we with intentions want to end HIV. How we see people is how we treat people. I believe we can end HIV among Black people in Texas. In order to do so we must deconstruct these systems of oppression that continue to disenfranchise and deprioritizes the most vulnerable folk in its society.

Tarik Daniels, Executive Director/Founder, Whatsinthemirror?

The biggest question I thought I had for the week at first was: Why would J.Lo shout “Let’s Get Loud” in her America the Beautiful and This Land Is Your Land mashup performance? It was a very bizarre and confusing moment for me. But as the 2021 Inauguration of President Biden and Madam Vice President Harris continued, my attention was drawn closely to President Biden calling out white supremacy in his inaugural speech. After realizing he was the first president to do so, I wonder how many people in public health were actually listening?

As a Black queer health care worker working through COVID-19, I helped many black patients access HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and HIV treatment, and most shared their sentiments with mistrust of the medical industrial complex in America. As a black boy born in the eighties, by the time I blossomed into a full queer, HIV had already become a black person’s problem that was disproportionately impacting Black MSM more than any other population. I must admit watching COVID-19 evolve into another health epidemic that began to impact black people at alarming rates became very triggering and I had to reach into my toolbox to cope with the new trauma I was experiencing as a person living with HIV.

“We do know that health inequities at their very core are due to racism,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “There’s no doubt about that.” After that comment came in 2020, medical institutions and doctors were declaring racism as a public health crisis across the nation. I even had to write a statement as a Black health administrator managing several sexual health clinics in response to Dr. Benjamin’s comments. But very little seemed to follow. I soon realized that for many declaring racism as a public health crisis, they were also mistaking representation for actual change.

HIV-related stigma has continued being a factor as to why many black people don’t get tested or want to get into treatment. HIV-related stigma and discrimination continues to negatively impact African Americans living with HIV as well. The focus on ending the HIV epidemic among Black Texans and black folks across the nation should start with the acknowledgment of medical mistrust in public health amongst black people. The medical institutions must move past declaring racism as a public health crisis and take responsibility for why black communities have been impacted by HIV and other chronic illnesses at disproportionate rates. It is proven that black people are treated differently. We have data showing us that Black people get different quality of care. Why not create HIV prevention campaigns with the intention of boosting morale and trust in medicine with Black people? I no longer believe that it is ethical to use Black people as the face of HIV simply because we are mostly impacted without historical truth and justification. Let’s start having the conversations around racism in public health that’s been absent in HIV prevention and care and begin to change policies and attitudes. HIV is not the epidemic it once was thirty years ago but the racial inequities that lead to poor outcomes for black people are thriving more now than ever before.

Cordella Lyon, Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas