Champion for Change

The month of September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. Organizers chose this time period because it reflects the independence days for many Latin American countries, including Mexico’s famous Grito de Dolores on September 16. First recognized by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 as a week of recognition, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month in 1988. People of Hispanic or Latinx heritage represented approximately 38% of Texas’ population in the 2010 census, but that population is “expected to become the largest population group in Texas as soon as 2022.” 

Achieving Together’s Guiding Principles

Despite representing some of the oldest Texas’ residents, the Latinx population in Texas faces many barriers to equity, including access to affordable housing, healthcare, and education. Not only do the guiding principles of the Achieving Together Plan implore us to action in addressing these issues, the plan lays out a guide for addressing many of these barriers in order to successfully end the HIV epidemic in Texas. The plan stipulates that “addressing mental health, substance use disorders, criminal justice, and housing is essential to creating supportive and stable environments in which people can achieve their health and wellness goals.” In addition, the plan recognizes that “Community-guided planning and data that is inclusive of all population groups will support programs and interventions that are culturally appropriate and will help people find the right pathway to meet their health and wellness goals.” Only by recognizing our history and working together to create a shared vision of the future can we successfully end the HIV epidemic in Texas. Join us!

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Texas HIV Syndicate member Elias Diaz, from Eagle Pass, penned the following essay on his reflections as a community organizer and health advocate for his community.


Champion for Change
By Elias Diaz

I’m a mental health care provider, a public health advocate, and a community organizer. Going into politics wasn’t in the plan. Truth be told… I hate politics. I don’t identify as a politician. I’m not sure I ever will. 

Even after a victory, I raise up my head with pride, but can’t help but to feel the effects this battle had on my body. There were a million reasons not to do this, but I’ve never been one to back down from a fight. 

My fight is long and sordid. It’s never been for a political position, but rather to reclaim the power for my people.  It’s tears and it’s bloodshed. It’s swords and it’s stones. It’s conquest and colonization. It’s passion incarnate. 

My fight is like my language. The Nahuatl words hidden in my Spanish. The Spanish clinging to my English sentences. My English decorated with my accent. It’s the sound I’ve given to the little brown boy that lives inside me… the one that learned silence as his primary language in order to survive. It’s the same language that the voiceless child speaks inside the detention centers. It’s the silent song of the early martyrs of the HIV pandemic.

My fight is the unruliness in my hair. It’s rebellion against systems of oppression. The ones that limit opportunities for housing, promote mass incarcerations, and prevent our people from healing. 

My fight is like the pigment in my skin demanding visibility. Visibility for the most marginalized populations. It’s the need of the LGBQ youth to be seen by their families and their communities.  It’s power in presence; a changed gender marker. It’s resilience personified.

My fight is calloused hands and feet. It’s the long journey that my grandparents took to get to this journey. It’s crossing deserts, walking through canyons, and climbing sierras. It’s mental illness and it’s substance abuse. It’s wondering where to go next, wanting to stop, and knowing you have to keep moving. 

My fight is like the strength in my back. The same strength that powers the worker in the fields. It carries the burden of income inequality, lack of access to healthcare, and inequities in education. It is the resilience of the cactus that causes it to thrive in the harshest of environments. 

My fight is the fullness in my lips. They swell and burst with truth. It’s my unapologetic sexuality. It’s the dignity of the sex worker. The vibrant color of the desert flower.  

My fight is like my food. It’s spicy. It’s poignant. It’s full of boldness and flavor. It’s unrepentant. It demands preparation by looking at our past. It fosters collaboration across systems. It promises a seat the table for all. 

My fight is my religion. It is the sacred dance of my ancestors. It is irreverence in the face of fear. My fight is the confession of classism, colorism, and machismo. My fight is resurrection and evolvement time and time again. My fight is building sanctuary across our systems of care. 

My fight is my tradition. It has deep memories of rape and pillage, stolen land, and forced assimilation. It is hope and it is freedom.  

My fight is the greatest of revolutions. It is recognizing and honoring the fight in you. It is empowerment and it is truth. My fight is a battle cry for a heartbroken community. My fight is a call to action to those that have been broken by these systems to rise up and dismantle them. My fight is a charge against our way of doing things. My fight is a plea for you to rise up and be the champion for change that we have continuously prayed for. 


Elias Diaz made history in Eagle Pass after becoming the first openly LGBTQ candidate to get elected to public office in his area. His hard-fought election came after an eight-month long campaign that included a runoff election, postponement of the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and multiple personal attacks. Although Eagle Pass is registered as a blue city, the region is home to many residents whom Diaz says identify with “traditional conservative values.”

Diaz has been a longtime champion of marginalized communities. He has overcome a multitude of barriers including economic disadvantage, childhood domestic violence, and sexual abuse, and used his experiences to fight for social justice and equality for others. Diaz put himself through college in LA by starring in adult films. Pictures and videos of his sex work circulated on the internet during his campaign and were used against him in an attempt to demoralize him and question his ability to lead. Diaz remained transparent about his past and used the attacks to connect to inspire voters in his community to rise up against injustice and inequality. In the end, he beat his opponent by 517 votes, according to Eagle Pass Business Journal.

How One Faith-Based Organization Supports People Living with HIV

August 30 is National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Achieving Together interviewed Evelyn Grimes and Asha Heller of Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco, Texas.

Please tell us about yourselves and your AIDS outreach ministry.

The AIDS Outreach Ministry (AOM) is one of several outreach ministries within Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco TX.  The AOM was started in the late 90’s by a parishioner, Mary, in honor of her brother who died of AIDS. She started the monthly AIDS Supper Club, which brought hot meals to the residents of AIDS Services of Dallas (ASD). Mary would collect the requested menu donations from our parishioners and bring the food to the residents of the Ewing Center, one of ASD’s four medically supportive housing facilities for people living with HIV and AIDS.  After some time, another parishioner, Jennifer Greenlee, began volunteering with Mary.  After Mary moved away in 2004, Jen took over the ministry so that St Francis could continue to provide food and fellowship for the residents of ASD.  Over the next few years, three additional volunteers, Evelyn, Asha, and Posey, joined the ministry and it was able to grow to include the three other housing complexes owned by ASD.  In 2015 Jen moved away, and the three remaining volunteers took over the reins and remained dedicated to continuing this ministry. 

In 2017, it was decided that the ministry could better support the residents of AIDS Services of Dallas by providing basic toiletries and medical supplies. Regardless of what is needed, the AOM’s core mission is to support those experiencing hardship on their life’s journey. Currently, the ministry is comprised of four dedicated volunteers who communicate the needs of the residents, with the parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as providing grooming supplies and essential need from the monetary donations.  This ministry is fully funded by the generosity of parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi. 

What role can/do faith-based organizations play in supporting people living with HIV?

Outreach is a core foundation of our faith.  We must reach out in love and compassion to others, and be a voice in the community against poverty, violence, and injustice.

How do HIV services fit within the mission of your organization?

As Christians, we are all called to perform the corporal works of mercy, to help all of our brothers and sisters who are in need, regardless of where they are in their life’s journey.  Per the teachings of the gospels, Christ commanded us to feed the hungry, visit the sick, shelter the homeless, give drink to the thirsty, and give alms to the poor.  The AOM is just one of many outreach ministries focused on these works of mercy.

What are some of the barriers you’ve observed that prevent successful interactions between faith-based organizations and people living with HIV?

Fear and stigma from lack of education regarding this disease continue to be barriers.  Most often, regarding HIV and how it is transmitted, that having AIDS is a death sentence, as well as the continuing myth that HIV and AIDS mainly affects gay men.

How can HIV advocates initiate conversations with or collaborate with communities of faith?

Through works such as this blog – getting information out regarding faith-based organizations that are partnering with organizations and agencies such as AIDS Services of Dallas, The Resource Center, and AIDS Interfaith Network, that are successful in their efforts to assist those living with HIV and AIDS.  Agencies should be encouraged to reach out to the local faith-based organizations in their area, to introduce themselves and share their missions, and how the faith-based organizations may assist them. Having these organizations be the initiators to partnership may speed up the process by letting the faith-based community know the assistance is needed.  For St Francis, as mentioned above, had it not been for a parishioner who had a family member affected by AIDS/HIV and a resident of the Ewing House, the needs of ASD may not have been revealed. 

How can (or do) you use your role to create inclusive and stigma-free environments to people living with HIV?

We are not quiet about what we do, and we remain visible within the church.  We do this through our annual monetary collection weekend, announcements in the bulletin, and from the pulpit, as well as monthly communication to the donation volunteers.  We also have a monthly collection of grooming supplies at the church.  Parishioners can see our ministry at work.  We also ensure we make time to answer questions and educate people about HIV. 

We request grooming supplies monthly through “Sign-Up Genesis” which reminds the volunteers of the much-needed items. 

Monthly Items collected include:

  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Laundry detergent
  • Bleach
  • Dryer sheets
  • Razors
  • Shampoo/ethnic hair care products
  • Shaving cream
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Feminine hygiene
  • Soap/body wash
  • Body lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Facial tissue
  • Band-aids/gauze
  • Cotton swabs/cotton balls
  • Pill boxes
  • Hand sanitizers

______

Community is one of the Achieving Together movement’s guiding principles. Lasting change happens at the local level among people who are working together, such as the AIDS Outreach Ministry and AIDS Services Dallas, to create a healthy community.

Reflections on the Achieving Together Long-Term Survivors Webinar

On June 5, 2020, in celebration of Long-Term HIV Survivors Day, Texas HIV Syndicate member Barry Waller led a panel discussion with three long-term survivors here in Texas. Participants came from across the state and had a combined experience of 88 years of living with HIV: Gary Cooper, Austin; Glenda Small, San Antonio; and Steven Vargas, Houston.

When I tested positive for 1985, there were no services or treatments for HIV – only fear, government indifference, and the threat of being rounded up and quarantined. Friends were dying all around me, friends far more accomplished in life than I had been.

-Gary Cooper

Long-Term HIV Survivors Day, started by Tez Anderson of Let’s Kick ASS (AIDS Survivor Syndrome), in 2014 recognizes the resilience and strength of long-term survivors of HIV. Tez chose June 5 because it is the anniversary of the first reporting of cases by the CDC of what would later be known as AIDS.

Long-term HIV survivors are defined as those who have been living with HIV for more than 20 years. Currently, there are almost 19,500 Texans who have been living with HIV for more than 20 years.  These long-term survivors represent two out of every ten Texans living with HIV.

Hopefully we can get together and do this thing right and become as one and realize that everyone is a human being, and everybody deserves to live, and everybody deserves to have a chance.

-Glenda Small

We want to celebrate the long-term survivors currently living in Texas.  Long-term HIV survivors bring so many strengths with them to the fight to end HIV.  Many also face a number of unique challenges, including medical care, medication, housing, social isolation, and more. 

I had to do my part. I had to step up and use what I learned to help other people. And so I did.

-Steven Vargas

You can watch the webinar here and listen as these three individuals share their unique stories, perspectives, and wisdom:  

HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day

Tez Anderson, the founder of Let’s Kick ASS (AIDS Survivor Syndrome), started HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day to celebrate the strength, determination, and lives of people who have lived with HIV for 20, 30, or more years.  Many long-term survivors were part of the early days of activism and have roots in the development of the systems that work to prevent and treat HIV today. 

The first HIV Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day was June 5, 2014.  The date of June 5th was chosen because it is the anniversary of the first reporting of cases by the CDC of what would later be known as AIDS.

Long-term HIV survivors bring so many strengths with them to the fight to end HIV.  Many also face a number of unique challenges, including: medical care, medication, housing, and social isolation, and more. You can read more about aging with HIV in Barry Waller’s wonderfully-written previous post HIV and Aging.

This Friday June 5th, Achieving Together is honored to host, listen, and learn from a panel of long-term survivors here in Texas moderated by Barry Waller. Please see the information below on the webinar and read the panelists and host’s bios.

Friday June 5th, 2020

11am-12:30pm CST

Log in at: Achieving Together Conversation Series: HIV Long Term Survivors Awareness Day

You do not need to download any additional software as the platform (GoToMeeting) will run in your web browser.

Or by phone at: (872) 240-3311     Access Code: 160-952-933

Host:

Barry Waller, Austin, Texas

For over 36 years, Barry Waller has worked in the mental health, intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, and aging fields at both the community and state agency levels in various administrative and management positions. He has a Master’s Degree in Social Work. As the Texas Legislature combined various state agencies, Barry went to work at the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) as Assistant Commissioner over Provider Services. In this position, he managed directly administered services and various contracts with several thousand providers of disability and/or aging services throughout Texas.

Now retired, Barry spends his time working with different community and volunteer organizations. He served for nine years on the Board of Directors at AIDS Services of Austin, where he still remains as a volunteer. He has also served twice on the Board of Directors for OutYouth Austin and currently serves on the HIV Planning Council, a workgroup at the City of Austin on the City’s Age-Friendly Plan, and the Steering Committee of the LGBT Coalition on Aging.

Panelists:

Gary Cooper, Austin

I had just arrived back in Texas and started life with a new partner in 1985 when I tested positive and learned that my t-cells were already depleted; my new partner tested negative, and opted to stay together (we still are.) As the crisis worsened—most of our friends died—I struggled to continue professional employment, hiding my status and coping with several relocations as my partner’s career progressed. Although I’d never been involved in community volunteer work, I threw myself into helping to create the response to AIDS in Little Rock and later St. Louis, continuing my involvement in Austin as a board member of AIDS Services of Austin in the early 2000’s. Once I had gone on disability in 1993 after hospitalization with complications, I no longer tried to conceal my status and continue to make myself available to local media as a long-term survivor (most recently in a Statesman/USA Today article on lessons learned from the AIDS epidemic that apply to our current pandemic).

Glenda Small, San Antonio

I am 63 years old, originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. I relocated to San Antonio because of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and I decided to make San Antonio my home because I didn’t want to go back & start all over again. I have been HIV+ for 28 years, I have been on the Executive Board of Director’s for B.E.A.T. Coalition Trust for over 10 years; I have been on the Executive Board of P.E.E.R.S. for women (a support group for Women infected & affected by HIV/AIDS) for about 9 years; I’ve served 2 terms on the Ryan White planning Council here in San Antonio; I am on the End Stigma End HIV/AIDS Alliance known as ESEHA; I am a member of the peer mentoring advocacy group here in San Antonio; I was inducted in to Sister Love the Leading Women Society, also the Black Women’s Initiative for San Antonio, and two years ago I received an award from the Top Ladies of Distinction for Hidden Heroes!

Steven Vargas, Houston

Steven began helping people living with HIV in 1989, has been living with HIV since 1995, and was recognized as one of Poz Magazine’s “100 Long Term Survivors” in its annual “Top 100” December 2015 issue. Steven is a board member of Houston’s OH Project which preserves the experiences of Houstonians impacted by HIV, and is serving a four-year term as a Community Member representative to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents. He also serves as a Trainer for NMAC’s Building Leaders of Color program and as a consultant with Project CHATT (Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Training and Technical Assistance), which provides technical assistance to Ryan White planning bodies in reaching their legislative requirements. He is also the Community Co-Chair of Houston’s HIV Prevention Community Planning Group (2020-2021), and serves on the local Ryan White Planning Council as the Co-Chair of the Comprehensive HIV Planning Committee. 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

At Achieving Together, we believe that everyone has the right to a happy, healthy sex life. Consent plays a vital role in this. Without consent, people are robbed of the right to decide how their bodies are treated.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). While SAAM helps raise public awareness about sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, the ultimate goal is prevention. This year’s campaign – “I ask” – shares the message that asking for consent is a normal and necessary part of sex.

In the midst of a public crisis, support for survivors is more important than ever. Here are six ways you can support survivors online during SAAM.

When sexual assaults do occur, organizations like SAFE in Austin help survivors heal emotionally and physically. If HIV transmission is a concern, PEP, or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, is available to decrease the risk of contracting HIV. The post below describes the role of the Eloise House and the Kind Clinic in caring for an individual in the aftermath of a sexual assault. This post originally appeared on SAFE’s website and is being re-posted with permission.

If you need help related to sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault telephone hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Providing holistic care and HIV prevention at Eloise House

Written by Piper Stege Nelson

For many survivors, the decision to come to SAFE’s Eloise House after a sexual assault does not mean they have decided to report the crime or file charges. Frequently the decision to visit with a nurse and advocate at Eloise House is about healing – both their hearts and their bodies.

When Connell was sexually assaulted by his co-worker, he was in shock. His emotions ranged from shame to rage to extreme fear. He arrived at SAFE’s Eloise House forensic clinic for a forensic exam after being bounced around to two different hospitals. When Julia, a SAFE forensic nurse, introduced herself to Connell, he said he was very concerned about HIV.

Sexually transmitted diseases, and particularly HIV, are great concerns for survivors of sexual assault since they can be spread through blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. HIV causes an infection in the body, the most advanced stage of which is AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). It turns out that the odds of contracting HIV post-assault are very low; for vaginal penetration without a condom, the rate is less than 2%.

At Eloise House, the forensic nurses assess survivors for HIV risk during the medical exam, and, if the nurse believes there may be risk for HIV, they will call for a consult. One option for those at risk of having contracted HIV is PEP, or Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, which is not a treatment but decreases the risk of contracting HIV. PEP must be started within 72 hours of the sexual assault, just 1-2 pills a day for a month, and is completely free at The KIND Clinic, AIDS Services of Austin, or Seton’s outpatient pharmacy. While the downside of PEP is that there are side effects during the 28-30 day regimen, including nausea and diarrhea, the upside is that PEP vastly decreases the risk of contracting HIV.

Being presented with options for how to take care of their bodies can be a huge sense of relief for survivors of sexual assault.

After talking with Connell, Julia discussed HIV post exposure prophylaxis and told him about his options. Due to the 72-hour window to start HIV PEP and the patient’s priority of starting the medication as soon as possible, Julia contacted KIND Clinic. The nurse practitioner at the KIND Clinic was incredibly helpful and able to get the patient in right away. Julia waited for Connell to go to the KIND Clinic and get medication.

Upon returning to Eloise House to complete the forensic exam, Connell felt much more at ease. He said the staff at the KIND Clinic got him in right away and were so friendly and helpful. Connell and Julia completed the exam at Eloise House and he left feeling more in control and supported.

Connell was able to get all the medical and emotional care he needed after a sexual assault, which in turn allowed him to begin the process of healing.


To find out more about Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) check out AIDS INFO Post-Exposure Prophylaxis overview

Your health care provider or an emergency room doctor can also prescribe PEP. Talk to them right away if you think you’ve recently been exposed to HIV.

Many HIV organizations prescribing PrEP can also provide PEP.  To find out if your local HIV organization provides PEP check the list of organizations across Texas at the Texas DSHS PrEP Provider directory.