Achieving Together Honors Human Rights Day

The United Nations (UN) declared December 10 to be Human Rights Day to honor the day in 1948 when the body adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN declared the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day to be “Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights.” They developed this theme in light of “the COVID-19 pandemic and…the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts.”

The UN states in this year’s theme that, “We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.”

The UN Recover Better campaign states that:

Human Rights must be at the centre of the post COVID-19 world.

The COVID-19 crisis has been fuelled by deepening poverty, rising inequalities, structural and entrenched discrimination and other gaps in human rights protection. Only measures to close these gaps and advance human rights can ensure we fully recover and build back a world that is better, more resilient, just, and sustainable.

    • End discrimination of any kind: Structural discrimination and racism have fuelled the COVID-19 crisis. Equality and non-discrimination are core requirements for a post-COVID world.
    • Address inequalities: To recover from the crisis, we must also address the inequality pandemic. For that, we need to promote and protect economic, social, and cultural rights. We need a new social contract for a new era.
    • Encourage participation and solidarity: We are all in this together. From individuals to governments, from civil society and grass-roots communities to the private sector, everyone has a role in building a post-COVID world that is better for present and future generations. We need to ensure the voices of the most affected and vulnerable inform the recovery efforts.
    • Promote sustainable development: We need sustainable development for people and planet. Human rights, the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement are the cornerstone of a recovery that leaves no one behind.

In a commentary appearing on the Journal of the American Medical Association website entitled, Racism, Not Race, Drives Inequity Across the COVID-19 Continuum, the authors noted that “significant racial and ethnic inequities have persisted across the continuum of COVID-19 morbidity, hospitalization, and mortality,” and “that fundamental causes of COVID-19 inequity include systemically racist policies, such as historic racial segregation and their inextricable downstream effects on the differential quality and distribution of housing, transportation, economic opportunity, education, food, air quality, health care, and beyond.” Similarly, we know that in Texas Black and Latinx peoplemade up approximately 75% of new HIV diagnoses in 2018 and that in order to reach the goals of the Achieving Together Plan, we must address these systemic barriers to equitable health outcomes.


(Image courtesy of amfAR)

Aligning with the 2020 Human Rights Day theme, the guiding principles of the Achieving Together Plan encourage us to follow the principles of social justice, equity, integration, empowerment, advocacy, and community to combat the HIV epidemic in Texas. It is only through acknowledging and honoring the humanity in each of us and addressing systemic racism and inequities while promoting human rights for all that we can truly end the HIV Epidemic in Texas and beyond.

Learn more about Human Rights Day here.

Achieving Together Honors World AIDS Day

UNAIDS declared the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day (December 1) to be “Global solidarity, shared responsibility,” and we at Achieving Together Texas couldn’t agree more with the theme. With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, people living with HIV have faced a number of physical, emotional, psychological challenges. Many people in the HIV community have lost loved ones to COVID-19 this year – and much like HIV – the pandemic has only further exacerbated and shone a light on the inequities that exist in our current systems.

The guiding principles of the Achieving Together Plan implore us to use equity as a lens through which we advance our work and commit ourselves to the principles of social justice, equity, integration, empowerment, advocacy, and community. These guiding principles echo the UNAIDS theme of “Global solidarity, shared responsibility.”

We’d like to share a few excerpts from this year’s UNAIDS World AIDS Day website:

In 2020, the world’s attention has been focused by the COVID-19 pandemic on health and how pandemics affect lives and livelihoods. COVID-19 is showing once again how health is interlinked with other critical issues, such as reducing inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection and economic growth. With this in mind, this year the theme of World AIDS Day is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility.”

Global solidarity and shared responsibility requires us to view global health responses, including the AIDS response, in a new way. It requires the world to come together to ensure that:

  • Health is fully financed. Governments must come together and find new ways to ensure that health care is fully funded. No one country can do it alone. Domestic and international funding for health must be increased.
  • Health systems are strengthened. Investments in the AIDS response in the past few decades have helped to strengthen health systems and have been supporting the COVID-19 response. But more needs to be done to further strengthen health systems and protect health-care workers.
  • Access is ensured. Life-saving medicines, vaccines and diagnostics must be considered as public goods. There must be global solidarity and shared responsibility to ensure that no individual, community or country is left behind in accessing life-saving health commodities.
  • Human rights are respected. A human rights approach applied everywhere will produce sustainable results for health. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fault lines in society and how key populations have been left behind in many parts of the world.
  • The rights of women and girls, and gender equality, are at the centre. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected women’s livelihoods, which have been disproportionally affected by lockdown measures, and lockdowns have resulted in an increase of violence against women in household settings. Women must be included in decision-making processes that affect their lives. The world cannot afford rollbacks in decades of hard-won gains in gender equality.

Now is the moment for bold leadership for equal societies, the right to health for all and a robust and equitable global recovery. This World AIDS Day join us in calling on countries to step up their efforts to achieve healthier societies. This World AIDS Day let us demand global solidarity and shared responsibility.”

Read more here.

Black Trans Empowerment Week

November 13-20 is Black Trans Empowerment Week, a week-long celebration of Black trans life.  The theme this year, “When We Rise” focuses on rising up as a community as well as on a celebration of life.

In recognition of the week, we are reflecting on our recent conversation with Jayla Sylvester. In this webinar, Jayla discusses challenges faced by transgender people of color when accessing HIV prevention and care services.

Jayla explains transgender basics and expands on this information with personal narratives to illustrate how changing services and approaches can affirm and support transgender individuals. The presentation also highlights issues that need to be addressed to provide better services transgender individuals.

What can organizations do to better serve transgender individuals? Jayla emphasizes the need for a holistic approach. Holistic health encompasses mental, physical and spiritual health. This means that not only that services are available to a community, but the community is empowered to seek those services. By caring for the heart and soul of an individual, we’re also caring for the heart and soul of a community.

To explore a variety of resources to support transgender individuals in Texas, visit the Texas Transgender Alliance Resource Guide.

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

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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.