ZASA has been a second home to many people: young or old, male or female, gay or straight. When people have lost their family and friends due to stigma and fear (whether due to their HIV status or their sexual orientation), they have been able to find a new family at ASA: one that is judgment-free, accepting, open, and safe.

Z, ASA Mpowerment Volunteer Specialist, understands firsthand the struggles ASA clients can face with their families and homes. “College graduation was Wednesday, and by Thursday, I was in Austin. I just ran away.”

Much of Z’s Latino/Hispanic family holds conservative views about men and masculinity. While his parents support him, he still hides his true self from his extended family when he goes back home. “When we went back for a concert one night, I wouldn’t let my boyfriend hold my hand because I was worried about who would see.”

“Austin is my home because it’s where I can be me.”

In Austin, Z discovered a passion for HIV prevention and began volunteering with the Q Austin, eventually joining the team full-time.

“I’ve been able to find a chosen family that’s not my biological family, but people I care about just as much.”

Z and the other members of the Q Austin make it their mission to create a safe place for LGBTQ youth who may not have another outlet to talk about safe sex and preventing HIV. Together, they’ve created a space that is more than just educational; it provides a sense of community, a feeling of belonging, and a way to take charge of your own personal health. Each week, they do fun activities such as movie night or craft night, and they have developed new and funny messaging that repackages old HIV teachings for a new generation.

“Like the men we serve at the Q, I feel so accepted at ASA,” Z says. He hopes to make a difference in clients’ lives, just as ASA did for him when he first came to Austin. “I want to bring people together to form meaningful connections that strengthen their lives.”