LATEST NEWS & STORIES

  • The best deals for all your favorite Austin restaurants and businesses are at La Gift Card Fete!  Join hosts The Octopus Club and INK for a shopping party featuring gift cards from Austin retailers, accompanied by pastries and mimosas!  All gift cards are 20% face value with 100% of every single penny raised benefiting the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund, which serves as a cash fund of last resort for clients of AIDS Services of Austin!

    La Gift Card Fete 2015
    Saturday, December 5, 2015
    Noon – 2 PM
    Alori Properties Office
    509 Oakland Ave. 
    Austin, Texas 78703

    Check La Gift Card Fete’s Facebook event page for an updated list of participating retailers.  If you’re a business owner that wants to participate, contact The Octopus Club at octopusclubasa@gmail.com.  

    2015 Fete Gift Appeal

    About the Octopus Club, INK, and the Paul Kirby Fund

    The Octopus Club is a grassroots all-volunteer organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund at AIDS Services of Austin through annual events and parties. Since its founding in 1989, the Octopus Club has raised more than $2.1 million for the fund, assisting more than 800 AIDS Services of Austin clients. It raised more than $140,000 for the fund in 2014 alone. INK is a spinoff of the Octopus Club whose mission is Uniting Young Professionals, Advancing the Paul Kirby Fund, and Promoting Safe Sex. Its most recent fundraiser brunch in June raised more than $4,000 for the fund.

    The Paul Kirby Emergency Fund at AIDS Services of Austin provides emergency financial assistance to individuals infected with or affected by HIV in Central Texas. These funds are distributed to individuals for basic living needs on a case-by-case basis. Services paid for by the Fund include assistance with emergency food, housing and utilities, medical care, medication, and transportation. When they have nowhere else to turn, the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund is a helping hand of last resort.

  • Many of you have probably heard that Wade Davis is this year’s AIDS Walk Austin Honorary Chair. What you may not know is where Wade’s passion for HIV awareness and advocacy comes from, especially when it comes to LGBTQ youth. When Wade learned about ASA’s Mpowerment Project, The Q Austin, he immediately expressed interest in the group’s mission, which works with young gay, bi, trans, and questioning men to reduce raising HIV contraction rates while raising awareness and fighting stigma through community mobilization. The Q’s Core Group of volunteers, who meet every Wednesday, came up with a few questions to help us get to know Wade a little more. The Q’s Mpowerment Coordinator, Marcus Sanchez, had the pleasure of talking to Wade in preparation for AIDS Walk Austin on November 8th!

    MS: Hi Wade, thanks so much for your time today. The first question our Core Group has for you is, What was it like to be closeted in the NFL?

    WD: The best way to describe that would be living a double life. On the outside you are this very hyper-masculine male who talks about girls. Someone who re-tells stories he’s heard other men tell as his own. On the inside there was this scared little boy, for lack of a better phrase.  Even though I was in my 20’s I still wasn’t able to be myself. I was this scared little boy who really just wanted to play football. I was blessed with a really beautiful gift to be able to run fast and had a really intuitive understanding of the game of football but I never truly believed that being gay and being a professional athlete could ever co-exist peacefully. The other thing I would say is I was really hyper-vigilant. I was always checking, double checking, and triple checking everything I was doing. As I was talking it was actually a script to make sure what I was saying was appropriate for that space and also doing a scan of everyone’s expressions and body language to make sure I wasn’t doing anything that would call me out as being gay. It was exhausting as hell but after you do it for so many years it becomes a way of life.

    MS: Thanks Wade. That must have been really hard to do for so long. I know you are probably still heavily involved with the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and you speak a lot about HIV prevention, particularly in youth. Where does this passion come from?

    WD: I took a job 4 years ago with an organization in New York City called the Hetrick-Martin Institute which is actually the home of the Harvey Milk High School and it was the first time I had a really honest experience with LGBT youth. These young people are between the ages of 14 and 24. They are marginally housed, they are homeless, and many are already HIV positive or at “high-risk” of contracting the virus. It was my first experience with young people who identify as trans* and they changed my life. There are rare times when you are exposed to people who are honest and real without a filter because they had to be that as a way to survive. Witnessing that type of bold courage changed my perspective on everything. I used to stick to the idea that protecting yourself from HIV was as simple as putting on a condom. I didn’t really have any understanding of the intersection of ways like poverty and shame, and homelessness, and all of these things can create an environment where you put yourself at risk to doing certain things because you’re trying to work through all these other issues at the exact same time. I was blinded by my own privilege that I didn’t take the time to actually listen to the stories the young people were telling before I took this job. Once I worked there and you have a young person look at you in the face and say “Why are you even here when you’re not even listening?” It took a few years of seeing myself in them that really helped me realize that it wasn’t my responsibility to save these young people, it was my responsibility to use my access and privilege to allow them to chose what the best life for themselves was and to help give them access to opportunities. To help them understand that they had an agency, and people to care about them, and to empathize but not offer pity.  It was that experience that lit a fire in me to use my status to create a platform to share their story.  Their stories were often the ones that didn’t see the light of day, and not just those of sadness but also those of great triumph. These stories are the ones that need to be heard. I don’t like referring to these young people as “at-risk.” I believe language is very powerful and I like to say these young people are “at-promise” and teach these young people that they do have promise. It’s my responsibility to help them see that and to also help other people who may have come in with the same misconceptions I once had to see that promise in these young people too. 

    Wade Davis Headshot

    MS:  Wow, that sounds like a really powerful experience. You mentioned a lot of these young people were already positive and you were working with these young people first hand in New York. That sounds like a lot of responsibility. What was it like coming from where you were before to now working with young HIV positive and “at-risk” people?

    WD: I came from the corporate world and in a lot of ways was not qualified for this job. I was fortunate enough that the Executive Director at the time saw something in me. He was willing to give me the opportunity to work at this wonderful organization. It was humbling, it was scary… meaning I had to look at myself. Before working there I never had to confront my own internal shame and homophobia. That part of it was scary and there were times when I felt helpless because when you work with young people and you see their promise, and you have the mindset that you are there to save them then you feel helpless. You have to shift that mindset from savior to helper and when you realize that you are there to help it becomes less of a burden and you do become a container for these young people. A lot of them are homeless with stories of living on the streets and dealing with the police, and other violence so you want to protect them. You end up picking up and leaving with the stuff they are going through and I needed to practice self-care more than I ever had to in my entire life. Once you are there long enough, and my supervisor told me this when I first started and I didn’t realize what she meant until months later, she said “Their successes are your successes and their failures are your failures.” I didn’t get it at first and it took me a long time to realize what she meant. These young people are going to make mistakes and also have successes. They are no different from when you were a kid and hopefully had parents who let you make mistakes and have successes. You have to create the same experience for these young people even though their circumstances may be very different.

    MS: The guys here at the Q are interested to know more about the #ThisisLuv hashtag?

    WD: So the “This is Love” campaign was developed by myself and my business partner and very great friend Darnell Moore and another good friend Tiq Milan. Right around the show “Empire” came out with the premiere of season one, it sparked a lot of interesting dialogue around the ways the black community specifically was homophobic and it painted a myth the black community was more homophobic than other communities. What we wanted to do was create a campaign that spoke to that narrative with beautiful stories of men women, gay, straight, bisexual, and trans individuals who identified with LGBT who were loved and affirmed by their black family. We wanted to make sure we told every different type of story so that people of color, especially young people, could see that there were spaces and stories of these people who are loved and affirmed. We wanted to have a week long period where we had different people, celebrities and non-celebrities, share their stories and we finished the week off with a panel discussion at HRC in DC where we had people like Jason Collins and a bunch of other wonderful people who came and talked about being loved by their African-American family members.

    MS: That’s a great concept! I myself am Latino so I know it’s out there and I definitely get how the stigma and homophobia in communities of color are depicted in the media.

    WD: Right, and that’s the only story that’s being told. Just having the chance to work with so many young people who identify as LGBT and people of color I’ve noticed that they’ve bought into this depiction of homophobia in our communities. One of the experiences I had was with a young girl who I taught who said she couldn’t come out to her mother because she would never accept her because she was from the Islands and wouldn’t understand. Her mother was one of the few parents I spoke to on the phone and I was pretty sure that her mother knew that her daughter was a lesbian. We don’t divulge any personal information, but as I am talking to her mother I’m thinking, “Her mother knows.” I would ask my student to engage her mother in conversation about lesbian and gay people in general just to see how she responds but she thought “no, she’ll never accept me.” She later ran away from home and I saw probably 4 or 5 months later. She was smiling… so I asked her how everything was going with her mother. She said “Oh I already moved back home. My mother already knew!” Just the idea that she bought into the myth that her mother would never accept her… she didn’t even giver her mother a chance. Those types of experiences have really sparked the interest of myself, Tiq, and Darnell, and make us think, “What can we do with our public platforms to really make more powerful and positive experiences and sharing of love?”

    MS: That’s a really great idea and I think it’s great you guys are taking that on. I know those ideas can be damaging to young people and can keep them in the closet longer than they have to be. The amount of personal distress that puts on these young people is horrible. Thank you for sharing that, that’s really amazing!

    WD: We plan on doing this next year as well so if any of your young people, or you yourself, at your organization would like to get involved… we partner with Ebony Magazine and a bunch of other organizations as well and we are trying to expand and make it better with more experiences and stories.

    MS: Great, yeah! I will definitely pass that along to the guys. I’m sure they would love to represent Austin in that capacity. That’s awesome! I look forward to watching this campaign grow! So our next question and you’ve probably gotten this one a lot. What was it like to be one of the first NFL players to come out as gay?

    WD: This might sound crazy but I honestly thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal. I thought it would be a story for a day or two. I’d do a few interviews and it would be over. The next thing I knew I was the most Googled person on earth for 2 days. It was scary at first because I didn’t know what I was going to say. I had my story but, because of my naiveté, I didn’t think about how much of an impact it would have on others. What was so beautiful about it was that because of the work I’ve done with the Institute I was able to be put in the place that I was. The training I received and being a thought leader had prepared me to be someone who could speak publicly about sexual orientation and gender identity.

    MS: What advice would you give young gay, bi, trans*, or questioning men who sleep with other men, like the ones we work with at The Q, who may sometimes feel pressured to participate in “at-risk” behavior they may not feel comfortable with? How would you empower them to be an advocate for their own sexual health?

    WD: That’s a really wonderful question! One of the number one things I’ve done for myself is look at my past experiences that I may not be proud of, but I look back and think “Why did I do that? Why did I participate in something quote/unquote risky behavior?” Often times it was because I wanted to feel loved or desired or have someone else created something in me that hadn’t already existed. My number one advice to young people is to do the work within themselves to truly love themselves. That sounds so cliché but it’s important to truly love ourselves but we don’t always have the tools to do that so my advice is to find ways to practice skills of self love that will lessen the chance of looking for that in someone else. Part of the work in that is giving young people those skills. For myself I say daily self affirmations. There are days that I do not feel attractive so I wake up and look in the mirror and tell myself “You really look beautiful today.” I’ll say it again and again and then I meditate. I’ve had to find ways to center myself and feel comfortable with myself which is not always easy to do but I’m trying to find ways to do the internal excavation work to get rid of all the shame and self loathing so that’s my advice. Find a practice that you can do every day to learn to love yourself more and more every day.

    MS: That’s really great advice and that’s all the questions we have but before we go, you are the Honorary Chair of Austin AIDS Walk this year, and we are really excited about that! Is there anything Austin should know before we get to meet Wade Davis in person?

    WD: Austin should know that my on huge weakness is shoes. I have a weakness for sneakers. It’s something I’m trying to rid myself of but I really love shoes. Oh, there’s another thing. Austin cannot talk trash about Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, or Janet Jackson… OFF LIMITS!

    MS: OH MY GOD YES! That will not be a problem and you will totally fit in here at The Q for sure! All 3 rotate quite frequently in our play lists.

    WD: Anyone else but Michael and Whitney it is too soon. It will always be too soon to talk about Whitney or Michael.

    MS: I get that and totally agree! I’m sure you won’t have a problem with that here. That’s good to know. I’m glad I got that before we end here. This is totally cliché too but What about cowboy boots? Do you have any cowboy boots?

    WD: Oooo I don’t like cowboy boots and I grew up in Louisiana. I’m a Southern boy but we called them sh*t kickers.

    MS: Haha yes, I feel weird for even asking so you have to forgive me for my cliché moment. It was the natural from shoes to boots Texas question.

    WD: No no no it’s ok but I won’t be caught dead in some cowboys but if I do whip my a**!

    MS: Hahaha that’s great! Well thanks for your time we Wade we cannot wait to have you here for Austin AIDS Walk on November 8!     

  • Becky Helton has raised funds and awareness for AIDS Walk Austin every year since its inception in 1988, and she has all the shirts to prove it (well, all except one.)

    In the early, pre-internet years Becky prepared for the Walk by writing fundraising letters to friends at work and at her church. “I didn’t know anyone personally who had AIDS, but I hated that people were getting sick and not getting help. There was so much stigma attached to the disease. People were being ostracized; I remember an article appeared locally that really affected me, about a woman working for the City who fell ill and was diagnosed with AIDS. When she returned to work, she found that her desk had been segregated from her co-workers. Back then, even fundraising for AIDS relief was stigmatized by the public.”

    So what motivated Becky to get involved with that first, brave Walk (then called From All Walks of Life)? “If you knew Glenn Maxey, you did the Walk.” Maxey had first become involved when quarantine of AIDS patients was recommended by a state legislator. As a legislative aide, Maxey had helped organize the defeat of that proposal, and by 1988 Maxey was the first executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby (now Equality Texas). Once involved at Glenn’s urging, Becky was in for the long haul.

    Commitment and the persistence needed to follow through were not new to Becky. Once she saw an editorial in the Daily Texan about the presence on campus of statues of Confederate heroes, but not of Martin Luther King. Right away she and two others started a group dedicated to getting an MLK statue on the UT campus; 20 years later, the statue was dedicated. “If you see the need, you have to act.”

    Becky spent most of her formative years in the Middle East, primarily in the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia (her father worked in the petroleum industry.)  “I’ve seen what happens when people are not taken care of. Sick people should not have to beg in the streets, which is what I did see. How can we ignore people with so much need? How can our legislators cut funding to agencies helping people in need? I can’t understand how they could do that.”

    “People say it is hard to ask for money, but the way I see it, I’m not asking for me, I’m asking for people I love who are HIV+.” Once while raising funds for the Walk she encountered John Lipscomb as he campaigned to become a county court-at-law judge. “I was wearing my Walk t-shirt, and I asked him for a donation. He literally got out his wallet and emptied it, donating it all to the Walk. And he continues to empty his wallet for the Walk if I see him and if I don’t, he donates online. So I get to be the conduit for other people’s generosity. I have no money myself; it’s the donors who are being generous. As Bono said, ‘we get to carry each other.’”  

    IMG_1066

    What about that t-shirt missing from her collection? “It was from the second or third Walk. The front had a drawing of a kid with the message ‘I have AIDS, please hug me.’ I thought it was really the wrong message, and I would not wear it.”

     As impressive as her record is of participating in all the Walks, it didn’t stop there. “David Smith was how I got involved in the AIDS Ride. I had just finished the Walk; I was about 35 and overweight and really out of shape, huffing and puffing. David was handing out brochures promoting the first AIDS Ride, which was to be 125 miles over two days (now it is a much shorter, one-day event.) David looked me in the eye and said, ‘You can do this!’ I have belonged to David ever since. Only David would have done that: he didn’t see me as overweight—he saw the best in me. Every year since, I have done both the Walk and the Ride.”

    Currently Becky is also training for a half-marathon to raise money for the Austin Children’s Shelter. Her goal is 15-minute miles (walking is ok in charity marathons.) This means she will be raising $750 for that project while simultaneously trying to reach her $2,000 goal for the 2015 Walk. “I’m trying to think of something different for the Children’s Shelter fundraising to avoid wearing out my donors. I have an action figure collection, and I may auction that off on eBay to help me reach my goal.”

    Her friends know she will be asking them regularly to donate to the mission of AIDS Services of Austin, and they never fail to give. “The AIDS crisis has evolved with new treatment protocols, but people still get sick. Patients still need food that is healthy and easy to eat. ASA prepares home-cooked meals for those unable to prepare it, and the agency provides a Food Pantry for clients who are able to prepare their own food. ASA still needs to assist clients who have lost their jobs when they became ill (it’s still legal to fire people for that in Texas.) The need may appear to be less dire, but the services are still just as needed, and the needs are now much more complex; now ASA works with clients to make sure they have access to healthcare and are taking their medicine regularly and staying healthy. They provide dental services, which are integral to good health. Prevention efforts are just as important today.

    “If there were no ASA, where would the AIDS crisis be today in our community? How much worse? We are currently seeing a surge in the infection rate among young people, so we need to do even more—so that in another 28 years we are not still doing this. I don’t want to be doing the Walk in my eighties, although I will if the need is still there.

    “Make the world better, and you are part of it. I just want the world to be better, and I want that more than a new dress. But I would like to go to Ireland and participate in the Dublin City Triathlon, which has the coolest medal ever—it’s a piranha!” (The club that produces the triathlon is called the Piranhas.) Becky has done triathlons in Austin, but she is cross training now to be sure she finishes in the pack and not last. “And I might meet an Irishman or two.”

  • You are cordially invited to join us for an early afternoon promotional event benefiting ASA and the upcoming AIDS Walk 2015 at Gourmands Pub on October 17th from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

    Gourmands Pub is a family-owned, friendly neighborhood establishment located on the East side at 2316 Webberville Road. Gourmands strives to be unpretentious by offering a reasonably priced food menu with sandwiches, soups, and other appetizers and snacks.  You can find their complete menu at lovethysandwich.com.

    Gourmands wants to support non-profit organizations that are helping in their community.  The family co-owners recently prioritized a few organizations and AIDS Services of Austin is at the top of their list, because AIDS and HIV has impacted several family friends.  Tiffany Russell is one of the four family co-owners of Gourmands. She explains, “This will be our first experience staging a non-profit event.  We are excited by the opportunity, and hope it will be a great success for ASA.” 

    At this event, Gourmands plans to highlight the upcoming AIDS Walk in November.  An information table will be present and staffed with ASA staff and volunteers. The AIDS Walk is a priority for Tiffany, who is really excited about it. “I hope people will come out to sign up to walk, and also donate to the Walk”.

    Tiffany’s idea for this fundraiser was initiated after her recent experience attending ASA’s Women’s Giving Circle Luncheon in May 2015.  Tiffany was impressed by the speakers at the event, “because their stories were all very personal and moving.”   She further recalls, “I was especially pleased to hear another guests at my own table explain how far a single gift donation made to ASA goes toward providing support in our community.”

    Tiffany was first introduced to ASA through the efforts of her personal friend and ASA Development Committee member Annie Frierson.   Annie shared her own praise for Gourmands support of ASA saying, “they are modeling the ideal behavior of community engagement that is needed from our business community.”

    Donations at this event will be generated in part through a donation made by Lone Star Beer.  Lone Star is providing both their namesake draft beer, as well as an alcoholic root beer, known as Not Your Father’s Root Beer.   You can visit the Facebook event page for more information.

    Reservations at Gourmands are accepted (and encouraged) for groups of 8 or more; otherwise, you can easily find a spot at the bar or a separate table on your own.

  • In January of 1992, Dr. Chris Fabre announced the opening of the Jack Sansing Dental Clinic (JSDC) by making a call to action. At the time, the Dental Clinic, or the HIV Dental Project as it was then known, was being housed at a location donated by the City Health Department and only operated on Saturdays. Dr. Fabre called on volunteers to fill the many positions that would be needed for the Clinic to operate smoothly, including dentists, dental assistants, and secretaries. He also asked for equipment donations.

    The Jack Sansing Dental Clinic had humble beginnings, but it sure has come a long way.

    Back when it was first founded, the Clinic’s mission was simple: to provide quality and affordable dental care to people living with HIV. This mission remains strong as ever. In many ways the Clinic became a service warrior for people living with HIV, many of whom faced rejection, fear, and discrimination from local dentists. Dr. Fabre understood that for people living with HIV, proper dental care is extremely important. The weak immune system caused by HIV and AIDS, can lead to oral cancers, opportunistic infections, and other periodontal diseases. These illnesses can prevent HIV+ people from being able to ingest food properly, which can in turn further weaken their immune system. Improved oral health facilitates proper nutrition and leads to stronger overall health.

    Today, the Jack Sansing Dental Clinic provides care to about 1,600 people annually from ten different counties. Services available include oral examination, treatment planning, oral surgery, root canal treatment, periodontal therapy, restorative dentistry, removable prosthodontics, treatment of infection, and preventative oral health care. The Clinic is open Monday through Thursday from 8-5PM, and Friday from 8AM to noon.

    Most recently, the Clinic moved to a new location. Now housed at 711 W 38th St. Suite E-4, the move resulted in an increase in capacity of 22%. Those interested in receiving services at JSDC need to be seeing a regular doctor, but do not need to be in case management. The Clinic provides services to clients of all income levels.IMG_5974

    In his 1992 announcement of the opening of the Jack Sansing Dental Clinic, Dr. Fabre mentioned that ASA’s hope was that the Clinic would eventually have a space to call its own and hire a paid dentist. Looking at it now, with its eight dental chairs, operating suite, many meeting rooms, and large reception area, it can be easy to forget all the hard work it took to get the Clinic started. The Clinic began as a labor of love for Dr. Fabre and the many volunteers who have dedicated their time there over the years. Today, the Clinic remains a place staffed with extremely dedicated people. From humble beginnings to a bright future, the Jack Sansing Dental Clinic stands strong.

    We invite you to learn more about the JSDC on Friday, October 9th at our open house. Our ribbon cutting is at 11:00 am and the open house will last until 1:30 pm. To learn more, visit our event page.

  • AIDS Services of Austin’s prevention team demonstrated a strong commitment in supporting the Austin Pride event last month, by providing a variety of prevention services to attendees, including contraceptives, testing, counseling, and general information.

    Velda Clinton, Prevention Specialist at ASA commented after the event, “It was a wonderful year.  People were much more engaged than in years past, and more active in picking-up the free supplies of condoms and lube being offered.”    ASA distributed both male and female condom kits and dental dams.  Organizers estimated that they distributed between 2,400 and 3,600 condom packets.104

    To counter the battle with Austin’s high summer heat index, ASA deployed cool water misting stations at the prevention booth site, which helped to attract Pride participants to the booth and provided an easier opportunity for ASA volunteers to engage with them.

    Good interaction with the crowd was a common theme, as staff and volunteers met with an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 patrons. Organizers were encouraged by the outpouring of appreciation from the attendees.  Velda also recalls, “Each person was amazingly grateful for ASA providing the service, and for doing it there at the Pride event specifically.”  Thanks were expressed by those who took advantage of the testing service, as well as those who simply took advantage of the opportunity for dialogue about updates in the progress to fight the HIV epidemic today.  Patrons also described ASA’s gesture as having felt more comfortable and less clinical than other environments.  Some of the testing participants stated that they felt more comfortable discussing their fears and receiving advice in this less formal setting.

    On-site HIV testing has been offered at Pride by the ASA Prevention staff for many years now. During this year’s event a total of 47 tests were administered.  Testing was offered not only for HIV, but also for syphilis screening.  Individuals taking advantage of the testing represented not only a broad section of the LGBTQ community, but also heterosexual attendees.

    Jonathan Chavez (Testing and Linkage to Care Coordinator at ASA) expressed his personal thanks to all the event staff including the 15 additional volunteers from the community who all helped to make the event another Pride success!  

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