• The Octopus Club is proud to partner with Guerrilla Queer Bar for their very last homo happy hour!  For 15 years, GQB has hosted nearly 200 invasions of unsuspecting straight bars to spread queer cheer.  For their last hurrah, GQB has decided to take over Cheer Up Charlies, the queer-inclusive refuge at 900 Red River Street.  And they’re donating a percentage of the evening’s proceeds to the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund at AIDS Services of Austin!image001

    “When I started the Austin Outpost of the Guerrilla Queer Bar on July 25, 2000, I had no idea that we’d embark upon a 15-year journey together.  So much has changed in Austin’s gay community over the years,” said GQB founder Richard MacKinnon, who described the group as part tour group, part missionary, part diplomacy, and a lot of camaraderie.

    Attendees are invited to wear a white t-shirt and bring markers to decorate it with, and commemorate GQB’s legacy with a custom souvenir. Friday will feature cool vibes from DJ Daddie Dearest. Come prepared to vibrate with us! MacKinnon and several others have pledged to contribute to ASA’s emergency fund a “DJ Match” equal to five percent of the evening’s proceeds.  

    It’s not too late join the DJ Match!  Just contact The Octopus Club!  The Octopus Club will also be available to accept donations.

    RSVP for the event on Facebook!

    Octopus_Club_Logo_2011The Octopus Club is a grassroots all-volunteer organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund at ASA through 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 ASA clients.

    The Paul Kirby Emergency Fund provides emergency financial assistance to individuals infected with or affected by HIV and AIDS.  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.

    For more information on The Octopus Club and the emergency fund, visit, and join the email list.

  • image001

    If you think being tasked with scanning and organizing old newsletters doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, then you would be right. It isn’t.

    Recently, a box of ASA’s old newsletters turned up at our office, hidden in the back of the Helping Hands Food Bank. The box was weathered, sporting stains and rips over most of its surface. The moment the box was handed to me (I being one of ASA’s summer interns), I knew I was in for it. All I could imagine were the many disgusting things that could be inside of it. Dead bugs were a definite possibility. Dusty papers were guaranteed.

    image003At first, everything went smoothly. This was the type of mindless work that requires agile hands, but little else. Little did I know that the work would become very tiring really fast. Perhaps it was the fact that I ran out of things to look at in the copy room, or the fact that my music playlist became repetitive and I irritable. All I knew is that I soon I was hunching over like a sad Charlie Brown. Three-quarters of the newsletters still had not been touched. My day was souring fast!

    And then, after looking around the copy room for what seemed like the 30th time, I found the stimulation I desperately needed. Little by little, the newsletter headlines started grabbing me. Among my favorite were 1988’s “Federal AZT Funding Temporarily Restored,” 1991’s “New Telephone System Enables Improved ASA Service Despite Initial Frustrations,” and 1992’s “Living with HIV: Demanding Work from Every Angle.” Before I knew it I was sitting down and devouring the articles as if they were Harry Potter novels.

    The articles took me back in time. All of them had a sense of importance because of the history they discussed, but none were dry or boring. Articles highlighting events like a 1988 garage sale pointed to ASA’s humble beginnings, and its dependence on the community, something which is still true today. Reading about the 1988 “Walkathon” and its success in fundraising $82,000 immediately made me think of how much ASA has grown as an organization. Last year’s AIDS Walk, for instance, raised over $250,000, and this year our goal has increased to $275,000 big ones. ASA has blossomed and continues to do so thanks to everyone’s support. There were also articles that pointed to the type of stigma faced by people living with HIV back when information about the infection was still scarce. A 1990 headline “Study Proves Saliva Doesn’t Pass AIDS,” is very telling of how far we’ve come in our understanding of HIV and AIDS.

    image005Seeing the many faces of the people that have worked at ASA over the years was also captivating. The folks who work in our office have always been a diverse group, and getting to see the many group photos and reading snippets of information about newly hired employees was like looking through an old family album. The highlight of my day was reading about Sylvia Lopez (ASA’s 11th hired employee!) and then getting to talk to her and hear about how committed she still is to ASA’s mission.

    The box of newsletters was like a time capsule, with hidden treasures in every one of its articles.

    As my time with ASA nears its end, I can’t help but be happy I got to spend this particular day being exposed to its history. It was rewarding to see the organization’s evolution, from black and white newsletters in 1988 that had to be assembled by hand, to the colorful six-page mailers we produce now. ASA’s thriving history is painted on the covers of its newsletters.

    By the end of the day I was seeing dark spots from being near the scanner for so long. My fingertips were stained with ink from touching the paper so much, and I had suffered from at least 3 paper cuts. And yet, I knew that this (much exaggerated) agony was completely worth it. Uploading the last newsletter to our server gave me the satisfaction of knowing that I was finally done, but also that I had just received the best type of history lesson there is. The kind that approaches you sneakily, so that by the end all you can do is smile at having learned so much.

    Click here to check out some of ASA’s latest and archived newsletters!

    Juan is one of ASA’s summer interns, and he finished his internship with us last week. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors, and thank him for his help over the summer with this project and many others.


  • Freddie poster finalAIDS Services of Austin’s Freddie for a Day is happening Friday, September 4, less than a month out! It is crazy that all of the time put toward this event during my summer internship is finally coming to a close. A lot of planning goes into an event and as a fresh college graduate with no planning experience, I had to learn fast. There are many parts to think about which can become overwhelming, but it helps to remember why you are putting on the event and the eventual goal. As my internship with AIDS Services of Austin comes to a close, my hope is that my contribution to Freddie for a Day helps make the event as large and impactful as we have anticipated!

    HIV and AIDS are such prominent health concerns across the world as well as in our neighborhood here in Austin. Many know of the effects of HIV and AIDS but do not realize how it is treatable AND preventable. That’s our goal for this event – to raise money to get the word out! The proceeds from the event will benefit Mercury Phoenix Trust, an organization that fights AIDS worldwide. We ask for a donation of $10 for the event but every dollar will help not only Austinites, but worldwide.

    In preparation for the event, I had the opportunity to speak with Mark Jensen, owner of the venue where the event will be hosted—The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.—and Adam Sultan member of the Queen cover band Magnifico, which will be playing for the event. Mark spoke of his experience with HIV and AIDS while living in New York City and now, how it affects the people in Austin. “I got to see firsthand how terrible the condition can be, and what it did to their bodies. I lost co-workers, neighbors, friends, people I miss. But I also know people who have had HIV for a long time who are still here and still awesome. We live in a town [Austin] where people are so health-focused and so ‘good-time’-focused … and that’s a great thing. We’re very lucky. But we all need to be reminded that we’re not invincible, and we all need to join together and know that there are folks just like us all that need our help and support.”

    And that’s just what we want to do with Freddie for a Day—come together as a family of Austinites to have a good time while supporting one another in fighting for this great cause. We will have Magnifico rocking out, a Freddie lookalike contest, free mustaches, giveaway prizes, and more fun than you can dream up!

    DSC03916Come on out with all of your friends because anyone and everyone will enjoy a night like this! Don’t even know who Queen is? That’s fine, from Adam’s mouth to your ears: “Zach has quite a flair for entertaining all walks of life, and Queen has a wide variety of great music, both classic and modern, that appeals to a lot of people.” If you love hot, delicious pizza, cold beer, live music and entertainment, and the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping to make a difference in thousands of lives, then there is no reason to miss this event!”

    Magnifico has a passion for playing Queen songs that won’t go unnoticed. Right from the start, the band members knew playing Queen was what they wanted to do: “The first time we ever rehearsed, we had about 3 songs under our belt. We had no idea how we’d sound together, but everyone got super prepared. The moment we launched into a tune, we all just looked at each other like, ‘Oh, yeah!’ It’s just great fun to hear the music come alive, especially the power of it, with all the harmonies.” Even Mark attested to this when he spoke of the event last year. “I loved the moments of everyone in harmony. There’s nothing like a crowd of all different folks singing in one voice at top volume! ‘Oh mamma mia mamma mia…’”

    I hope you will come out and join us at Freddie for a Day, September 4, at 9 PM at the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company!

    Mackenzie is one of ASA’s summer interns, and she is finishing her internship this week. We wish her all the best in his future endeavors, and thank her for her help over the summer with this project and many others.

  • Banner - asa eventThank you to everyone that attended Toros y Tapas, The Octopus Club’s summer fundraiser celebrating Spain’s Running of the Bulls. Thanks to the generous efforts of attendees and donors, the second-annual event raised $7,100 for the emergency fund at AIDS Services of Austin!

    11728852_1002589909760080_8218150638171065311_o“We’re so proud to have put on another successful Toros y Tapas event,” said event organizer Jay Billig. “The generosity of our friends and neighbors, our hosts Michael and Stephen, and the friends of the Octopus Club, is incredible. We’re looking forward to another great event next year!”

    Since 2002, Jay had organized the Octopus Club’s event Tapasgiving, previously held each November, which transformed last year to Toros y Tapas. 

    Guests wore white, and as they entered the beautiful Northwest Hills home of Michael Rodriguez and Steven Watkins, each received a red silk sash. Most tied around their waste or their neck like the fleet footed Spaniards running from the bulls, but of course some wrapped them round their heads like turbans and some draped across their chests and dreamed of being “Miss Pamplona.” The soundtrack for the evening was dance music and, of course, Spanish ballads in addition to the sight of handsome Spanish men fleeing for their lives from a horde of furious bulls! 

    11699006_1002589753093429_1666488311242315419_oAbout twenty hosts created dozens of tapas and desserts for guests to graze on as they stood around the pool. Blonde Sparkling Sangria made with champagne and a cocktail called Sangre de Toro, a mix of vodka, cranberry, lime, and pureed fresh raspberries were dipped from giant glass barrels. These were accompanied by Malbecs, Riojas, Carmeneres, and Torrontes wines making the choice of beverage the only thing difficult in a wonderful evening.

    If you missed Toros y Tapas, keep up with future events by finding The Octopus Club on Facebook and join the mailing list.

    A big thank you to our Toros y Tapas hosts Michael Rodriguez and Stephen Watkins, as well as to our sponsors: Mauricio Carranza, Charley Schumate, Jay Billig, Jeffrey Jungbauer, Billy Brown, Lew Aldridge, Jim Lommori, Candis Guidry, Sue Campion, Matthew Rogovein, Kathy Simon, Ahmed Fathalla, Bob Dailey, Doug Plummer, Barry Izsak, Dan Slutsky, Rick Luisi, Erik Wilson, Larry Davis, Steve Paris, Rick Astray-Caneda, Rob Giardinelli, and Kevin McAfee.

    The Octopus Club, founded in 1989, is a grassroots all-volunteer organization dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund at ASA through annual events and parties. The Fund provides financial assistance to individuals infected with or affected by HIV and AIDS. Services paid for by the Fund include assistance with food, housing, medical care, and transportation.

  • Nat HIV strategyPresident Obama’s administration has updated the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the first time since its introduction in 2010. Additions have been made according to the accomplishments and lessons learned during the Strategy’s first five years. The new additions include a focus on the following activities:

    • Widespread HIV testing and linkage to care
    • Broad support for people living with HIV to remain engaged in comprehensive care
    • Universal viral suppression
    • Full access to comprehensive pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) services

    Once again, ASA has been on the forefront of HIV prevention, working towards these goals through our 12 major programs. Our Testing and Linkage to Care program has provided HIV testing services, counseling, and connection to community resources in Central Texas for decades. Last year alone, ASA conducted more than 1,600 HIV tests free of charge. Supporting people living with HIV to get comprehensive care is also a key priority at ASA, with many of our programs tailored to make sure that clients find the best health resources suited for them and have complicating factors (such as good nutrition and oral healthcare) taken care of in order to achieve adequate viral suppression.

    Of the four additions, access to PrEP has been a major concern here at ASA. While the pill offers great protection against contracting HIV, it is expensive, and many doctors have been reluctant to prescribe the medication (Truvada) to people who do not have HIV. Here at ASA, our testing staff work with anyone at risk to refer them to a doctor where they can get a prescription. Our CLEAR Program also gives information to those interested about PrEP services.

    The Strategy’s four original goals, each of which is priority here at ASA as well, remain unchanged. Great progress had been made toward achieving two of the goals here in Austin— reducing new HIV infections, and increasing access to care—thanks to ASA’s programs and services. Our Condom Distribution Network is among the favorite preventative efforts in the community, making many volunteers eager to donate their time at our office assembling these packs. Increasing access to care is targeted by our case managers, who assist clients in accessing services such as health insurance, housing, employment, transportation, legal and financial assistance, and many more. ASA has helped thousands of Austinites in all aspects of HIV prevention and treatment every year since 1987.

    The other two core goals – reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities, and achieving a more coordinated national response- have also become a priority at ASA over the years. Our partnerships with St. Davis Hospitals, the David Powell Clinic, the Q Austin, and the Women Rising Project have in particular enabled us to provide social support, education, and testing services to a broader spectrum of individuals.

    The Strategy update acknowledges that today there are still 1.2 million people in the United States living with HIV and notes that improvements need to be made in the following areas: awareness of status, linkage to care, engagement in care, and viral suppression. In order to assure successful implementation across the nation of the new priorities set and make improvements to the areas noted, a Federal Action Plan will be released in December.

    Look for more information about ASA’s response to the Federal Action Plan in future postings.

    Click here to view the complete National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated to 2020.

  • Project Fresh Start Logo - Medium Web VersionAfter five years of offering help to people recently released from incarceration, Project Fresh Start has finally come to a close.

    Thanks to a grant from the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), AIDS Services of Austin, in collaboration with META Inc, aimed to accomplish three goals with the implementation of Project Fresh Start:

    • prevent the onset and reduce the progression of substance abuse, including underage drinking,
    • reduce substance-abuse related problems including the transmission of HIV, and
    • effectively assess and evaluate performance data.

    We are proud to say that the program was a complete success in each of these categories!

    Priority populations for this program included African-American and Latino men and women residing in Travis County. Noting the great potential for self-improvement, Project Fresh Start sought to help these underestimated individuals take charge of their own health. In total, 215 individuals enrolled in the program.

    Project Fresh Start offered several services, including assessment of risky activity, HIV testing and linkage to other support services, education for the community about substance abuse and HIV risk, and distribution of risk-reduction kits (condom packs, safer smoke kits, and bleach and water kits.) All of these services greatly helped Project Fresh Start participants evaluate their habits and make changes that improved their mental and bodily health. However, the most liked and successful service was, without a doubt, the one-on-one and group counseling sessions.

    Project Fresh Start participants reported feeling accepted by their counseling group, feeling safe to talk openly about confidential and sensitive topics related to substance use and HIV, and feeling supported and empowered to share advice and feedback to other group members. Participants were so happy with Project Fresh Start that 99% said they would recommend the program to a friend.

    Involvement in the program resulted in drug and alcohol relapse prevention, as well as significant decreases in stress and depression. HIV knowledge and motivation to change risky habits skyrocketed. Although statistical improvements were great to see, the real success of the program for us lay in the feelings of self-empowerment reported by the participants. These were among the many positive responses we got during our 2014 survey:

    “This place helped me when I got out of prison and even gave me hope.”

    “The staff is very caring and that’s what I loved the most, more than anything; they always made sure we were ok.”

    “I honestly can say that Fresh Start has put me on the path to obtain success.”

    Project Fresh Start was a tremendous undertaking and an amazing team effort. ASA is proud to say Project Fresh Start made a difference.

    Click here to learn about other great programs offered by ASA.