You want me to plan World AIDS Day?!?

December 12, 2013 in AmeriCorps, World AIDS Day

In early October my supervisor asked me to plan the Damien Center’s World AIDS Day event. I was immediately overwhelmed. What was I supposed to do? How did one organization celebrate such an important event? I picked my co-workers’ brains and perused the internet for ideas. This year’s theme on was “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation.” As we move forward to an AIDS-free generation, we must remember and understand the path that has made this possible. So I decided to celebrate the progress that has been made in the HIV/AIDS World AIDS Dayfield.

I wanted this celebration to remember the past, but also have fun activities that our clients, the staff, and the public would enjoy. I reached out to our talented and always eager Damien Center volunteers. It wasn’t long before I had musicians, massage therapists, a yoga instructor, and even a Zumba instructor lined up for the event. A pharmaceutical company even agreed to provide lunch and give a presentation about the history of HIV/AIDS. The presentation complemented a timeline that we hung in the main lobby noting key events in HIV’s history.

On Wednesday December 4 (World AIDS Day is on Dec. 1, but due to the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrated on the 4th), the event went off without a hitch! The waiting area was filled with the sounds of live music provided by local musician, Candyce Fujita, while three massage therapists offered back massages to everyone who walked by. In the conference room beginning yoga and Zumba classes were being offered for anyone wanting to try something new. The volunteers surprised me with their talents and exceptional generosity. The event was well attended and everyone said they enjoyed the day.

 While planning the event I realized several things. 1) There are many talented people willing to volunteer their time and skills if they are asked. 2) Community connections are important. 3) We need to celebrate our accomplishments more often. 4) Back massages and Zumba make any day amazing!!!

Catherine is a member of AIDS United’s AmeriCorps Team in Indianapolis, IN.

B Poppin’ for Prevention

December 11, 2013 in m2mPower

chris-rudisill-webby Chris Rudisill,
Director of LGBT Community Center Services
Metro Wellness and Community Centers

When we heard of making a video project based on the question of “What’s in Your HIV Toolbox?” our creative team went crazy with excitement. In the field of HIV Prevention, we constantly work to creatively reach out to the community – breaking down stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and spreading prevention messages. In addition, many of our communication to at-risk communities, especially young gay and bisexual men continues to evolve using social media, phone apps, video and texting. The video project provided a perfect platform to create a fun, yet educational video about HIV prevention.

The project also provided our staff a chance to expand on our creativity and work together. Abby Nicholson, Metro’s HIV Education & Prevention Coordinator brought me and my LGBT Community Center Services team in to brainstorm ideas. With the help of Adam Jahr, LGBT Program Manager and Ta’ri Badil-Abish, Preventino Specialist, the team of four started brainstorming on how we could shine above the rest with a unique and educational video that had some humor and viral-ability to it. Somewhere in the conversation, Mary Poppins came up. Honestly, I don’t remember now how that happened but it was the perfect answer. We remembered the magic bag scene from the Disney classic and thought “What if our Toolbox was that magic bag? We have everything in our HIV Prevention Toolbox!”

Here’s our little secret – we then took a toolbox and cut a hole in the bottom of it. Then we placed it on a table we found with a glass leaf removed from the top. With the help of a simple tablecloth, we were able to provide the illusion that the toolbox was sitting on top of a solid table. Then we placed items under the table that could be pulled through the toolbox making it seem as though the box was bottomless, just like Mary Poppins’ handbag. We tried to find unusual items that you wouldn’t expect and mix them up with the important items like a testing kit, lube, and most importantly condoms. Then we were able to include a condom demonstration as only Mary B. Poppin would do.

Adam and Ta’ri pulled in the help of Leo Gallego, Metro’s Program Navigation Specialist, to appear in the video as well as a young gay man along with Adam who would be visited by our lead star, which took the name “Mary B. Poppin” (played by Badil-Abish). The idea was sound and the original lyrics to “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins would work perfect – with just enough humor. “And ev’ry task you undertake, becomes a piece of cake. A lark! A spree! – It’s very clear to see…”

We really enjoyed the chance to have some fun and be creative, and really worked hard together to create a unique approach to the video project.

Once the video was complete, we navigated our way through video-editing software teaching ourselves along the way. Once the project was posted online we mobilized through our Facebook pages to spread the word about the video, asking others to share and vote daily. Several people in the community started sharing the video with their friends and the project helped spread the word about our prevention programs and this project within a few days. The efforts continued as the contest progressed and others presented their videos. Our entire staff helped share the video, along with key community members to spread the word. In addition, we highlighted the video on our website homepage.

The video remains on our page and we plan to continue posting out the video using our social media networks in the future. This video project has made a good addition to our other videos regarding HIV statistics, condom demonstrations and overall information about our agency which has been serving the community for 20 years in the Tampa Bay area. In addition, it has sparked creativity among our staff and inspired us to expand how we reach the

Since this video production, our prevention staff has also expanded our reach to “Meetup” sites, more social apps, and text messaging services to not only increase awareness but involve the community in the conversation and the work. Through group interventions, community events and social communication we are reaching more gay and bisexual men who are at risk for HIV.

One of our groups in Tampa called Healthy Men Unleashed (HMU), which is made up of high-risk negative gay and bisexual men, has started experimenting with other video outlets like Vine to expand on ways we can reach the community in fun, exciting messaging. Through these efforts we are able to continually reach young gay men and continue to evolve in our we communicate prevention messaging.

As our friend Mary B. Poppin would say “In ev’ry job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.”

The Key to the Toolbox

December 6, 2013 in m2mPower

by Joseph Sedillo, HIV Testing Coordinator
Cascade AIDS Project

Over the years we have been able to add many tools to the HIV prevention toolbox. From advances in PrEP to being more open to sex-positive dialogue, we now have several skills to help people stay healthy (regardless of their HIV-status). But one thing that we still struggle with is the stigma around HIV. It keeps us from being open about our status, talking with our partners, and is fueling this HIV epidemic, especially among gay and bisexual men. Thirty years into this epidemic and stigma is still something that is plaguing our community.

So we were grateful to learn about AIDS United’s video contest because it gave us an opportunity to show how we plan on combating stigma in our community. We believe that knowing your HIV status, positive or negative, is the key that opens the HIV prevention toolbox. And that’s what inspired the theme of our video, “Knowing.”

I turned to my friends, coworkers, and volunteers for their help. I asked how they would feel about having their status painted on their bodies and showing the world that they were okay with who they were. The reaction I got was overwhelmingly positive (no pun intended). I realized that I kind of live in a bubble, where I don’t really see my friends and coworkers as pluses and minuses. But people on the outside might not know people who are positive, and I wanted to be able to show that it is possible to live openly as a queer man with or without HIV.

Making the video was a blast! People came together and let me act as a makeup artist and director and the experience was playful and open. I was really proud of one of our models because this video was the first time that he was publicly acknowledging his HIV-positive status. How amazing that this video provided a vessel for him to come out in a big way!

When I sat down to edit the video, I realized that we had something really special. Stringing together these film clips of my queer friends with their statuses portrayed unabashedly on their bodies got me kind of emotional. What if we could all be like this? What if the world was okay with this? And then I knew that this is how it starts, one person at a time. The video became a labor of love for me. I recall the deadline was approaching —  it was 3am — , and I was almost done. “We need a narrator,” I thought. “We need words to go with this.” And then they just came out. I recorded the voiceover in a couple of takes in my dark closet (the irony is not lost on me here) so I wouldn’t wake up my roommates.  The  project was complete.

What came next was truly heartwarming. The response to the video was wonderful. Our staff members were really pleased with how it turned out and reactions from the community were even more exciting. And when people found out that the video was part of a contest with a $4000 prize it was a pretty easy sell. However, since we didn’t find out about the contest until late in the game, there were several other organizations that were way ahead of us in votes.

We set a goal of getting 1000 votes by the end of the voting period. We knew it was an ambitious goal but we wanted something that we could strive for. We thought if we could reach 1000 people with this powerful message it would be quite an accomplishment! And so the social media campaign began. We asked everyone in our agency to post the video to Facebook and to message their friends personally and speak out about why voting was important. We created some still photos from the video and made posters to put in our community center. And of course, our staff got plenty of reminders from me to vote every day.

When we found out that we won the video contest we were incredibly excited! But it was more than just about the money. We had produced something that we were proud of and that our community responded to. That was and is invaluable to us. We have since shown the video to some of our funders, to community partners, and most recently, at the United States Conference on AIDS.


We hope to continue sharing this video to queer men in our community to inspire them to take charge of their sexual health.  Ideally, it will help further the conversation around HIV and sexual relationships. Hookups, boyfriends, polyamory, it doesn’t matter. We don’t care what kind of sex you’re having or who you’re having it with but we want to destigmatize HIV and encourage you to talk about it. In a time where HIV rates are rising again in the gay community we need all the help we can get in order to get people talking, get people tested, and work to ensure wellness for all.



Team Detroit; World AIDS Day at Spirit of Hope

December 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

World AIDS Day is observed annually on December 1st with the goal of raising global awareness of HIV and the AIDS pandemic. In 2013, the World AIDS Day theme was “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation”, highlighting the fact that an AIDS-free generation requires cooperation both within and between communities. Keeping this theme in mind, the Detroit AIDS United team partnered with Spirit of Hope Church for its commemoration service on December 1.

The commemoration service gave attendees a chance to honor loved ones by writing their names on red pieces of cloth and included several speakers who shared their experiences with HIV. One man spoke about the cultural shift that he observed away from the carefree, sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s as the HIV pandemic grew. As he saw his otherwise healthy friends and family fall victim to HIV, he realized that he had to both take responsibility for his own health as well as accept those around him who were affected by the virus. Acceptance, rather than toleration, is the key to eliminating AIDS as it lessens the negative stigma surrounding the virus. By lessening the fear around the virus, more people feel encouraged to get tested, and people living with HIV build the confidence that they need to fight the virus. This confidence manifests itself by helping people stick to treatment plans and practice less risky behaviors more consistently. Acceptance is a way of taking responsibility for eliminating AIDS, which is shared by everyone.


Another woman spoke about her struggles with receiving acceptance and support after her initial diagnosis with HIV. She was four-months pregnant when she was tested positive for HIV by her doctor. She was neither informed of her options nor given any pre or post test counseling. She was essentially given her diagnosis and left to fend for herself. From there, she had problems receiving acceptance from her family members. Her story left a particularly powerful impact on me, as an HIV counselor. It reminded me that my work does hold meaning and can have strong effects on how my clients act after being tested. Despite the fact that some clients seem unresponsive to risk reduction strategies, just being a listening ear for someone to talk to about their concerns can give them a sense of comfort and empower them to make more informed decisions in the future.

The Detroit AIDS United team participated at the commemoration by helping with set up and directing/welcoming attendees to Spirit of Hope. We also partnered with Affirmations as part of the Facing AIDS campaign. Facing AIDS is a website that posts pictures of people with signs explaining why they are facing AIDS. The goal of the campaign is to put faces to the virus, eliminate the negative stigma around HIV, and explain why people take action in the fight against HIV. At the commemoration service, our team encouraged attendees to make their own signs stating their reasons for fighting AIDS and hung them up in the church. We also took pictures of participants with their signs if they agreed to do so. Hanging these signs up helped bring the commemoration attendees together by participating in a common activity. People also noticed common themes in their reasons for facing AIDS, such as love for their communities and desire to reduce stigmatization.


Overall, World AIDS Day impacted the Detroit Americorps team as much as we impacted the people at the commemoration service. We heard fresh perspectives on the importance of sharing responsibility for HIV and are excited to use these new ideas in our work at our agencies as the year progresses.

Team Indy Twirls at the Damien Center Grande Masquerade Disco Ball

November 24, 2013 in AmeriCorps

AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Indy attended this year’s Grande Masquerade Ball and also volunteered for the event. The whole team was looking very sharp(or perhaps more appropriate, SUPER FLY) in their gowns, suits and tuxes.

SONY DSCThe Grande Masquerade Ball has been happening every year since the Damien Center was founded in 1987—this was our 26th year. Although the event started as a casual fund raiser held on the Indianapolis Fair Grounds, it has grown into a lavish formal event with tickets as much as $175 each!

67941_10152010462569974_1685690320_nIt was held at the Westin in downtown Indianapolis, which was able to accommodate the 656 attendees. The ballroom was decorated with thousands of pink roses and carnations donated by McNamera Florist. It would not have been complete without the giant disco ball right above the dance floor!

SONY DSCThere was a great energy to the night and everyone really embraced the disco theme!

The Silent Auction and Live Auction were a huge success this year. There was the usual items such as tickets to the Ellen Degeneres show but also some new items like the top seller of the night, tickets to see Pink in concert! Benjamin bid and won on framed picture of Ryne Sandberg from the Chicago Cubs.

SONY DSCThis was the most successful year to date, raising over $178,000, all of which goes to the Damien Center and allows the agency to continue its mission to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS and empower people affected by HIV and AIDS to move forward each day with dignity.

Unfortunately, I missed out on the group photo of the night since I was busy scrambling around to direct the 70 volunteers that helped out at the event this year. It was a great learning for experience for me. I learned so much about planning an event and was honored to work with such a committed and talented group of people! I also learned never to try and wear wedges when trying to work an event (even though they fit the theme!)

“Personally, ENDA Passing the U.S. Senate Parallels Powerful Push to End HIV/AIDS”

November 15, 2013 in Policy/Advocacy

Diego Sanchez, APR
Director of Policy, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) 

“We recommit to the struggle. We will see it through, and we will get there.” Familiar? It’s not about last week’s U.S. Senate’s passage of The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S. 815) by a bipartisan vote of 64-32 to end workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The 2010 quote comes from Annie Lennox, International U.N. AIDS Goodwill Ambassador, inspired by the Deputy President of South Africa’s long-awaited promise to bring anti-retroviral treatment to everyone in that country, pronounced at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria.

For people like me–a global, Southern, New Englander, transsexual Latino man–our world isn’t single-issue. Our world seeks equality for everyone, including the most marginalized. We welcome inspiring quotes like Ambassador Lennox’s, such as one from my own Senator, the late Senator Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy, (D-MA) spoken about ENDA and oft repeated by his designated-before-death ENDA Senate leader, Senator Jeff Merkley(D-OR): “The promise of America will never be fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us.”

Sen. Merkley’s leadership to bring strong bipartisan Senate support to ENDA buttressed well the controversial, non-gender identity-inclusive 2007 ENDA bill H.R. 3685 in the U.S. House from my former boss, Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA-4). I believe that last week’s Senate success was made more handily because of the LGBT community’s vocal unity to honor only full inclusion in ENDA, expressed with dissatisfaction with the narrower bill’s passage in the House in 2007 by creating United ENDA. That House passage emblazoned community unity for full inclusion and led to the first-ever Congressional hearing in the House in 2008 on transgender non-discrimination in the workplace. I had the privilege to be among the first openly transgender witnesses ever before Congress. And click here to listen to an interview immediately after with Meghan Stabler, who submitted written testimony for the hearing.

For me, making ENDA law of the land in the U.S. is personal. I have suffered workplace discrimination because I am transgender. I was a global officer and corporate hospitality communications and diversity management leader, at the forefront of what is now called diversity and inclusion. I was a leader then as now, excited when my employer asked me to create the industry’s most dynamic and robust global diversity program. I did that, and then I got hammered for it. The plan I authored was award-winning externally. I got retaliation internally from my boss (who is no longer with that great company that today earns 100% on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index). I was targeted and terminated because I introduced the word ‘transgender’ for non-discrimination in employment policy. The company’s COO (a Disney alumnus) was supportive of trans inclusion. My boss was not. But it was wrong, and ENDA is right. Until we finish this work for workplace non-discrimination, we are not fulfilling what we at PFLAG in our 350+ chapters decry: live by the Golden Rule, treat everyone as we’d have ourselves treated.

We can celebrate that the inclusive ENDA passed the Senate, and we must continue our work to move an inclusive ENDA through the House in this Congress. We should still urge President Obama to sign an Executive Order this year to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by federal contractors, as we at PFLAG National are doing.

Our work to eradicate HIV/AIDS and to end employment discrimination for LGBT people exhibits so many parallels. The commitment to make ENDA law mirrors the work to prioritize HIV/AIDS as U.S. policy, reflected in the formulation of the National HIV/AIDS strategy, on which I worked, and it feels like the successful efforts ending the U.S. HIV travel ban in 2010. Ending that ban led to the U.S. hosting the 2012 International AIDS Conference. Imagine welcoming our own LGBT people as embraced, protected employees in 2013? Let’s make it real. Keep up the pressure.

Diego Sanchez, APR, is Director of Policy for PFLAG National. Previously, he was the Work Plan Committee Chair of the CDC-Mandated Massachusetts HIV Prevention Planning Group, and Communications Director of AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts and AIDS Action Council in DC, now AIDS United.