RipplePHX’s new weekly Lotería event mixes education and entertainment

By Tom Reardon, March 2020 issue.
Photos by Scotty Kirby

Once upon a time,

Thursday nights were a lot of fun. For about two decades, NBC ruled the TV

world that night of the week with shows like Cheers, Friends, Frasier,

Seinfeld, and Will & Grace (not to mention the convicted sexual

abuser, Bill Cosby, who had a hit Thursday night show, too). It was a night

when “everybody knew your name and they were always glad you came.” It was also

just one day before the weekend started.

If your Thursdays have been in need of a

little shot in the arm as of late, never fear because RipplePHX’s Lotería is here every Thursday night at

Stacy’s at Melrose on North Seventh Avenue in Phoenix.

What is lotería,

you say? Well, it is best to start at the first of several beginnings.

Raul St. James

Some people

refer to loteríaas “Mexican Bingo.” Game play is similar, but

instead of having numbered ping pong balls, loteríauses cards that

are displayed to the players during game play. Each card has a different image

and each participant is given a tabla, which features rows of four random

images that match the images from the fifty-four-card deck. As cards are turned

over, players look for matches, just like in bingo, and when four in a row are

matched, players shout, “Lotería!”

From 7 to 9 p.m. at Stacy’s @ Melrose, the

talented team from RipplePhx’s Lotería Project will host the festivities to

help spread awareness surrounding HIV/AIDS to Phoenix’s LGBTQ+ community. This

project was initiated in 2019 and received funding from the National Library of

Medicine’s Community Outreach Project, which helps cover the costs for the

first year.

Celeste Montiel

RipplePhx’s board chairperson, Jason Jones,

seems more than just a little excited about Lotería, which is just one part of

RipplePhx’s outreach activities, as a way to get the Latinx population in

Phoenix talking about HIV and AIDS.

“I think we all

have different experiences. While some in our community were born in Mexico, I

was born in the United States and my experience would be a little bit

different. There’s the kind of macho mentality in the Latino community and just

being gay is one thing, you know, and I think we all have different experiences

with that. My dad was a super macho kind of guy and his role in our family was

the provider. When I came out, I wondered how he was going to take it, but he

came around pretty quickly. When I came out as being HIV positive to him, which

was about four years after my diagnosis, he was like, ‘What do you need?’ But

again, I think a lot of us have very different experiences and it’s an

incredibly hard thing for lots of us to talk about,” says Jones, 45.

For Jones and his partner, Jeremy Bright,

who is the executive director of RipplePHX, the importance of building a grass

roots campaign to open conversations around HIV and AIDS in Phoenix is a

necessity, especially within the Latinx community. During our conversation on a

lovely February evening, it became very apparent that Bright and Jones are

doing this work for the right reason and that is to save lives.

Karloz Quinto and Jimena Cavalli

“We wanted to go back to grassroots. We

knew that AIDS-related grassroots projects back in the 1980s were really

successful because they focused on empowering the community and building the

community up around an illness that was affecting our community. In the last

ten years or so, HIV has lost the headlines, but the virus is still very

present,” says Bright, 42.

RipplePHX was started in April 2018 in the

apartment that Bright and Jones shared at the time and by June of that year,

they had their 501c3 status as a non-profit. In a short amount of time, the duo

(with the help of volunteers, initially) started getting out into Phoenix and

sharing a message based around the idea of having open, honest conversations

about HIV/AIDS, how to protect yourself, how to get tested, and above all, just

being aware that the disease is still out there and men who have sex with other

men are still very much at risk without taking proper precautions. 

In addition to partnering with other

agencies such as Chicanos Por la Causa and Terros to help with outreach

activities who can provide services to Valley residents, RipplePHX has also

been putting on events in the community and partnering with other community

events to spread awareness. They do three Carnivals each year to help build

understanding around HIV and raise some funds to help keep the program going.

The carnivals are fun events that also have information about HIV as well as

testing available on site. The next one will happen during Phoenix Pride

weekend (April 4 and 5) at Stacy’s at Melrose.

“I think it’s important to normalize that

conversation. Just because someone’s living with HIV doesn’t mean it defines

them. It doesn’t define their life. It doesn’t define their day-to-day. You can

live a long and normal happy life, but it is a piece that we do need to be

aware of because it doesn’t have to overwhelm or consume anything, you know? I

think we try to live that and breathe that, and we can still come together as a

community. We can still enjoy things as a community and have a beautiful

spirit, but also be aware of this,” says Bright.

AJ Dominguez

Maricopa County is currently in the top 50

counties in the United States for new HIV infections, even in the day of

Truvada and other drugs that can help stop HIV transmissions. For the Latino

population, the number has been increasing for men that have sex with men. This

is why the Lotería is led by eight Latinx community leaders.

“That’s where our focus is. The Lotería

project has shifted it. We wanted to make sure we put an emphasis on that and

that it was driven from the community. This is completely led by this group to

empower them to affect their community from a very genuine place,” says Bright.

In June, RipplePHX was able to bring on AJ

Dominguez as the prevention outreach manager/Ripple-maker and the team started

kicking around ideas for innovative ways to continue getting the message out to

underserved populations such as Latinos. Dominguez began working on Lotería

after their grant request was approved in August of 2019 and RipplePHX began

recruiting the Lotería project team.

“For me, it’s important to be vocal about

my (HIV+) status. I think, you know, growing up in our families, you know, even

in school, you didn’t hear too much about HIV. That’s just something that we

didn’t talk about or even gay sex we didn’t talk about within our culture. I

think for me to be open about my status will give hope to others and give them

the courage to be able to talk about safer sex, about HIV, and being open about

their status,” says Dominguez, who is also one of the Lotería night hosts.

As funding was approved and the reality of

the Lotería project set in, it was apparent that there would need to be a team

of hosts to cover each Thursday event. Dominguez reached out to Geo Johnson,

who was 2016 Mr. Phoenix Pride and Mr. Gay Arizona America in 2018, to be a

host and to also help find other hosts.

“Since the beginning it just sounded like a

great opportunity for me to be part of educating my community. I had been

helping our community in different aspects and I enjoyed doing that since I’m a

little more of a public figure. So, when this came across, I’m like, ‘what

better way than to address this now? It’s something that’s more personal to me

because I’m Latino, which is the Latinx community,” says Johnson, who joked

about his name not being very Latino.

After Johnson came aboard, he started

reaching out to other people and he helped recruit Tucson resident and fellow

performer Raul St. James to join the group. St. James is excited to be a part

of the team, even though he has a long drive on a regular basis.

“I’m so happy to be here and be part of

this group. I’m excited to get involved with this community and spread the word

about HIV awareness,” says St. James.

The

eight-member team also has drag queens Aubrey Ghalichi, Celeste Montiel, Jimena

Cavalli, and Saszy De la Cruz, as well as performer Karloz Quinto. While

Ghalichi, Montiel, Cavalli, and De la Cruz were busy getting photographed for

upcoming events, the rest of us discussed their yearlong mission and what

drives them to be part of the group.

“I’m part of the Vaqueros (Spanish for

‘cowboy’) community so this is a great way to show other vaqueros that it is

okay to talk about HIV and it’s okay to be HIV positive. Vaqueros usually have

the attitude that it’s not going to happen to me. ‘I’m this tough guy, Mexican

guy, it’s not going to happen to me,’ so I this is a great opportunity. I knew

it was going to be a hard job and a lot of time was going into it, but Lotería

is totally worth it and I love it,” says Quinto, who is getting married in

March.

There is a learning process for each member

of the Lotería team that they seem to not only embrace but also relish the

challenge of learning more about HIV and AIDS in order to become an expert on

the subject. The passion for this project was tangible as we sat outside of the

photo shoot at RipplePHX’s headquarters. It is obvious this group can

accomplish great things.

“We’re all going to grow together. We want

them to learn as we’re going, you know, about HIV that we can share all the

information with all their social groups that are out there,” says Dominguez.

“That’s another reason I’m excited about

this project. I’m learning how to take care of myself and sharing with my

friends how to take care of themselves. If there are things I need to know, I

can just go to Ripple and they’ll get me the information or I can just tell

people to go to Ripple,” says St. James.

In addition to their hosting duties, each

member of the Lotería Project team will also have a web presence with regular

updates to an ever-growing content library of information that they have

significant control over.

“It’s an awesome website. I feel like you

want to keep on searching and seeing everything that’s in there. Each one of us

has a different topic, so it’s not the same thing over and over.  I think that’s also a great way to let them

know all about it,” says Quinto.

“We’ve all been very involved in choosing

how we want to talk about our topics. We are involved with the look of the

website, which is what this photo shoot is for, and we are coming up with memes

that will be eye-catching for the community,” says Johnson, before adding, “and

Lotería is a very fun way to engage the community and get people feeling really

comfortable about talking about HIV.”

Visit ripplephx.org for details.


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