Members of the M Factor distribute condoms at Cincinnati district. (Michelle Blanks/

Group fights stigma and discrimination to promote HIV education and prevention

EL PASO – Five young adults wearing Mardi Gras masks and beads handed out baggies containing condoms and lubrication to persons in a crowd celebrating to the heavy syncopated beat of dance and electronica music on an icy-cold downtown street. Members of The M Factor a local program, part of the national MPowerment Organization, went from bar to bar on Stanton Street where a large number of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) venues are located. The baggies they passed out held two packages of lubrication, six to eight condoms, and one business card. Their goal is to teach HIV prevention and education and Mardi Gras was an opportunity to reach out to the LGBT community. “For the HIV testing program, we provide free rapid HIV testing, blood testing, free syphilis testing to the public, and free anonymous or confidential counseling services for them,” said Irene Ovalle, a public health supervisor in the Department of Public Health for the city of El Paso who oversees The M Factor and the HIV testing outreach programs.

“This program creates a social setting and gets men out of bars, sex clubs and risky situations and into more social settings where they can meet other men and talk and have conversations,” said David Peralta-Torres, The M Factor’s HIV Education and Prevention Specialist.

Banner promoting this year's walk. (Vanessa Juarez/

The border culture makes fighting HIV more difficult

EL PASO — Jorge “Sasha” Garcia sat in a sterile, impersonal doctor’s office in the summer of 1995 and watched the clock tick away as he waited for the results of his HIV test. He had sought treatment two weeks earlier for an unrelated infection and decided to submit to the HIV test on the advice of his doctor. “This was back in the day before we had the 20-minute test, which allows you to find out right away. So, I waited two weeks and of course those two weeks were grueling,” Garcia said. Finally, the doctor strode into the office with Garcia’s results.