Nonprofit RipplePHX hosts lotería event to expand HIV testing in Phoenix

By Mark Brodie, Amber Victoria Singer
Published: Friday, October 7, 2022 - 12:23pm
Updated: Friday, October 7, 2022 - 1:24pm

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the loteria set up at thunderbird lounge
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
RipplePHX's lotería setup at the Thunderbird Lounge in Phoenix.

Getting tested for HIV probably isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. But there’s an Arizona nonprofit trying to change that.

RipplePHX is a grassroots organization that aims to raise awareness about HIV and make it easier and more accessible to get tested. Every week they hold "lotería" at the Thunderbird Lounge.

Jeremy Bright and Jason Jones are the founders of RipplePHX.

"The goal is, you know, we just want our community to have some fun — you know, let’s get together as a community, as a Latinx community. Ohm and by the way, we’re doing HIV testing," Bright said.

"We promote this as an HIV testing event — they’re not gonna come. But if their friends are saying, 'Hey, come join us tonight for lotería,' we just need them to bring them here and as an organization, RipplePHX will take it from there and we’ll recruit them for testing," Jones said.

a game of loteria at thunderbird lounge
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
A game of lotería at the Thunderbird Lounge in Phoenix.

Lotería is a traditional Mexican card game. It’s sort of like bingo, but with a deck of cards and fun pictures instead of balls and numbers. Local entertainers — often drag queens — host alternating rounds of interactive mini games and lotería. The Latinx community is disproportionately affected by HIV, which is why Bright and Jones host events specifically targeting Latinx people.

Testing takes place in a bus that the couple bought from a nursing home.

inside ripplephx
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
Inside RipplePHX's HIV testing bus, "The Chariot."

"We got this bus super cheap, but she was 20 years old. She was a hot mess ... Her ceiling was falling apart, the seats were in bad shape ... We gutted this bus and redid it ourselves and built a really comfortable, bright, inviting testing space for people to get tested," Bright said. "We want that experience to be very bright and to pull the curtain back. You know, I think a lot of times HIV testing has been kind of in the dark, and behind these curtains, and it’s dark and it feels shameful sometimes. We want to celebrate people who get tested because we can’t eliminate the virus until people know their status."

Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
RipplePHX's bus, "The Chariot," serves as a mobile HIV testing site.

The bus, which has been dubbed "The Chariot," has had a complete makeover. Its blue ripple-patterned exterior and glitter-accented interior is a stark contrast to traditional clinic testing rooms.

Bright and Jones are a "mixed status" couple — one of them has tested positive for HIV and the other hasn’t.

"When we started dating in 2012, a couple months after we started dating, I tested HIV positive and Jeremy was negative," Jones said. "During that time, we were trying to find resources to kind of help us out, like to help the situation like, 'Hey, how do we manage this? How do we navigate this?' ... At the time, we didn’t really find that much ... In 2018, we decided we were gonna do something ourselves. And we had no idea how to start a nonprofit; we had no money, we had no building, we had nothing really —"

"But a dream," Bright said.

Bright and Jones have made it easier and more comfortable for Arizonans to get HIV tested. The Chariot makes appearances at bars and other local events around the city. Bright says around 40% of people they test at lotería have never been tested before.

RipplePHX's lotería event takes place every Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Thunderbird Lounge in Phoenix.

thunderbird lounge in phoenix
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
The Thunderbird Lounge in Phoenix.

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