I can’t remember a time that HIV hasn’t been present in my life. As a closeted adolescent in the early 1980s, news of this mysterious illness killing homosexuals, Haitians, hemophiliacs and heroin users (the 4 Hs) spread at about the same time I began a process of accepting, becoming comfortable with and embracing this part of my identity.
In my early twenties HIV was a part of my social life but not so related to my work. After graduate school, that changed. As an openly gay man living with HIV I needed to be part of the response, not on the sidelines writing an occasional check or participating in a walk.
I tried working at a number of different international and US organizations, including JSI. All were good and I learned a lot, but there was something missing. After five or six years away, I was asked to come back to JSI to help establish the HIV Center: Perfect job at the perfect time.
I was finally working with a group of people whose primary calling to public health, for lack of a better phrase, was HIV. JSI was and is committed to the clients—the people at risk for and living with HIV—making sure programs bring together the best ideas to meet the most urgent needs.
At JSI I am surrounded by other passionate women and men living openly with HIV who combine that rich experience with their public health skills to make a difference. With the support of Joel [Lamstein, President of JSI] and other senior staff, we have been given the space to develop a workplace HIV program that is used both here in our U.S. offices and in our overseas field offices, and the means to provide access to HIV treatment to JSI’s own staff in Africa, Asia, and Latin American before there was a PEPFAR or Global Fund. I see every day how JSI’s commitment to “do good” plays out through our staff implementing programs large and small that truly build capacity and genuinely give hope. This is why I do HIV work and why I do it at JSI.