AIDS United staff together at their evening USCHA reception
Credit: JElijah Photography

Over 4,000 people convened in the nation’s capital for the United States Conference on HIV/AIDS, with this year’s theme centering around “A Love Letter to Black Women.”

The conference aimed to shed light on the unique challenges facing all Black women in their ongoing mission to end the HIV epidemic, while also celebrating their unwavering resilience. Esteemed figures such as Rep. Maxine Waters, Grammy award-winning gospel artist Yolanda Adam and Emmy-award winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph addressed the plenary sessions, further emphasizing the event’s significance.

AIDS United played a pivotal role in connecting the conference’s theme to the work being done on the ground.

AIDS United hosted a series of workshops, lectures and panels both to communicate with and work alongside impacted communities.

The team at AIDS United headed 11 sessions, kicking off with “Promising Practices: Achieving Status Neutrality through Equity Strategies and Partnerships.” Hosted by AIDS United staff Drew Gibson, Jacobi Hunter-Wright and Joseph Stago, “Promising Practices” explored the complexities within status neutral approaches, in addition to historic funding frustrations and where the organization stands on governmental trends of moving funding from one approach to another without increasing the actual needed investments.

“Any type of status neutral approach that requires taking funds from existing programs to fund others is not something we’re going to be supportive of,” Gibson spoke in the session. “Point blank, end of story.”

To note: The CDC describes a status neutral approach as “a comprehensive system of prevention that includes all people affected by HIV, regardless of their HIV status. With a status neutral approach, engaging and assessing the client’s needs begins before an HIV test is conducted.”

Other highlights included:

  • “Operationalizing the ENGAGE model: Strengthening and Sustaining Community Relationships,” with staff members Kaitlyn Mason and Jesus Villalobos.
  • Black Policy & Advocacy: Leading the Fight to Eliminate Viral Hepatitis” with staff members Athena Cross and Fryda Enriquez Pedraza.
  • “Harm Reduction for HIV, Hepatitis & Overdose” with Gibson.
  • “The Kids are Alright: Supporting TGE Youth Amidst a National Crisis” with staff member Laura Gerson.

Gerson also presented a poster, and staffers Taylor Sabol and Mackenzie Flynn also presented posters. Their topics included PrEP at syringe service programs and connecting HIV with reproductive health. (PrEP, or preexposure prophylaxis, is a medicine that prevents HIV.)

To ensure voices were heard and centered, the organization hosted and participated in a number of listening sessions, such as “Voices of Experience: Listening to Older [People Living with HIV] & [Long-term Survivors]” to help strengthen understanding and foster connections and to further connect with the decades-long historical struggles and stigma.

A major session included “The Faith Based Coalition to End HIV Fireside Chat.” Moderated by AIDS United CEO’s Jesse Milan Jr., this talk brought together experts, religious leaders, and policy and political leaders to discuss the need for faith communities in health advocacy. The panel kicked off with the thought-provoking question: “Is it time to put politics back into policy?” It led to insightful discussions regarding intersections of faith, health advocacy and policy implications.

AIDS United hosted a captivating community reception, celebrating steadfast partners, allies and friends in our collective efforts to end the HIV epidemic. This gathering served as an opportunity for the national organization’s team members to meet face-to-face (some for the first time), fostering an atmosphere of newfound camaraderie.

As the conference drew to a close, attendees departed with a renewed sense of vigor, invigorated by the unwavering dedication and passion exhibited by our grassroots partners.

AIDS United will continue to attend conferences and events to build partnerships and forge new relationships with hard working organizations within their communities. Work is already underway to prepare for 2024’s conference in New Orleans.