Drew Gibson is our new Director of Advocacy at AIDS United. Having worked with AIDS United for six years, he has built on his background in journalism and social work to bring a unique perspective to his work helping to guide the organization’s policy and advocacy priorities.
Originally intending to pursue a career working as a substance use disorder counselor, Gibson was “serendipitously placed” in an HIV case management internship during his first year at the University of Maryland-Baltimore School of Social Work, where he began developing his passion for HIV and harm reduction advocacy.
In subsequent years, Gibson served as a research assistant at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, working as an HIV case manager with the Northern Kentucky Health Department and as a freelance journalist covering issues related to HIV, drug user health and social justice. We caught up with Gibson to learn more about his background in HIV policy and to learn more about the advocacy concerns he anticipates the HIV community will be facing in 2022.
What got you interested in HIV policy?
While I was working at the JACQUES Initiative (an HIV clinic in Baltimore associated with the Institute of Human Virology), I had a boss who suggested I attend the 2012 International AIDS Conference and write a few blogs on my experience. The people I met there and the policies that were being championed were so powerful that I never really forgot them and found myself coming back to HIV advocacy after I was done with graduate school.
What can we expect from your team in 2022?
Midterm election years are always politically difficult, but they’re particularly tricky this year given all of the uncertainty around the fate of the Build Back Better Act, fiscal year 2022 appropriations, and the continuing challenges we’re facing concerning the COVID-19 pandemic and the worsening overdose crisis. AIDS United’s policy team is going to do everything we can to ensure that essential legislation expanding access to health care for people living with and affected by HIV gets passed, while also pushing for increased funding for HIV and harm reduction programs. At the same time, we will be working with our partners on AIDS United’s Public Policy Council to protect access to the ballot for people living with HIV and to educate voters about where candidates stand on issues that impact the HIV community.
What do you foresee being your biggest challenge in 2022?
Honestly, I think the biggest challenge we face in 2022 is helping folks to cope with the cumulative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the myriad public health crises that have worsened over the past two years. People living with HIV and other immunosuppressed folks are still at considerable risk due to COVID and the overdose epidemic continues to expand — with more than 100,000 overdose deaths happening every 12 months. At the same time, so many health care professionals, social workers and teachers are just plain burnt out in addition to being underpaid and often harassed for just doing their job. And, on top of that, voting rights for BIPOC folks and abortion rights are under greater threat than they have been in 50 years. The biggest challenge isn’t any one of these things, but rather how we as a community find ways to take care of each other through these times and find the resolve to keep fighting.
What advocacy tools are you excited to explore further?
Look, I’m 35 years old. I’m not old, but I’m not young either. Our Policy and Communications Associate, Whitney Thomas, got me to try TikTok last year. Well, first she had to explain what TikTok was to me, and then I had to be crotchety and confused about it all, but I eventually tried it and now I’m hooked. There are so many cool harm reduction and recovery advocates on there doing amazing things. I’m really excited to explore new advocacy avenues in social media, even if I’m slow to catch on to most of them.
What can people who want to advocate for people living with HIV do to get involved?
AIDSWatch is one of the best places you can be to learn how to advocate for people living with HIV. We’ve moved AIDSWatch 2022 to a virtual event, and we are so excited to launch registration soon. This year we’ll be focusing a lot on getting folks up to speed on what is happening in the HIV policy arena and getting them ready to make virtual Hill visits. Join us April 4-6 to help us tell our congressional leadership what we need to end the HIV epidemic.