For the fourth year in a row, ViiV Healthcare is serving as the Presenting Sponsor for AIDS Walk New York – and this year we’re thrilled that Lynn Baxter, Head of North America, will be joining GMHC in person on May 21 in Central Park.
“I’m proud to represent the ViiV Healthcare team as part of our longstanding commitment to GMHC and AIDS Walk New York,” said Baxter, who’s based in Durham, North Carolina. “For me, AIDS Walk New York is a celebration of progress made and a reminder of the work we still need to do to end HIV once and for all.”
As the only company solely focused on HIV, ViiV Healthcare makes game-changing medicines and funds a national network of community initiatives for HIV prevention and care through a substantial $30 million annual grant program. ViiV’s Positive Action community grants focus on the populations that are disproportionately impacted by HIV: Black and Latinx men who have sex with men, women of color, and youth.
In addition to the need for HIV prevention services, she added, “many living with HIV in New York aren’t getting what they need – whether due to stigma, housing, or the need for mental health or harm reduction services.” These are services GMHC provides as part of its wraparound approach to HIV prevention and care.
Risk to Reasons
ViiV’s innovative new Risk to Reasons initiative, which reframes HIV prevention for Black women of cis and trans experience away from ominous warnings about risk to positive reasons for self-care, is an expansion of its Positive Action for Women program that specifically supports Black women’s needs.
While Black women make up nearly 60% of new HIV diagnoses among U.S. women, Baxter said, they “are rarely prioritized when it comes to prevention and treatment services.” ViiV aims to change that.
“At the heart of the initiative is a call to move away from the stigmatizing concept of ‘risk’ and toward a focus on the motivating reasons for HIV prevention,” ViiV said in October, when it announced the largest philanthropic commitment to HIV prevention for Black women in the US.
The Risk to Reasons grants fund community programs that are “focused on highlighting women’s reasons for HIV prevention, connecting women to care, training service providers, and changing the narrative about HIV and Black women,” Baxter explained.
To shape the new approach, she said, ViiV convened a group made up of Black women advocates living with and working in HIV. The Black Women’s Working Group to Reframe Risk developed a guide for communicating about HIV with Black women and a series of activity books that the initiative describes as “centered around desire, intimacy and pleasure – as real reasons for self-care and HIV prevention.”
ViiV is distributing a total of $8 million to refocus the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS for Black women. Of that, $3.4 million in grants will directly engage over 10,000 Black women with relatable reasons for HIV prevention. That includes the African Services Committee in New York City, which aims to increase knowledge about HIV among African and Caribbean immigrant women.
“As a Black woman, I know that shifting the narrative in ways that give us more agency and autonomy is vital to our wellbeing,” said Kinjo Kiema of Advocates for Youth, another grantee, when ViiV announced the grants.
ViiV is giving another $3.3 million in grants to 175 artists, advocates and messengers, and $1.2 million to train 700 domestic violence responders and 500 social workers to better serve Black women.
Over the next three years, ViiV projects that these 17 community-based organizations–all led by Black women–will train over 3,500 community providers to better deliver HIV services to Black women – and reach over one million people by changing how we talk about women’s reasons for HIV prevention.
Empowering Youth Initiatives
LGBTQ+ youth, who bear a burden of new HIV diagnoses across the country, face a hostile climate right now, as transphobia and homophobia sweep through state legislatures nationally.
“Empowering youth is a key part of the work we do in the community,” Baxter said, noting that young people are the least likely of all age groups to know their HIV status.
ViiV piloted its Positive Action for Youth Initiative in 2017, which has expanded from an initial $1 million investment for five grantees to $4.5 million for more than 15 grantees nationally over the 2021 to 2023 funding cycle – including Point Source Youth and Diaspora Community Services in New York City. ViiV’s wide mix of grantees foster community-driven mentoring, leadership development and safe spaces for youth, along with HIV prevention and peer navigation programs.
Theater to Move Hearts and Minds
Using culture to reduce stigma around HIV is a hallmark of ViiV’s community interventions, Baxter said. ViiV is getting ready to release the second season of Love in Gravity, a first-of-its-kind podcast featuring original stories from the gay and queer Latinx and Afro-Latinx communities.
ViiV is also restaging As Much as I Can, an immersive theater experience that draws on real-life stories from gay Black men to explore the emotional realities of an HIV diagnosis. The show sold out its off-Broadway debut at the legendary Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, then toured Harlem; Baltimore; San Diego; Jackson, Mississippi; and Raleigh, North Carolina. Stay tuned for new dates later this year!
“For me, AIDS Walk New York is a celebration of progress made and a reminder of the work we still need to do to end HIV once and for all,” Baxter said. In New York City, as nationally, she added, “we don’t always see public displays of the courage and resilience of people living with HIV, but we should. That’s what AIDS Walk NY does – it pulls us together, loudly, and with a force that can’t be ignored.”