As major AIDS organizations increasingly prize fundraising skill as a requirement for board membership, the number of HIV positive leaders in key roles has dwindled. Some activists charge that this has sapped part of the urgency from the groups’ missions, hampering their ability to influence the nation’s AIDS agenda. Indeed, at the end of last year, only two of the 13 members of New York City’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ board were positive, and amfAR’s 25-member board included just one positive representative. Critics cheered in January, however, when the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA), the nation’s oldest AIDS organization, named the openly positive Frank Oldham Jr. as its new executive director. “I’m an African-American gay man with HIV, and I understand those life experiences. And that is an important voice to have,” says Oldham. “We are allowing AIDS to be normalized like homelessness and poverty. We must reinvigorate the grassroots movement, and PWAs must be involved on every level of AIDS advocacy.”
Unlike most AIDS orgs, NAPWA requires that positive people constitute a majority of its board—currently only one member is negative. Also, Whitman Walker Clinic in DC announced in February that its clients—most of whom have HIV—would fill half the seats on its board. Seems like a positive turn.