Is HIV Being Shortchanged?

Every 9.5 minutes another person contracts HIV in the United States. Approximately 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, but almost one in five is unaware of his or her HIV status. In 2009, 17,000 people died from AIDS in the U.S., and the CDC calls this a "stable" trend. Of course, that's unless you are black (12 to 14 percent of the population but 44 percent of new infections), gay or bisexual (4 percent of the population but 63 percent of new infections) or under age 25 (where 26 percent of new HIV cases are found). Over 619,000 Americans have died from AIDS since the epidemic began.

Major philanthropists are ignoring the continuing AIDS crisis in the United States, and people are dying because of it. Sounds harsh? It is, but only because it's true. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently released a list of the top 50 American donors in 2012, and only two donors, Jon Stryker and David Geffen, gave significant funds to combat HIV and AIDS in the United States. I do not mean to diminish the outstanding generosity of the other 48 people on the list, but why is HIV no longer a top priority among those with the means to do something about a still-spreading disease that can only be held at bay with costly medications and cannot be cured? And it certainly cannot be ignored that HIV hits gay and bisexual men and African Americans, two groups that already face pervasive stigma and discrimination, the hardest.

The fact that many of our country's most wealthy individuals are not funding HIV services is not a surprise to me. As the Managing Director of Development at Gay Men's Health Crisis (GHMHC), the nation's first organization dedicated to AIDS services, I know how difficult it is to raise money to help people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS, let alone find money to prevent future infections. When I first took this position, many of my colleagues in fundraising warned me that raising money for AIDS was becoming more difficult every year, and that I could find easier and less stressful jobs at other nonprofits with more embraced causes.

Of course I knew they were right. AIDS service organizations live at the nexus of what we as a society avert our eyes from: sex, drugs, poverty and race. Everyone needs a hand in life, and I have been lucky enough to receive one myself many times. I am proud to be part of a group that is tackling issues not because they are easy but because doing so is the right thing to do. We will never see progress if we gravitate toward the easy. Combatting HIV and AIDS is difficult work, but as a society we must commit to reaching an AIDS-free generation. We cannot abandon those most vulnerable to becoming infected and those living with HIV who need life-sustaining support to live long, healthy lives.

I have come to terms with the fact that fighting AIDS in the United States may not have many champions among the wealthiest Americans, although I have a lot of fundraising left in me, and I do intend to find them. Instead I seek inspiration from fighters like the people at the Keith Haring Foundation and Joy Tomchin, the producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, who are being honored at our spring gala, Savor, on March 21 in New York City. I also look to fundraisers like Craig R. Miller, who founded AIDS Walk New York, which benefits GMHC and 40 other AIDS service organizations and will again bring 45,000 people to Central Park on May 19. Along with our clients, these are the people who inspire me to go to work every day with a hunger to fight.

Working at GMHC has made me and my husband dedicate our own philanthropy to fighting HIV and AIDS. We might not be in the Chronicle's top 50, but we will never turn away from this fight, no matter how hard it is, and no matter how long it takes to win. I hope you will join us and GMHC in the fight.