Jesse Milan, Jr. was named president & CEO of AIDS United on November 28, 2016. Milan is a 30-year HIV/AIDS advocate and nationally recognized leader and speaker on HIV/AIDS policies and programs. A person living with HIV for over three decades, Mr. Milan’s record of thought leadership and service spans regional, national, and global arenas.
I sat down with Mr. Milan to learn more about what motivates him to do this work and what he looks forward to in the New Year.
Can you share with us how you first got involved in HIV-related work?
HIV first knocked on my doorstep in the mid-1980s when my late partner was diagnosed with AIDS. To make sure he had access to the care he needed, I learned how to navigate the complexities of our health care system and witnessed firsthand the stigma and fear that come with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Six months after he died, I took my first of many steps as an HIV volunteer by becoming the vice chair of the newly-formed AIDS task force for the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. As a labor lawyer at that time, I also began focusing more and more on HIV/AIDS discrimination, advocacy, and on the legal rights of people living with HIV. Employees, employers, patients and healthcare providers all needed legal guidance and I was willing to provide it.
Looking out from the pulpit while delivering my late partner’s eulogy, I learned how important it is to be a public face and voice to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and to address not only stigma and discrimination, but to bring hope and compassion to this cause. Since then, my personal commitment has become my professional commitment and mission.
Why are you so passionate about this cause?
The HIV/AIDS community is truly the rainbow coalition. It is racially, sexually, and globally diverse; it brings together people of different economic, religious, and political backgrounds. The HIV community may be the best model of what the ‘human family’ can be because we are united.
This is tough work. The only way you can do this work meaningfully for any length of time is by finding the right support system. Now more than ever, we have to support each other. My goal for AIDS United is that we be the best partner possible for our grantees, our funders, and HIV public policy constituents and social justice advocates. I also want to make our network – our family –as big and strong as possible. We are truly stronger when we support each other and are united in our work.
What motivates you on your most challenging days?
I come from a family where community service is the best that anyone could do. In my parents’ living room, two identical plaques were proudly displayed: one for my dad and one for my mom recognizing their enormous dedication to community service. To this day, I am motivated by this heritage.
For me, community service means public service to my local, national, and global community of people living with HIV. They are my people – they are everything – and they are why I’m so thrilled to serve as AIDS United’s leader. I am lucky to have found my vocation serving this community from grassroots to global.
What are you looking forward to accomplishing as President & CEO of AIDS United?
AIDS United is an amazing organization and serves a critical role for the HIV community. Our three pillars of policy, grantmaking, and capacity building are firm foundations for addressing this epidemic and we provide powerful services to transform our community to meet the growing and changing needs of people affected by HIV.
Over the next four years, I hope to bring a strong focus on maintaining and expanding access to HIV care and prevention, combating HIV criminalization laws, advocating for more resources and for more research, and elevating the voices of marginalized people in national, state, and local conversations.
I am ready to dig my heels in deep and fight to preserve hard-won advances and all the ground we’ve gained legally, legislatively, and biomedically. As a community we face uncertainty in the uncharted territory ahead, so for me, bringing stability and persistence to our cause is important at this junction in our history.
Anything else you’d like to share?
As we work so hard to help people living with HIV live long and healthy lives, we need sound policies and strong organizations to support them. Looking ahead, we will always need to improve HIV prevention strategies until there's a vaccine, and we will always need to help people access and remain in treatment and care to live with HIV until there is a cure. Our work as critical now as it has ever been.
The New Year brings new work for all of us to achieve our HIV goals. We are united with you in that work. I’m looking forward to our future success for people living with and at risk for HIV.
Posted By: Sarah Hashmall, Communications Manager - Friday, January 13, 2017