More Than Medicine: Gilead Sciences’ Advocacy for People with HIV

This story was created in paid partnership with Gilead Sciences.

Last year, Jennifer Hudson hosted a special episode of her talk show for World AIDS Day. Her guest was Ian Haddock, the founder and executive director of The Normal Anomaly Initiativea Houston-based nonprofit that provides advocacy, direct services and technical assistance to black and queer people. Wearing a purple suit with a red ribbon on the lapel, Haddock described why he pursued this social justice work.

“As a black, gay, homeless man, I had a choice between becoming an activist and dying,” he said. “My community — people who look like me and love me, people who face inequality — those people gave me hope, so this is my gift to them and to myself at 15.”

At the end of the segment, Hudson surprised Haddock with a $10,000 donation from Gilead Sciences Inc., the biopharmaceutical company, as part of its COMmitment to Partnership in Addressing HIV/AIDS in Southern States (COMPASS) initiative. COMPASS is Gilead’s 10-year, $100 million-plus commitment to combat HIV in the southern United States. Haddock showed the check to the studio audience before sitting down and getting emotional.

“The COMPASS initiative means a lot to me,” he said. said“We literally wouldn’t be here without it.”

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In 2017, Gilead conducted a listening tour in the southern United States. HIV rates in the southern United States were high, higher than in any other region in the United States.

The company wanted to know why and discovered three key things, says Carmen Villar, vice president of ESG and corporate citizenship at Gilead. The first is that people living with HIV still face significant stigma. The second is that barriers exist for those trying to access testing, counseling, and care. And the third is that nearly every state in the South has laws or sentencing enhancements that criminalize behavior based on HIV status. By providing grants to hundreds of organizations, partnering with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and recruiting high-profile ambassadors like Jennifer Hudson, Gilead has supported efforts to make meaningful progress in addressing all three issues.

Ignorance often drives stigma, and despite decades of public education campaigns, Americans are still tragically misinformed about HIV—and the problem is getting worse. About 41 percent of Americans said they would feel uncomfortable interacting with a hairdresser living with HIV, according to a study 2023 joint report from GLAAD and the COMPASS initiative. That’s up 4% from 2022. Meanwhile, 33% would feel uncomfortable if that person were a teacher and 32% if they were a colleague.

Even more alarming to Villar is that only 34% of Gen Z adults say they are well-informed about HIV, and they aren’t necessarily getting their information from mainstream media…

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