Building a better future for all Chicagoans

October 21, 2022

At AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC), we know the importance of centering our clients as an integral part of our decision making as they build and contribute to their communities.  

AFC’s Ryan White Client Advisory Group serves as a sounding board to our organization. The expertise of the group members is critical to our work as they are both people living with HIV and leaders in the HIV community. Our advisory group members are on the front lines of what it means to live with HIV and how to help the HIV community thrive.  

Over the past two years, we all have grappled with the effects of COVID. But for people living with HIV, long-term challenges are front of mind. At a recent listening session, L.H., one of the Client Advisory Group members, talked about the intersection of living with HIV, race and aging. In fact, the CDC estimates that nearly half of all people living with HIV in the United States are at least 50 years old. Despite the increasing number of adults aging with HIV, the complex and distinct needs of this population are rarely addressed by HIV and Aging services or in policies and research.  

Thanks to the leadership of AFC’s LGBTQ+ project incubator, Pride Action Tank, and the advocacy from members of the advisory group and community, in March of this year, SB 3490, Disrupting Disparities for LGBTQ+ Older Adults and Older Adults Living with HIV, became law in Illinois. The act requires state-funded providers to complete LGBTQ+ older adult awareness and competency training, creates a three-year Illinois Commission on LGBTQ Aging, and requires the Illinois Department on Aging to hire a LGBTQ+ Advocate in the Illinois Department on Aging.  

In addition, we recently convened a two-day conference, Positively Aging: Thriving and Living Well with HIV, to build the capacity of medical and HIV providers to meet the emerging needs of adults aging with HIV. These are just two out of many examples of how AFC is responding to the needs of the HIV community informed by the Client Advisory Group members. 

We also know that the average life expectancy difference for Black Chicagoans is about 10 years less than their non-Black counterparts. Client Advisory Group members, B.G and Miss Judy, expressed this longstanding problem with exhaustion. B.G. who has served on the advisory group for over 10 years, states:  

“We’re tired of the fight – we need better access to health care, and culturally competent health care, as well as healthy foods. We are living in food deserts.”  

Miss Judy summarizes: “My ZIP code can directly affect my health, yet my ZIP code does not get to define who I am.” 

When asked what the Client Advisory Group is dreaming of, Miss Judy shares: “I simply want to live my fullest life, not just exist. I want to keep going forward.” 

While we know that we cannot change century-old systems of oppression overnight, we also know that we can build a better future together, day by day.  

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