Daniel Driffin gives voice to young, gay Black men living with HIV in the U.S.


Daniel Driffin, a young gay Black man from Atlanta Georgia took center stage at the Democratic National Convention at the end of July—speaking openly about living with HIV and the challenges for young gay Black men in the United States.

Driffin, who is 30 years old, spoke first about the progress the HIV community has made in his lifetime—but then went on to explain the reason for his appearance at the DNC.

“Who are most at risk? Young, gay, Black men. Men like me. In fact, 1 in 2 gay Black men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime if current rates continue.”

Preventing new HIV infections, and helping other gay Black men living well with HIV, is something that Driffin has devoted his career—and his life, to doing. In Driffin’s region of the country, the South, HIV infection rates are higher than in other parts of the country, and fewer people receive early medical care and treatment or have their virus suppressed.

With two of his friends, Driffin started a nonprofit, called THRIVE SS, serving gay Black men living with HIV to help them improve their health and achieve viral suppression. The program, which started as a grassroots effort in 2014, already serves more than 500 clients—and new chapters have been established in Oakland, California, Washington D.C. and Nashville, Tennessee.

“In medical care, guys flourish,” said Driffin. “They thrive. And that’s what we’re working towards in our family of choice. As we go forward and make new support groups across the nation.”

The program, as Driffin described it, is based on a “non-traditional support system” they call “Undetectables.” People in the program participate in traditional face-to-face support group activities, go to group events, and also connect with each other online. The goal, said Driffin, is for clients to connect with each other, form friendships, and build supportive networks so that they’re able to live well with HIV.

The group, and Driffin, has seen many successes.

“Many of these guys find out they’re HIV-positive at the ER or the health department. And they’re coming back with an AIDS diagnosis, as a result of getting tested later and having a weakened immune system. Two and a half weeks, maybe a month later, they’re already undetectable. As a result of us helping link them to medical providers who are conscious of what they need as Black gay men living with HIV.”

Driffin himself found out he had HIV in 2008, right after graduating from college. It was difficult, he recalled, for him to access HIV or sexually transmitted infection resources and support from the religious college he attended. Driffin sees his experience as an opportunity to improve these services for gay Black men who come after him. It’s important, he said, for young gay Black men to get involved to help shape the future of HIV treatment, care, prevention and research.

“We have to ensure meaningful involvement of young gay Black men at every level. We have to see gay Black men in leadership roles. They’ve got to be involved,” he said.


Watch Driffin’s speech on YouTube.

 

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