The Pursuit of Justice

This month, San Francisco AIDS Foundation welcomes Russell Roybal as Chief Advancement Officer, to oversee individual and institutional fundraising, AIDS/LifeCycle and marketing and communications. Roybal brings more than 20 years of experience in social justice, philanthropy and LGBTQ health to the foundation, but he said the work to him is more than professional—it’s deeply personal.

“I lived through the early ‘90s and saw a lot of folks that I knew pass away [from HIV],” he said. “That, coupled with the injustice that some people face in their daily lives motivates me to get involved and do this work. It’s about the pursuit of justice for the most marginalized in our communities.”

Roybal is keenly attuned to the need for successful fundraising to advance social justice initiatives, an insight that came from attending the first Youth Leadership Training Institute in 1995 sponsored by the National LGBTQ Task Force. Roybal was one of only a handful of applicants who were selected to participate in the conference, and said the overall experience was “transformative,” helping to shape the entire trajectory of his career. 

“That week made me want to do social justice work,” he said. “I realized that I could combine the two things I was passionate about: fundraising and social justice. Fundraising is so much more than making sure that the programs and initiatives you care about are supported. For me, fundraising is political—it’s a part of organizing. I do this work because I believe in the redistribution of wealth. My role is to inspire people who have resources, at all levels, to contribute to an organization that does amazing work.”

Following his experience at the Institute, he began work at the San Diego LGBT Center, which at the time was the largest provider of HIV and AIDS-related services in San Diego County. For six years, Roybal was the director of training and capacity building for the Gill Foundation, a philanthropic institution dedicated to LGBT equality. In the late 1990s, Roybal served as the development director for LLEGO, the National Latino/Latina LGBT organization, which provided HIV and AIDS support to regional AIDS service organizations serving the Latino/a community. 

Roybal is a sixth generation Mexican-American and identifies as part of the Latinx community. On his time working for LLEGO, he said, “I was immersed in what it means to be queer and Latino, which was a very fulfilling experience.”

Most recently, Roybal directed the day-to-day operations and the program and policy work at the National LGBTQ Task Force as the deputy executive director. Prior to this appointment, Roybal served as the Task Force’s chief development officer.

Now, Roybal says he is drawn to the holistic view the foundation takes to health, wellness and identity.

“I’m excited to be at a place where I can be my full and whole self. We live our lives at the intersection of our multiple and complex identities. Like the Task Force, the foundation shares the perspective that it’s not only about our queerness or gender identity. It’s about the fact that we are whole people.”

Earlier this summer Roybal was honored on the floor of the California State Legislature as a 2017 Pride Honoree and was named Grand Marshal of San Diego Pride.

When not working you can find Roybal underwater scuba diving or living his life on the dance floor.

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