It’s difficult to imagine that not long ago in our history, living with HIV or AIDS was essentially a death sentence. The stigma attached to the disease created fear that made even researching a cure taboo. Once called GRID—gay-related immune deficiency—AIDS tore families apart. It was common to hear stories about people living with HIV & AIDS (PLWH) being abandoned by loved ones and left to die alone. Fast forward only 30 years into the future, and we have come so far to slow the devastation of the disease and right the wrongs of the past.

Major advances in disease prevention, treatment, and education have made the idea of a world with no new infections entirely possible. However, decades of inadequate funding and policy rooted in discriminatory ideology has prevented an aggressive approach to completely ending the epidemic. For example, The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program that provides treatment to uninsured PLWH has been flat-funded for the past 8 years, despite facing an increase in clients who rely on it for medical support.

Pride Foundation recognizes that today’s issues require revolutionary leaders and thinkers to address the constantly evolving state of HIV & AIDS and its impact on the LGBTQ community.

Joshua O’Neal, a Pride Foundation Scholar alum, is motivated to be one of today’s revolutionary figures.

Joshua graduated from Evergreen State College with a dual degree in Community Psychology & Sociology. It was at Evergreen where he discovered his passion for working in HIV prevention and condom distribution. A recipient of Pride Foundation’s Wozumi Family, Tony DeBlase, and INBA Scholarships in 2011 and 2012, Joshua fueled this passion by attending San Francisco State University to obtain his Master of Arts in Sexuality.

Once there, Joshua quickly recognized the trend that is illustrated by research from around the world—that men who have sex with men (MSM) have a higher likelihood of contracting HIV. According to the HIV Charity AVERT, MSM are 24 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population. A factor that contributes to this devastating statistic is that MSM use condoms inconsistently.

Joshua sought a solution through his unique thesis that focused on how condom fitting related to sexual pleasure. The intention of his research was to find a way to increase condom usage, especially among the MSM community, by altering the way condoms fit. This simple, yet unprecedented approach compelled Joshua to put his research into action.

This summer, Joshua presented at the National Sexual Health Conference in Denver, CO. With the help of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Joshua has created condom kits equipped with 10 different condom sizes and materials to help familiarize consumers with the prevention tools necessary to live long, happy, and disease-free lives. To Joshua’s knowledge, he is the only person in the field of HIV & AIDS research to do this type of work.

Although the monetary academic support from Pride Foundation was meaningful, Joshua believes that the encouragement and recognition from the LGBTQ community that came with the support was invaluable.

In a recent conversation with Pride Foundation, Joshua said, “It was so validating to know that people believed in my potential. I’m now working in two dream jobs, helping to promote sexual health and well-being in the LGBTQ community!”

Joshua currently serves as the Director of Sexual Health Services for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and holds a position as a lecturer at both San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco.

Pride Foundation is proud to have supported Joshua on his education journey, and we are confident in his ability to not only change the landscape of HIV & AIDS today, but also in his potential to inspire a new generation of innovative thinkers.

By: Carlo Juntilla  

Carlo was a Programs Intern for this summer, and is a student at Gonzaga University.

 

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