Blacks in AIDS 2012 Leadership: Tiffany Chester-Gilliard

Tiffany Chester-Gilliard

One in a series about Black Americans engaged in leadership roles for the 2012 International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012)

Prior to coming on board with the International AIDS Conference, Tiffany Chester-Gilliard was the director of sales for Destination DC, Washington's official convention and visitors' bureau.

Now she serves as the head of the local secretariat, the administrative department for the International AIDS 2012 Conference. She is the primary liaison to the conference secretariat in Geneva and facilitates relationships with national and local government agencies, which requires managing 25 staff members in the conference's head office. Here she talks about her role, ending the epidemic and why it's important that Black Americans attend.

What does your job involve and what about it interested you as a woman of color?

My job is a kind of potpourri. As head of the local office I am responsible for a lot of its administrative duties and financial responsibilities. I became interested when the convention business bureau was making a bid for the conference. I found out that the group that was most highly impacted was black women ages 18-44. All of a sudden it went from: "This is just a conference" to "This is speaking to my peer set and to me." The experience has made me more of an advocate.

What is most significant to you about AIDS 2012?

Well, it's coming back to the U.S. after 22 years, for starters.  And the U.S. just developed its very first AIDS strategy and that is a big deal. The numbers in the U.S., particularly in D.C., makes it important that we have conversations outside of the silos of people who have always been working in HIV/AIDS.

This conference has a history of highlighting scientific breakthroughs. Many things are being developed from a scientific perspective. The conference will be a good time to learn what's been happening.

The theme of this conference is "Turning the Tide Together." What do you think it will take to end the epidemic?

We understand that it's not the end of the epidemic for people who have been living with the virus. We're talking about ending new infections and mother-to-child transmissions.

The community has always been at the forefront of this fight. Thirty years ago they pushed the issue to the forefront, and questioned why these young men were dying and what's going to be done about it. Communities are pressing the Congress about needle exchange and to make sure their dollars are used in AIDS research. They will help end the epidemic.

What about the conference do you most look forward to?

I look forward to my peers engaging in the conversation about AIDS. We have an area called the Global Village that's free, open to the public and probably one of the most popular parts of the conference. Community organizations can share best practices there. I look forward to the conversations that will be happening there. African-Americans are already talking about HIV/AIDS in our churches, with our sororities and fraternities and with our children. Our community is taking on this conversation one subset at a time.

Why do you think that Black Americans need to attend the conference?

I think Black Americans tend to have an apathetic attitude towards health. We gravitate towards diabetes, hypertension, breast cancer, etc. But there are so many other things in our community that are killing us.

Black people in general have been impacted by HIV/AIDS. It's not just Africans, it's Black Americans. Black young men and women have a high infection rate. It's not a gay, white man's disease.  So I hope that this conference gets enough media coverage to get Black Americans engaged in this fight.

Candace Y.A. Montague is the D.C. HIV/AIDS examiner for She also writes for The Body, emPower Magazine and Capital Community News.