By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)
Recently our managing editor of sports and associate director of education, Dirk Smith, caught up with Terry Dyer, CEO and Executive Director of the World AIDS Museum to learn more about his work and the work of the World AIDS Museum in preserving the legacy and continuing the discussion surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Dirk Smith: Tell me about the World AIDS Museum, you just started your role there, how did that come about?
Terry Dyer: The World AIDS Museum started as a support group for HIV positive men to support each other and navigate that space. Back in 2011 they decided they needed a bigger space and wanted to take a new direction. They developed it into a non-profit and built it up from there. What I love is that the founders are still involved in and still supporting it. In fact, I met a few of them in my office for a meeting last week, and so it’s great to still have that support from founding members of the organization. The mission is really to preserve the history of the HIV/AIDS era and challenge the stigma around HIV/AIDS. We do that by organizing programs, artistic expression, and different cultural movements. I was a volunteer in the peer educator program for the last year before joining the organization as a member of the staff. Prior to this, I was at another nonprofit in technology where I had led the development of mental health services to the community that was connected to the World AIDS Museum before I came here officially.
DS: That’s amazing because it shows how passionate everybody who volunteers and works for it is. It’s a project of the heart and rooted in the experiences that we have that we can channel into something positive.
TD: We don’t have the conversation around HIV/AIDS any longer since it’s not as prevalent. We sort of joked around COVID then we had an epidemic that has been going on for so many years. Yet, we are still responsible to spread the message about prevention in sexual health, wellness, and things of that nature. I’m excited to finally work for an organization that can do that.
DS: One of the things I always talk about is the story of an HIV positive swimmer from the 1994 Gay Games who became the first openly HIV+ person to set a world record in sport. I only learned that story a few years ago, but to think about how, at that time, there was only one treatment and only a little glimmer of hope, but it was still a death sentence. The story of someone who wasn’t just sitting in a hospital bed, just wasting away, but able to continue swimming, and go as far as to set a world record. It’s super powerful. Those are the stories and the messaging that people need to hear and see.
TD: Absolutely. Over the years, we have had a handful of folks that have come out being HIV positive LGBTQ+ and straight. I think one of the biggest ones is Magic Johnson who step up, especially if they’ve got those large platforms, and continue these conversations. HIV/AIDS is no longer the doom and gloom that it be anymore, right. With preventative drugs like PReP are all the rave with respect to sexual health and medications which is good. But we still must honor and preserve the history and legacy PReP is built upon and talk about how we got to this point. Just because there’s a medication doesn’t it mean that you can stop the conversations.
DS: How have these conversations shaped your work with the museum?
TD: What focuses our museum is not only to maintain our space in the LGBTQ+ arena, but it’s also getting outside into other spaces as well. We have educational programs that are in the school district here in Broward County. I’m in South Florida and under my leadership, we are going to be taking a lot of those educational programs into other school districts, Florida, but then also connect with folks that are in different counties, because those are the folks that need it. These are the folks that clearly have resources readily available to them. All more rural type towns. When you’re in a place like San Francisco, Chicago, there’s nonprofits, there’s prevention spaces that are constantly talking about the messaging. But we need to get these resources into those more rural cities and counties across the country.
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DS: That’s fantastic. Your work and passion are also being honored and celebrated. Every day I am seeing some new recognition for the work that you’re doing, that’s so cool. It shows how really passionate you are about this stuff. Can you share about some of the honors you’ve received?
TD: I joke and tell folks all the time it’s not work if you enjoy what you’re doing. We were honored with a Leadership Award at a 2022 LGBTQ+ charity summit in Fort Lauderdale. The World AIDS Museum also had an opportunity to present so I am proud of our educational director and his work and patience that he sparked as well. Then Fort Lauderdale Pride named three nonprofit, long standing organizations that are doing important work and the World AIDS Museum was given a key to the city. We were also contacted to receive a diversity and inclusion award here in Fort Lauderdale for community advocacy. So, we were honored to be asked to be there as well.
— World AIDS Museum (@worldaidsmuseum) November 19, 2022
DS: Can you tell us how to find more information about the World AIDS Museum and the work you’re doing to learn more about it?
TD: We are on almost every social media platform, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, just type in “World AIDS Museum”, and we come up. We are located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We share space, art, and surf with the Stonewall Museum and Archives. We love this space and it’s a beautiful building. We’re so appreciative of all the work that’s gone into our gallery so check out our website https://worldaidsmuseum.org/. We’re also on LinkedIn, which is very new for us and I’m personally excited about it as a wonderful way for us to connect with other professionals on a national level and business perspective, connect with those professionals in that space.
DS: Wonderful! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Terry!
Photo Credit: Stephen R Lange/ SRL Media