Annie Silvia

With JSI since 2000

anniesilvia

Senior Consultant, JSI/Providence

How has working at JSI shaped you?

My time at JSI has been well served by my years of experience doing STD, HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ work. One thing about getting old(er?) is that the years of experience contribute knowledge, lessons, and emotions from a variety of perspectives. Two of my projects at JSI involve HIV.  I am member of the ACE Project team, a national project, led by Mira Levinson,  which provides assistance to states in their efforts to conduct outreach and enrollment of people of color living with HIV into the Affordable Care Act..  My other project is working with the Rhode Island Ryan White program to provide technical assistance and facilitation related to HIV care and prevention planning.

How did you start doing HIV/AIDS work?

My work in HIV started out as a result of my work doing STD partner notification in Rhode Island. When AIDS was first reported in 1981, I became the “go to” person at the Health Department for AIDS related questions. It wasn’t long after that I had an opportunity to become one of the first AIDS coordinators in the country at, what was then, Boston City Hospital. This was in 1983, before HIV had been discovered, and before anyone really knew how AIDS was transmitted; and when fear, homophobia and panic were everywhere.

I continue to be involved in AIDS work, today, because it does impact those most vulnerable around us. Homophobia, racism and “blame the victim” attitudes are still with us and continue to impact how – or if – people get the care they need.

In Boston, everyone in the gay community, along with several doctors, were pulling together to help assuage the fear, address the homophobia and be sensitive, compassionate and supportive: countless hours were spent figuring out how to spread awareness and prevent transmission.  I had also just come out, so on a personal level that process made me even more connected to the gay community. I wanted to do my part in addressing this disease that was ravaging the community of which I am a proud member.

People were dying, daily, around us. Many colleagues and friends died. Sitting by bedsides, in hospital rooms, at funeral homes (there was only one funeral home in Boston that would take care of people who had died from AIDS). So, in 1985, I started work at the AIDS Action Committee as Education Director. Shortly thereafter, my best friend, Ray, was diagnosed.  It really had hit home. We were trying to deal with our own feelings and fears as several staff were also diagnosed. 

From AIDS Action, I became Executive Director of Rhode Island Project AIDS.  This was all before any government funding was available, no Ryan White funding, no effective treatments and continued calls for names of infected individuals. Now, we knew more, HIV had been identified, but until Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson, few people still were paying serious attention.

What helped moved the government to pay more attention to this epidemic?

Fortunately, there was bipartisan support by a couple of politicians who were, indeed, strange bedfellows – Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts and Orrin Hatch from Utah – introduced what was then called the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act (Ryan White CARE Act).

From there, the government started to invest resources, pharmaceuticals were being identified and 1996 marked a key year in the treatments of HIV.

Why are you so passionate about AIDS work?

I continue to be involved in AIDS work, today, because it does impact those most vulnerable around us. Homophobia, racism and “blame the victim” attitudes are still with us and continue to impact how – or if – people get the care they need.

Annie & Kathy

Annie and her partner, Kathy.

You work in JSI’s Rhode Island office — what’s it like to live and work in the smallest state in the U.S.?

You’ll very often hear people in RI say, “RI is not like everywhere else.” And, although in many ways it is, frequently it is true that RI IS NOT like everywhere else. RI’s small size, (e.g. one state health department – no county or local health departments), and the fact that many people from RI never leave RI, make for a state where everyone has very few, if any “degrees of separation” from one another. In RI, everyone knows someone who knows you and relationships are key to getting work done and making friends. That being said, it is also important to sustain relationships because you’ll never know when you’ll run into someone in a different, yet related business or around someone’s kitchen table!

RI’s small geographic size also means that you can go from one end of the state to the other in about an hour. And, most people don’t know the depth and breadth of RI history and architecture, the beauty of RI beaches and coastline, the many cultural attractions, and the great educational institutions in the state (e.g. Brown University, RI School of Design, etc.). As you can see, I am a big RI “booster” and believe that it is a great state with lots to offer. I also know some of its limitations and challenges! I think JSI is a perfect fit for RI because the work that JSI does isn’t really done by anyone else in the state. Come visit the JSI’s RI office and we can give you great tips on good restaurants and great beaches!

 

A Project to Remember

In 2002 the RI Foundation contracted JSI to conduct the first-ever statewide needs assessment/community scan of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The resulting report, “Meet the Neighbors,” became the basis for Equity Action, the RI Foundation’s donor-driven fund that grants a $50,000 a year to local LGBT organizations. It was wonderful to work with JSI and my Rhode Island connections to empower my community!

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