The GayCities Interview: San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Neil Giuliano

Neil Giuliano is nearing the one-year anniversary of his tenure as CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, one of the nation’s largest and most important HIV/AIDS services organizations. But he won’t have much time to celebrate: SFAF, which commemorates its 30th anniversary this year, is getting ready to merge with the STOP AIDS Project, another AIDS prevention and services group. It’s been quite the transition for the former Jersey Shore boy, who previously served as the executive director of GLAAD.

We managed to get Giuliano to slow down for five minutes, though, to talk about the merger, how he’s enjoying the City by the Bay, and what he sees as his organization’s mission as the epidemic enters its fourth decade.

The war on AIDS has many fronts. Is there a particularly critical issue SFAF is dealing with right now?

We have three ambitious goals: to reduce new HIV infections in San Francisco by 50%  by 2015, to ensure that all San Franciscans know their HIV status, and to make sure everyone living with HIV or AIDS has access to proper care.  These goals are the driving force behind all of our efforts, and we are busy expanding our free local services to meet the distinct needs of our community.

This year we are doubling the number of HIV tests we provide and we’re expanding our work in the African-American community through medical-case management and peer-advocacy services.  We just opened a new satellite office in the Castro for the Stonewall Project, a foundation program that helps guys with alcohol and other drug issues and connects the dots between drugs and HIV risk.  We are collaborating closely with a number of community partners to provide free HIV services and care at locations across San Francisco.  All of this comes in addition to our many longstanding programs, such as housing assistance, financial benefits counseling, support groups for African-Americans and Latinos, needle exchange and Magnet, our gay men’s health center in the Castro.   We firmly believe that San Francisco can be the first city in the United States to end the HIV epidemic, and we’re working hard to make that happen.

What was the impetus for SFAF and the STOP AIDS Project uniting?

Our agencies have collaborated for more than a decade, and we’ve always shared a common vision in the fight against HIV that is focused primarily on the clients we serve.  Talks about the two agencies merging have been happening off and on for years.  Shortly after I joined San Francisco AIDS Foundation, those talks picked up again, primarily because of the current economic turmoil. It just makes sense because it allows us to expand and enhance important community services while eliminating redundancies in administrative overhead.

As far as reaching the community, how is San Francisco different than New York or a national audience?

San Francisco has been and always will be “the model” for fighting HIV.  We are proud of that tradition.  We also have a duty to maintain and evolve it, as the nature of the epidemic evolves, and we are.  That’s why we continue to be bold with our awareness campaigns, because even one new infection is one too many.  That’s why we have such a strong commitment to collaborate with other agencies to provide the best possible service to our community.  That’s why we work so closely with the city and the department of public health to explore new prevention efforts and systems for care.

San Francisco is a very unique place.  A sense of community matters a lot to people here, and neighbors take care of each other no matter their background.  It’s always been this way, and frankly we’re quite proud of our “San Francisco values.”

You haven’t been in San Francisco that long—do you have a favorite restaurant yet? A bar or club?

The Palace Hotel on New Montgomery is perfect for a working breakfast or lunch.  It’s a grand old San Francisco hotel with a stunning interior.  Heaven’s Dog, by chef Charles Phan, in SoMa is a favorite for dinner and good cocktails.

I’m not much of a bar person, but LookOut and Blackbird in the Castro are always great places to hang out and see friends.

What are some of your favorite spots in the city?

The vibrancy and eclectic nature of the Mission is fun, and Dolores Park is an amazing space just to hang out and enjoy the skyline view. Walking around Castro is always interesting too – there are great shops and restaurants.  SFMOMA is a world-class museum that always has top-notch exhibits, and the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park is a must for anyone visiting the city.

I’m a big public-transportation guy, so wherever BART and/or Muni can take me easily, I’m there. And of course, there is nothing like a weekend bike ride that heads out over the Golden Gate Bridge, down into Sausalito and through Marin County. I never would have thought this kid from Jersey and Arizona would be doing that so regularly, but it is amazing.  If you’ve never ridden your bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, put it on your “bucket list” now.

Your closing in on your first year as CEO of SFAF. What are you’re most proud of—and what’s on your to-do list for 2012?

I’m most proud of the team of people involved with the foundation, from our talented staff to our deserving clients and amazing volunteers, to all our event participants who reach out to their networks and raise us the bulk of our private revenue each year, millions of dollars of support. We couldn’t do anything without our AIDS/LifeCycle riders, AIDS Walk participants, other event participants, major donors and corporate partners. I’m pleased we found a way to bring STOP AIDS into the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s family of prevention services and programs.  The unification will help us build a healthier community.

We have more work to do as we move closer to ending HIV in the city where it first reached epidemic levels. We will try new prevention programs, and expand existing ones, as we go about reducing new infections by 50% by 2015.

It’s a tall order, but if any city is poised to make it happen, it’s San Francisco.