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Project Inform's Van Gorder to depart

by Alex Madison

Dana Van Gorder. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Dana Van Gorder. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

After 10 years of leading the nonprofit HIV/AIDS advocacy organization Project Inform, Dana Van Gorder is stepping down as executive director and entering a new chapter in his life.

He is not retiring, but will take some time off before journeying on to something else, though he isn't exactly sure what that is yet. His future may be unclear, but he is leaving behind a legacy at Project Inform.

"I arrived at the agency at a really fascinating time during the epidemic where I realized the agency's approach needed to fundamentally change," Van Gorder, 61, told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent interview. "Ten and a half years later, I feel as though it's time for the agency to take another step back and look at what it's doing into the future, and that requires a set of new eyes and fresh energy."

His last day is June 29. David Evans, 50, a gay man who has been the director of research advocacy for Project Inform for about seven years, officially starts as the interim executive director July 1.

When Van Gorder, a gay man, first arrived at Project Inform, after spending eight years with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation as a state lobbyist - and the San Francisco health department before that - it was right before Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. At the time, treatment like PrEP had not yet transformed HIV prevention.

Van Gorder and his Project Inform team called on the Obama administration to commit to developing a national HIV prevention and care strategy. He worked closely with the administration in informing the contents of that strategy and has worked to see it implemented.

He also lobbied at the state level to beef up spending to establish new programs that were needed to heighten the response to the ongoing battle of HIV/AIDS, particularly prevention and early treatment.

"When I started at the agency, data was just beginning to suggest that starting people on treatment would be really beneficial," he said. "I was proud of that change that was set in motion and in encouraging early treatment for HIV."

Under Van Gorder's leadership, Project Inform was influential in the national education campaign of PrEP as a preventative treatment. Advocating for the implementation of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act and ensuring that HIV-positive people and those living with AIDS and hepatitis C were covered under that program was a focal point of Project Inform.

The agency also became more involved in advocacy around hepatitis C. Many people living with HIV also have hepatitis C, a disease, at the time, many health agencies were not focusing on, Van Gorder said.

Though he talked about his accomplishments, Van Gorder praised his staff and said he could never have done any of the work without them.

"We really made an impact with a small number of people," he said. "I decided what we worked on, but it was really the great staff that made it happen."

Project Inform has about five people running its programs and a total of eight employees. It's annual budget is $1.56 million, Evans said.

Van Gorder's salary was $139,000. Evans' salary as interim executive director will be $130,000.

Emerging issues
When asked about the emerging issues of HIV/AIDS and what he feels the agency should focus on in its next chapter, Van Gorder talked a lot about the aging population of people living with HIV and the care they need.

"There are a lot of clinical and psychological issues that the aging HIV-positive population are facing and the agency is thinking about its role in addressing that topic very closely," he said.

Evans and Van Gorder have worked closely together in the last few months preparing for the transition and discussing the direction of the agency. Van Gorder praised Evans and said, "He is very knowledgeable and smart about all aspects of the epidemic."

Evans will focus on ensuring health care providers are attentive to HIV/AIDS and how it relates to the opioid epidemic, as people injecting drugs are often at high risk of contracting HIV, and the funding challenges the agency faces.

Evans will be taking on the job during a time when President Donald Trump and his administration are rolling back the civil rights of LGBTs and other minorities; something Evans said is affecting more than just Project Inform.

"I think one of the most important things facing all nonprofits that work in health advocacy is how to respond to an environment where the federal government is so deeply hostile to the most vulnerable people in society and that includes most people living with HIV," he said.

As new cases of HIV infections in San Francisco and in some other parts of the country continue to decrease, Evans said there is a public misperception that there is not as an immediate need for funding or advocacy, something he is working to combat.

He will continue to focus heavily on HIV care retention, and health care advocacy and policy work, locally and nationally. As well as science advocacy efforts and looking at HIV cure work through a different lens.

In 1999, Evans started at Project Inform as a volunteer before spending time at various other nonprofits including the Stop AIDS Project, which has since merged with SFAF, and Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City. He then came back to Project Inform where he led the science advocacy side of the agency.

As a close friend of the nonprofit's founder, the late Martin Delaney, Evans explained he has an obligation to continue the legacy of both Delaney and Van Gorder.

"Project Inform is all about hope and striving for a cure and treatment," he said. "It is that level of hope, that vision, and optimism that I have a personal responsibility to uphold."

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