Guest Opinion: SFAF leads by values centered on justice

  • by Tyler TerMeer
  • Wednesday February 22, 2023
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SFAF CEO Tyler TerMeer. Photo: Courtesy SFAF
SFAF CEO Tyler TerMeer. Photo: Courtesy SFAF

For more than 40 years now, San Francisco AIDS Foundation has been there for our communities in times of crises: from the early response to AIDS to the current challenges around mpox, substance use, fatal overdose, and more. Just a year into my tenure as SFAF's CEO, I am enormously proud of the organization our community has built, shaped, and supported — and am grateful for an opportunity to share with you where we are now and where our organization is headed.

I'll start by offering a brief reflection on the enormous challenges we encountered in my first year. I think every leader's hope is to spend their first year simply listening and learning, in order to craft careful strategic plans that best serve the community, staff, clients, volunteers, and other stakeholders across the city. I entered with this hope, and have been able to hear and learn from so many folks involved in our work in the past year. But, I also soon realized there would be a need for quick and decisive action in response to a variety of outside challenges to our work.

In the past year, we actively responded when a fire closed our busy Harm Reduction Center and forced our services onto nearby sidewalks; we pivoted our services and advocacy when mpox became a threat; we pushed forward our safe consumption service advocacy and harm reduction work in the face of political opposition. At every step, we were informed by our values: of justice, dignity, courage, leadership, and excellence, and what would be best for the communities we are here to serve.

In the coming years, the familiar sexual health, substance use, and community programs and services of SFAF will continue and be strengthened by new investments in our staff, our race equity work, and our infrastructure. And, we will continue to innovate to bring the community exciting and valuable new services.

At our sexual health clinic Magnet, we will continue to ramp up the provision of two relatively new prevention strategies: doxycycline for STI prevention ("Doxy PEP") and injectable PrEP for HIV prevention ("CAB-PrEP"). We are excited to be a leader in HIV prevention and sexual health services here in San Francisco and nationally, and are excited to expand access to our clinical services at all of our locations (including our Harm Reduction Center and mobile sites), and through partnerships with other organizations.

For many years, we have been a leader in substance use and harm reduction services for people who use drugs through The Stonewall Project and Syringe Access Services, and more recently through our Pick Up Crew (which offers citywide syringe disposal 12 hours a day, seven days a week). It remains a priority for us to ensure that people have free access to safer drug use and substance use resources, including overdose prevention tools like Narcan/Naloxone, and access to affirming and non-judgmental drug use counseling and support. But, there are also a variety of new challenges posed by a changing drug landscape in San Francisco that we are working diligently to address.

Rates of fatal overdose have skyrocketed in recent years, in part due to the introduction of fentanyl in the drug supply. One of our challenges is how best to support and care for people who use fentanyl — whether purposely or accidentally — in the face of Narcan supply shortages, changing city services, political apathy, and the many forms of stigma, oppression, and hardship faced by people who use drugs (many who are Black, Brown, and people of color).

In the coming years, we will focus on expanding our distribution of the overdose reversal medication Narcan, providing drug checking services, and educating all in our community about overdose prevention and response — particularly those in communities who may not have easy access to safer drug use information and supplies. Through our substance use counseling program, Stonewall, we are increasing capacity to serve monolingual Spanish-speakers, and opportunities to engage in low-threshold drop-in counseling. Our advocacy and policy team will continue to push for expanded harm reduction services for people who use drugs, and will move forward with advocacy toward establishing safe consumption services and other policies that improve the health and lives of people who use drugs.

As we have been for many years, San Francisco AIDS Foundation is here for our community first and foremost. Our long-lived community programs — Black Brothers Esteem (BBE), El Grupo Apoyo Latino — and many of our newer programs — TransLife, Ibeji, Hues, the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network — are looking forward to a variety of new events, exciting community-building opportunities, and even launching a revamped clinical internship program. Our HIV Advocacy Network, or HAN, is building people-power to advocate for the needs and rights of HIV and LGBTQ+ communities, and our popular art program at Magnet is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special celebration and art opening in September.

We're looking forward to seeing and hearing from you in 2023. Please visit us online at, and sign up for news and events at

Tyler TerMeer, Ph.D., is CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, co-chair of the AIDS United Public Policy Council, and also a member of the AIDS United Governing Board of Directors. He is passionate about improving the health of people living with HIV, ensuring that LGBTQ+ people have access to affirming care, and supporting and empowering Black-led organizations and BIPOC leaders. TerMeer has been honored by the White House as one of the Nation's Emerging LGBTQ+ Leaders and as part of the Nation's Emerging Black Leadership.

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