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Black AIDS Institute Makes History by Tapping Trans Woman as Leader

Toni

After the abrupt departure of Raniyah Copeland as CEO of the storied Black AIDS Institute, the nonprofit hired a trans woman to take her place, at least temporarily.

The 23-year-old organization announced today that Toni Newman, currently the interim CEO at the San Francisco-based LGBTQ+ organization LYRIC, will soon be BAI's new interim CEO. BAI also announced Dr. Kemal M. Atkins will serve as its managing director "to help fortify BAI's infrastructure and round out the organization's stellar leadership team." Atkins will serve as a consultant and work on a temporary basis as he solidifies the organization, which is weathering a big change in leadership.

The Los Angeles-based organization focuses on HIV education, prevention, and treatment among African-Americans, a group disproportionately affected by HIV. BAI has nearly 40 employees and operates a $5 million annual budget, according to the organization.

Copeland served just under three years as CEO, replacing BAI's longtime leader Phill Wilson. After her departure from the organization in August, a petition circulated insinuating that accusations of harassment, possibly by Copeland against a BAI board member, led to her departure. Copeland has not commented publicly on the reason she left, though she was recently appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

Newman, stepping into Copeland's shoes, already has a long history work in the health sector and LGBTQ+ spaces. At LYRIC, she oversees the budget, programs, and community outreach. Newman is also a distinguished faculty member at the Transgender Strategy Center in Los Angeles, where she advises nonprofits on working with the trans community. Newman is also the chair of the board of directors at TransCanWork, assisting in employment opportunities for the disadvantaged community. Before her work at LYRIC, Newman served as executive director of San Francisco's St. James Infirmary clinic, which provides services to sex workers. Newman also served as a fundraiser and legislative aide for Equality California, the state's LGBTQ+ organization.

Newman will now be one of the very few Black trans women to head a national nonprofit organization.

"Ms. Newman has a wealth of knowledge in non-profit management, budget and finance, and human resources and operations," BAI stated in a press release. "We're excited that she has agreed to serve as our Interim CEO as we continue implementing our transition plan to find a permanent, innovative executive staff leader."

The nonprofit also announced that Pat Bass and Chris Bates, two respected HIV advocates, would work with BAI to assess its "current capabilities and mission."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Copeland only served as CEO for less than a year. We regret the error.

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