Last year was an adventure for 31-year-old Daniel Driffin. Not only did he go back to school full time, he also cofounded the organization Thrive SS with Larry Scott-Walker and Dwain Bridges. An online support system that builds networks for those living with HIV, it connected over 150 black gay, bisexual, and same-gender loving men with HIV living in Atlanta; and now boasts 700 members nationwide who are changing what it means to live with HIV.
Thrive SS is making sure poz people are adhering to their medication, and teaching them how to speak with doctors efficiently. It’s also starting to build in more advocacy ties through its Policy and Social Action Network (PaSAN). For Driffin, it’s a network he wished he had when he was first diagnosed.
“I still have tears when I think about how alone I felt when I was diagnosed with HIV in 2008,” he shares. “You could not pay me to believe that I would make it past those darkest days.
Recognized by the National Black Justice Coalition as one of 100 Black LGBTQ/SGL Emerging Leaders to Watch, Driffen founded Undetectables Atlanta and chaired both the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative and the Task Force to End AIDS in Fulton County, Ga. In 2016, Driffen gained national attention when he was chosen to speak at the Democratic National Convention, the first out HIV-positive speaker at the DNC in 16 years.
Driffin says he will never stop fighting against stigma. “Until we create better laws and policy of doing away with criminalization bills, my work will continue.”
Over the next year, Thrive SS will continue with online peer support groups for poz people, specifically targeting black men who have sex with men, but there are plenty of women in the network as well.
“We firmly believe the model is adaptable for women, youth, more seasoned individuals, and even persons with trans experience,” Driffin explains. “It’s truly creating additional communities of collective power to advocate for the lives of people living with HIV and achieve increased health outcomes like higher [T cells] and higher viral suppression rates.”
Despite hardships, Driffin says, “HIV has truly changed my life for the better. I have created additional family members not only for myself but other people living with HIV and that is powerful. I think we have to change the loneliness associated with HIV before we truly begin to end the current epidemics.”