Julio J. Fonseca is a program manager at AIDS United, where he leads the Partnering and Communicating Together to Act Against AIDS (PACT) and People Organizing Positively (POP) initiatives.
Through the POP initiative, supported by Gilead Sciences, Inc., Fonseca works with people living with HIV across the country to support grassroots organizing and leadership development aimed at eliminating stigma, developing new leaders, and educating policy makers. Through PACT, a partnership funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fonseca works with partners across the country to find innovative ways to raise awareness about HIV prevention, testing, care, and treatment at community events and on social media.
“My proudest accomplishment this past year has been to see and support people living with HIV really continue to move forward in their leadership path through the People Organizing Positively initiative,” Fonseca says. “It’s so important to cultivate and nurture new leaders as the demographics of the epidemic are changing, and leadership needs to reflect that.”
Fonseca is passionate about this work because he knows first-hand the value of leadership development, supportive communities, and innovative programming. He brings 20 years of advocacy, coalition development, capacity building, and community outreach experience to his work with a focus on supporting people most heavily affected by HIV.
Fonseca began his career at the nonprofit Mental Health America, where he worked on a research project examining the behavioral health needs of people living with HIV. This sparked a lifelong interest in bridging gaps along the HIV treatment cascade. Most recently, Fonseca worked for two national HIV nonprofits addressing workforce shortages, and fiscal sustainability of Ryan White-funded agencies, and he helped address the barriers experienced by those with HIV.
As a person diagnosed with HIV in 2009, one of the areas he’s most concerned about is defending the Affordable Care Act. “Healthcare has been consistently under attack in the current administration,” he explains. “We should not have to crowd fund people’s healthcare treatment. Ever. Elected leaders need to actually live the principles that they are so fond of quoting.”
Fonseca has also recently found a renewed voice as a writer and blogger, sharing his story as a queer Latino man living with HIV to raise awareness, break down stigma, and empower others to start conversations about HIV. His writing is honest, personal, and often moves readers to tears. He has written about his experience being simultaneously diagnosed with HIV and AIDS and how he felt a burden lift when he learned that undetectable means being unable to transmit the virus to a partner.
Out of the office, Fonseca volunteers as a mentor for people who are newly diagnosed with HIV at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C., an LGBTQ-affirming, community-based health and wellness provider. Since 2014, he has served on the Metropolitan Washington Regional Ryan White Planning Council.
Next up, he hopes to learn the piano and continue on his path towards a graduate degree. “I want to continue to find the balance between doing the work, living with the condition, and also finding the joy that makes life worthwhile,” Fonseca reveals. As to any advice he would offer to his younger self? “This is your life to live. You are most accountable to yourself at the end of the day for how you treat people and how you love yourself.”