When he takes over in mid-February as the new executive director for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation, Murray Jose will be bringing personal, in addition to professional, experience to his job.
Diagnosed with HIV at 22, Jose grew up on a farm in Newcastle, Ontario when HIV/AIDS information was limited to urban centres. He sees his peers experiencing harsher judgments today when they come out about their diagnoses compared with 14 years ago.
“Coming from a farm in the middle of nowhere, there was no diversity, no street community and I was shocked to see the situation people were living with,” he says. “Now HIV information is more readily available and there’s more judgment. The first response is: ‘What were you thinking?’ ‘He should’ve known better.’ There’s no recognition of the complexity of perspectives.”
Jose says he can empathize with clients as they deal with issues around disclosure and the personal impacts of living with HIV/AIDS. He’s explored some of those issues through Poz POV, a monthly column he writes for Gayguidetoronto.com that evolved out of his experience as a guest speaker in Kitcherner-area schools. Speaking to high-school and university students, he’d wind up confiding private details that he hadn’t even told his own friends. Now he shares those details with a wider audience on-line.
One topic he’s wrestled with is when to disclose his HIV-positive status. “As executive director I’m in the position of being a leader in the community,” he says. “When you put pen to paper and say, ‘This is the situation when I don’t disclose my status,’ it’s somewhat risky when there’s a public health interpretation of what my legal obligations are.”
Jose, now 36, has been involved with HIV/AIDS organizations since 1994 in Guelph and Kitchener, and is the founding co-chair of the Ontario HIV Treatment Network. In accepting the ED position at TPWAF, he is leaving his job as executive director of the AIDS Network in Hamilton.
“He has a great reputation in the AIDS community because he went into that organization when the AIDS bureau was on the verge of shutting it down,” says John Miller, TPWAF’s outgoing interim executive director. “He rebuilt that agency and he’s quite well respected for that.”
He says he’s looking forward to a period of revitalization at TPWAF after a year eaten up with merger talks with the AIDS Committee Of Toronto (ACT), talks that ended in two narrowly defeated votes.
The two organizations, both of which operate out of 319 Church St and provide services to people living with HIV/AIDS, proposed the merger as a way to consolidate resources and services. Although ACT members voted overwhelmingly in support of a merger, TPWAF’s members voted it down twice – once by just three votes in September and then again in November after 30 percent of the membership requested a second vote on account of the slim margin. The second motion was also narrowly defeated – just four votes shy of the two-thirds majority required by the Ontario Corporations Act.
“Some members were quite upset [by the second vote]. I think they were left with some bitterness even though their will ultimately prevailed,” says Miller. “I think people are moving on now. They’re not divided anymore, everyone is in agreement that what [TPWAF] does is important work.”
Jose says he’s planning to move the organization forward through practical action and optimism. His first steps will be to fill positions left vacant for the past year, negotiate a new collective agreement with staff when the current contract expires in March and to map out a clear assessment of what services TPWAF provides. Instead of asking “What went wrong?” Jose says he wants to start asking, “What is the ideal organization you want a year from now?”
“It’s a time of revitalization, a time where we need to look forward because everything has been put on hold for a year to look at the merger,” says Jose. “I think it’s going to make a difference for people just to see action.”