We’re growing our team to power our critical work campaigning for access to quality HIV treatment and prevention for all who need them.
This week, Mutisya Leonard will be joining our staff as Director of Development. We had a virtual sit down with Mutisya to get to know him a little better just ahead of his first day at Health GAP.
Mutisya is a health and social justice activist with 11 years of experience in health and rights advocacy and philanthropy. As Health GAP’s Director of Development, Mutisya will lead us in cultivating support from individuals, foundations, multilateral organizations, and other entities, towards addressing gaps in global access to quality and comprehensive HIV treatment and prevention.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Beyond your bio how would you describe yourself, your quirks, and your activist journey?
I am a gay African feminist and activist. In retrospect, I believe I was thrust into activism at birth. I was born to and raised by a sex worker and sex workers’ rights activist mother, who played a defining role in my life. Over time, I find myself increasingly and steadily becoming as determined as she.
I began my career writing for Gay Kenya Trust. I then moved to Nyanza Reproductive Health Society where I worked to establish HIV and STI clinic services for gay and bi men and young women in Western Kenya. And then I co-founded Kenya’s National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. After that, I went on to coordinate HIV program strategy and policy engagement and advocacy for key populations at Kenya’s largest HIV services provider, LVCT Health, where I got to help prepare for Kenya’s first PrEP demonstration project. Immediately before joining Health GAP, I managed philanthropic advocacy, fundraising and communication at Africa’s first indigenous fund for and by LGBTI people and sex workers.
Progressively, my activist careers in advocacy and philanthropy have brought me to a place where I am comfortable critiquing the oppressions advanced by philanthropy, where in response I advocate for what Edgar Villanueva aptly describes as “restoring balance and justice” through “decolonising wealth.”
Food is my second calling, though I have been reluctant to jump in with both feet and expose my technique to public critique. For now, I am training my hand cooking up storms for friends and family, practicing discernment by dining at restaurants I cannot afford, and—most importantly—finding, observing, and taking classes with chefs that I admire. And now, I am Health GAP’s new resident foodie!
Q: Why Health GAP?
Today, we live in a political climate shaped by violence, prejudice, hate, neglect, and greed. Activism is needed to build the political power that will reverse inequity and suffering. This couldn’t be more true about the HIV pandemic. I believe that AIDS can and should be defeated. In many ways this pandemic is a test of all of us—a test of our collective commitment to challenging prejudice, and promoting justice.
I am choosing to continue fighting this fight with Health GAP because they are an earnest organization made up of a team of authentic and spirited activists, united by a simple, but revolutionary, cause: to mobilize who and what the world needs to secure quality HIV treatment for all. I’ve long admired Health GAP’s work from afar, and I couldn’t be more excited to be joining the team at this critical moment in the global HIV response. Science now guarantees that if everyone with HIV is on treatment, they cannot transmit it. While human rights compel us to secure dignity and health for people living with HIV so that we may all enjoy long, quality lives. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Also, it is past time that people of color, and people from the Global South, take leadership in setting global agenda, particularly on issues where we are most affected and impacted. Needless to say, 1 out of every 2 people living with HIV globally today lives in East and Southern Africa.
Q: What gives you hope? Who inspires you?
Growing up in relative economic disadvantage, and later coming out as gay, I do not see hope as a state that is invited or cultivated by prospect or inspiration. My mother taught me that hope is willed when it is most needed. It is chosen in resistance to the challenges we need addressed urgently.
I much later found this lesson articulately billed in The Lorde’s teaching in ‘A Litany for Survival’:
“For those of us who live at the shoreline standing upon the constant edges of decision crucial and alone / for those of us who cannot indulge the passing dreams of choice, who love in doorways coming and going, in the hours between dawns, looking inward and outward, at once before and after, seeking a now that can breed futures / like bread in our children’s mouths, so their dreams will not reflect the death of ours;
For those of us who were imprinted with fear, like a faint line in the centre of our foreheads, learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk, for by this weapon, this illusion of some safety to be found, the heavy-footed hoped to silence us… / and when we speak we are afraid, our words will not be heard, nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid / So it is better to speak, remembering we were never meant to survive.”
My family was never meant to survive. I was never meant to survive. Yet because of this, I keep finding resilience and drive. When the stakes are high enough, hope emerges as the only saving grace. For decades, people living with HIV were not expected to survive. And perhaps precisely because of this, people living with HIV—and the AIDS movement—have continually defied the odds.
Q: What do you hope to achieve in your first month at Health GAP? Your first year?
In my first month, I hope to begin to know staff colleagues by their habits, quirks, and pet peeves. I am also keen to learn more about Health GAP’s incredible 20-year history. I will start conversations with the Health GAP team about and listen closely to the future they are inviting me to co-create with them.
In my first year, I hope to meet Health GAP’s community partners, and to learn about their priorities, needs, and work in building grassroots power and advancing solutions that will end the AIDS pandemic. I hope to invite and challenge donors and governments to do more and better for communities at the frontlines of preserving dignity, health, and life. And I am most eager to actually get down to mobilizing the support that Health GAP and her partners in the Global South need to advance critical advocacy campaigns and initiatives that drive towards our vision of the world we want.