the good doctor

From Broadway dreams to a career of advocacy, Dr. Tyler TerMeer puts HIV/AIDS policy center stage

This profile is part of Queerty’s 2022 Out For Good series, recognizing public figures who’ve had the courage to come out and make a difference in the past year, in celebration of National Coming Out Day on October 11. In this special profile, we’re highlighting an individual who is living with HIV and using their platform for good.

Name: Dr. Tyler TerMeer, PhD

Bio: Dr. TerMeer is a lifelong LGBTQ activist who has dedicated his career to HIV/AIDS advocacy. Earlier this year, he became the CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF)—cited as one of the country’s largest HIV service organizations. TerMeer is the first Black CEO in SFAF’s 40-year history, and only the second living with HIV.

 

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Before TerMeer’s career began in earnest, he was a college student who—like so many of us—was daydreaming about Broadway.

“In my heart I have always been a theater kid,” he says, which is why he pursued a Bachelor In Fine Arts degree at Otterbein College in Ohio.

“Advocacy work was certainly not my first career path,” he admits. “I started off as a theater major thinking I was going to be the next Broadway star.”

But, during undergrad, he took an internship at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS—one that would change the course of his life.

“It introduced me to a way of advocating for work that was happening on the ground across the country.”

Related: And the films played on: 17 essential movies about HIV/AIDS

From then on, TerMeer’s passions have put him in the spotlight in a different way, as he works to ensure the health and well-being of those living with HIV takes center stage.

His position at the helm of SFAF is the culmination of almost two decades of nonprofit work in HIV/AIDS advocacy.

As TerMeer puts it, SFAF exists “not only as a system of support for those who need us, living with or effected by HIV, but is grounded in a philosophy of health justice for all.”

The foundation serves a population of over 25,000 every year, in addition to the millions more who come to its website daily for informational resources.

 

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Coming Out: For TerMeer, coming out as gay at 19 was just the first step of his journey.

When he began his undergraduate program at that aforementioned “small liberal arts school in Ohio,” he noticed there were many people around him who were out and open about their sexuality.

“For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable owning pieces of my identity,” TerMeer shares. Once he made that decision to come out, he jokes he was “using jazz hands” every day in his theater department.

“We were a small community within Ohio that finally had a safe place to be who we had always been, and had others around us to support us in that journey.”

 

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A Positive Role Model: A few years later, heading into his senior year, TerMeer joined a group of friends as they went to a local HIV service organization for their first HIV tests.

“I had been dating someone; I thought that I was very low risk for HIV,” he recalls. “I honestly didn’t even think about getting a test that day until it felt like a supportive moment to my friends.”

Just a short time later, he was told he was HIV positive. He remembers “feeling like his entire world was crumbling,” and left that day a changed person.

“But it was that same organization that helped me pick up the pieces of my life, taught me about my disease, taught me that I was going to live a long and thriving life with my disease, and helped me figure out my new career path down the road.”

 

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Within his first few years of living with HIV, TerMeer made a decision to become “very public” about his status, and even took part in a national campaign called “Does HIV Look Like Me?,” in which his story was shared across the country. “From that moment forward, it became a part of my personal and public persona.”

Through his continued work with SFAF and other non-profits, Dr. Tyler Termeer provides a message of hope, highlighting the strength of community:

“We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that all people living with HIV, or at risk for HIV, in our country have the things that they need and deserve to live long and healthy lives with their disease… [Together] we continue to advocate for health justice for all people.”

 

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