There are a few ways you could describe Terry Dyer: Gay, Black, a two-time cancer survivor, a man living with HIV.
But he’s so much more than that. What he’d really like you to know about him: He’s a classically trained singer. He’s a published author. He believes in strength in numbers and bringing people together. He loves to play sports. And he’s competitive as hell — his friends and family won’t play Words With Friends with him anymore.
“My brother says, ‘I don't have fun with you,’” Dyer laughed. “I'm the type of person where it's a ‘go big or go home’ type of mentality. I've always been that way.”
As the new executive director of the World AIDS Museum, he’s bringing his enthusiasm, networking skills, go-get-‘em attitude, and personal connection to catapult the museum forward.
After moving to South Florida from California with an aviation company, he was laid off during the pandemic and focused on completing a goal of his: writing a book. In July 2020, Dyer published his memoir “Letters to a Gay Black Boy,” where he tells his life’s story through a collection of letters to his younger self. That includes being a survivor of child sex abuse, contracting HIV from a long-time partner who didn’t share his status, his work with Stop AIDS in San Francisco, and also his achievements in academia and athletics.
In December 2020, he was appointed SunServe’s director of development. Since he’s not busy enough, he’s also seen around town performing in cabarets, being a classically trained singer. In 2021, South Florida Gay News’ readers voted him as Best New LGBT Advocate. In April 2022, he left to become the executive director of the World AIDS Museum.
“There will always be a special place in my heart for the services and the impact that [SunServe has] on the community,” he said.
Sitting in his new office, South Florida Gay News had a long talk with Dyer about his life, advocacy, and plans for the museum.
You were only at SunServe for a little over a year. What caused the move to the World AIDS Museum?
It just made sense. It just really made sense with respect to my work in the San Francisco Bay Area, in prevention, in having worked in that field for quite some time, and then my own personal story, like it just made sense. And it seemed like the right time as well, to grow my career.
How does the World AIDS Museum want to bridge the gap with younger generations?
That's one of the focuses that we have, with me coming into this role, is connecting to those generations and sort of bridging the gap between what happened in the early ‘80s and what's happening now, and how important it is for them to understand, “That's a part of your history.” You've got to be knowledgeable and aware of where you come from because there are a lot of folks that have paved the way for the medication that you take, now PrEP.
There are a lot of folks that have been on the front lines and rolled up their sleeves and worked with pharmacies and medications and all that type of stuff in order to get to this point now. So I really think it's incredibly important for our organization to be the organization that merges and sort of builds that bridge between the generations.
HIV/AIDS used to be a death sentence, but now people can live long, fulfilling lives. How do we balance not being fearful, but not being blasé about it?
There is such a huge stigma around HIV/AIDS, and there doesn't need to be in this day and age right? It is so incredibly controlled at this point in time. There are medications, there are resources, there's education.
I think PrEP forced folks to say, “OK, you know, now here's a pill that I can take being an HIV-negative person, and that will prevent me from actually contracting the virus.” Wonderful. But what it also did was create a sense of like you just said, blasé, a little bit more apathy versus really understanding the ins and outs and still knowing that HIV still affects our community.
Speaking of PrEP, it’s so encouraging to see commercials for the pill running on television.
It's really amazing how far we've come with having conversations, and then it is on such a massive platform in terms of commercials, and movie stars and people that have that type of platform are advocating for these sorts of things. That's really wonderful, but I'm hoping that people don't think that the conversation stops there, that it's over because we now have this pill. It's wonderful but there still needs to be more education, there still needs to be more awareness, and there still needs to be more preserving the history of HIV and AIDS. We still have to do those things because it's still not going away.
You’ve been through a lot of traumas, but also accomplished a lot. How important is it to you to serve as a role model?
This is actually something that I said to my family: I could walk outside and get hit by a car. Yeah, anytime in the day, if the Lord says this is your time, then guess what, there's nothing I can do about that. The Lord gave me a challenge, right? With this virus, it's how I deal with it and allow it to positively impact others that will build my character, or that will tell me that maybe this was supposed to happen. This was in my cards; this was in the plan for my life. So if I can have conversations with younger folks and younger generations about that, and how to navigate that in a way that's so incredibly healthy, and allow them to see that, then that's my purpose. That's my job.
How has the museum moving onto the same campus as ArtServe and the Stonewall National Museum and Archives been helpful?
Oh, man, it's really awesome. Because people know who ArtServe is, they’re an art incubator for wonderful artists and different forms of art. So people are coming through their space, they see, “Oh, well, what's the World AIDS Museum?” Then we just randomly find folks coming into our gallery and I love that. I love that open concept; I love the open space. And then the fact that Stonewall has, obviously, such a rich history. We’re having conversations about doing some things together.
What’s your long-term vision for the museum?
We can't have a name like the World AIDS Museum and only be local to South Florida. So we have already made tremendous headway into connecting with folks across the country, we already have some established relationships with different folks in parts of the country that are doing similar work or in prevention and things like that. It is absolutely my goal to take this organization national, and then eventually global.