Brian Minalga is the deputy director of the Office of HIV/AIDS Network Coordination (HANC) based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. HANC supports all aspects of clinical trial operations across the ACTG, HPTN, HVTN, and IMPAACT. Brian also directs the HANC Legacy Project, focusing on including underrepresented populations in HIV clinical trials.
What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?
Problem-solving. Identifying problems is easy, but problem-solving is a challenge that requires critical, creative, and collaborative thinking, and I love using my mind in these ways. Praxis is a process involving deep, investigative thinking followed by solution-focused action. I often use this method when working on projects like the Representative Studies Rubric, the Transgender Scorecard, and various publications I’ve authored. Given the urgency of the problems we face today, solutions take priority for me. We desperately need solutions for global health problems, the climate crisis, violence, social and political injustice, and so much more. Still, actionable solutions are made available too seldom and slowly when problems are identified. HIV is connected to all these issues. When we’re problem-solving in the HIV space, we’re engaging in a transformative, existential process. In that sense, problem-solving is less about what I’m fighting against and more about the future I’m trying to build. It’s a means to thrive and create abundance for all, and working toward that goal in concrete and specific ways is my favorite part of my job.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
I wanted to answer “love,” but that feels too imprecise (and just a little cliché!). It’s a specific kind of love: that ferocious, mama lion sort of love that roars inside of so many Queer and trans people. Most of us have protective instincts from navigating a world violently dangerous to our community—often with nobody to teach us how to survive. It’s difficult to witness anyone suffering, but Queer suffering is so personal to me that I’m uniquely sensitive to it—and motivated by it. I want to see my community thrive. Furthermore, we are all connected; nobody is free from oppression until all are free. I am rooted in my identity as a Queer person working for health and justice in all communities . . . from a place of mama lion love.
What has surprised you most about working in HIV prevention research?
Real talk: I’ve been surprised by how often we engage with each other, shall we say, unharmoniously. When I started working in this field over 15 years ago, I (perhaps naively) imagined a more pleasant movement. I’m not saying that disagreement is unbecoming of us—after all, so much of our movement history is characterized by protest and rage. I’ve even written about the importance of anger underpinned by love in our efforts. But we must periodically assess how well our actions and our intentions align. Sometimes, what feels best now for our self-preservation as individuals or organizations is not what’s best for ending the suffering caused by HIV. Ego sometimes makes us forget why we’re all here and working toward the same mission. There are natural enemies to our movement, but typically, they’re not people who’ve dedicated their lives and careers to ending the HIV epidemic. Typically, they want us divided. We should always hold each other accountable but never want others in our movement to fail because that is working against our own interests. I am sure we will achieve our mission more effectively if we commit to lifting each other up.
What has been one of your proudest moments as a member of the HPTN?
I’m proud of the Representative Studies Rubric (RSR). It’s something I started working on during a pretty dark time; it was the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in the U.S., I was going through loss and grief in my family and community, and I was relentlessly alone. However, I had the idea to create a tool to measurably improve the representation of underrepresented study populations in clinical trials. Developing the RSR was a very organized, creative process, and I think it helped keep me connected to my purpose during a tough time. I also worked with a great team of HANC collaborators and community members to perfect the RSR and generate the data to justify its implementation in the networks (ACTG, HPTN, HVTN, and IMPAACT). I remember receiving word that the RSR would be implemented as an official part of protocol development across all the Networks. I cried. It’s not just something that I can be proud of; it’s something that everyone in the HPTN and all Networks can be proud of because it confirms how dedicated we all are to diversity, representation, and scientific integrity in our work.
What has been the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
In addition to my job at HANC, I work as a pole dance instructor. HIV work and pole dance have a few things in common. Both are associated with sexuality. Both are stigmatized. Both are simultaneously exhausting and invigorating. But pole dance has the unique ability to get me out of my head and put me completely in my body, which is incredibly therapeutic. Pole dance is my primary artistic outlet, and I love sharing my art through performance and teaching. You can check out my art on Instagram (@dosnalgas). Just keep in mind that this is a body-positive art form!
What is your guilty pleasure?
It’s more of a nerdy pleasure than a guilty pleasure: I’m a Final Fantasy fan. Final Fantasy is a Japanese video game that launched with Final Fantasy I in 1987 and just released Final Fantasy XVI in 2023. It involves exploring the world as a team of heroes solving problems that threaten the world. I’ve played the first nine games in the series, as I believe old-school games are the best. My favorite is Final Fantasy VIII.