Gay Men’s Health Summit in Washington D.C.
Just before the XIX International AIDS Conference, an estimated 150 activists gathered in Washington D.C. for the 2012 National Gay Men’s Health Summit. Unlike speakers at most professional conferences, speakers at the summit regularly issued disclaimers that they were not speaking for their organizations. These disclaimers reflected the speaker’s dual roles as both health professionals and members of their "target population." The Gay Men’s Health Summits grew out of frustration with that dual role, the singular focus on AIDS, and its associated moralistic tinge. As many people still experience this frustration, the summit uses that as a springboard for discussion.
Despite this frustration, but reflecting reality on the ground, about one third of all workshops focused on HIV prevention, treatment, stigma, or inclusion. Some of these workshops focused on an asset based and sex positive style of prevention. In an asset based approach, the health prevention effort emphasizes, and works with, the strengths of the target community. Despite popular misconceptions, health assets do exist within the communities of gay/bi and other men who have sex with men. These assets include an acceptance of open relationships, a preference for explicit sexual language over euphemisms, and the ability to choose from a wide variety of sexual behaviors with varying levels of risk. While some people might be surprised to see "acceptance of open relationships" listed among health assets, this acceptance allows those people with minimal interest in, or capability for, monogamy to live honestly. An honest open relationship has fewer risks than a dishonest "monogamous" relationship. Emphasizing health assets may be particularly important for those communities that need to combat shame issues.
Exemplifying this asset based approach to health, two groups presented workshops: the FUK!T campaign and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The D.C. based FUK!T campaign has developed a sex positive campaign to reduce risk of STIs and are willing to help other people developing a similar program. Visit www.dcfukit.org for more information.
As this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s first safe sex pamphlet, Play Fair!, the sisters will be issuing a revised and updated version of this "classic". The local SPI convent should distribute it in this area.
This health summit expressed its basic ideas in eight core issues and six core principles. Unfortunately, these issues and principles read as if they were written by a committee of researchers and bureaucrats. While these issues and principles may match someone’s checklist, they do not read easily, but are important enough that they should inspire.
These summits have occurred about every two years for over ten years, striving to expand health for gay/bi and other MSM beyond the focus on AIDS and towards something more holistic. As one speaker said, "Health is about more than access to pharmaceuticals."
Visit www.gmhs2012.org for more information.