July 18, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Pre-AIDS conference events to focus on gay men’s health, sex workers rights
Gay News, Washington Blade, HIV/AIDS

Latino GLBT History Project President David Pérez (Blade photo by Michael Key)

With about 30,000 people expected in D.C. for the International AIDS Conference; a number of panels and other events are scheduled to take place in D.C. before AIDS 2012 officially opens on Sunday.

The Gay Men’s Health Summit will take place at George Washington University on Friday and Saturday. Whitman-Walker Health, Us Helping Us, the D.C. LGBT Community Center, The GWU School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the National Coalition for LGBT Health and Master Taino’s Leather Family co-sponsored the two-day gathering that will feature more than 40 workshops on a range of topics. These include coming out as an older adult, mental health and addiction among gay and bisexual men.

Activist and researcher Dan O’Neill and Brant Miller of the D.C. Center on Friday will present a workshop on the D.C. FUK!T campaign that uses sexually explicit messages to promote condom and lube use among men who have sex with men. HIV/AIDS activists in Seattle launched a similar initiative last year, but O’Neill told the Blade that he is optimistic that service providers in other cities will create their own FUK!T-inspired safer-sex campaigns.

“Hopefully with the diverse audience that will be there, they can recreate similar programs where they are if they aren’t already there,” he said.

Latino GLBT History Project President David Pérez and others on Saturday will present a workshop on the impact of HIV/AIDS on gay Hispanics. Frank Walker and DeAndre Roberts of Youth Pride Services and DeAndre Preston of Code Red will moderate a panel on young black gay men in the United States on Friday. This workshop will also coincide with the release of a national study that details the experiences of roughly 2,000 black LGBT youth from across the country and Puerto Rico.

“There is something there for everyone,” said Walker, referring to the summit and its focus on gay men’s health. “From what I’ve seen so far, it’s probably one of the best places to get that information with like-minded people.”

In addition to the Gay Men’s Health Summit, the Global Forum on MSM and HIV will take place on Saturday. The International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS conference will take place at Howard University through tomorrow, while Youth Force’s annual gathering at Gallaudet University will conclude on the same day.

Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive will host a pre-conference strategy session at its Northeast Washington offices on Saturday in support of sex-workers’ rights. “The goal is to really get sex workers together to talk about our plans for the conference itself and moving our agenda forward,” said HIPS executive director Cyndee Clay.

Current U.S. immigration policy prohibits sex workers and drug users from entering the country—thousands of sex workers and their allies are expected to gather in Kolkata, India, for a conference that will take place during AIDS 2012. HIPS plans to live-stream this gathering at its Global Village exhibit during the D.C. conference.

Ending this ban is among the four issues outlined in a so-called call to action that urges the federal government to adopt policies that signatories hope will more effectively prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among sex workers.

“The United Nations considers sex workers and their clients to be two of the populations most at risk for HIV infection,” reads the declaration. “Structural issues drive the HIV epidemic within the sex sector – criminalization and stigma compound health disparities already affecting those on the wrong end of racial, economic and gender inequality. Yet when they are empowered to be leaders, connected to services and resources, and supported to address social injustice, sex workers have been some of the most effective communities at curtailing the spread of AIDS. Currently, the U.S. imposes and continues to expand harmful policies affecting sex workers both domestically and abroad, putting them at increased risk for HIV.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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