Reflections from Vienna 2010

As the Conference wound down, my nostalgia started kicking in almost immediately. I had met so many wonderful people; was able to share the work I was involved in with the world; and had met the leaders in the field of MSM and sexual-minorities HIV prevention, research and advocacy.

Points to Remember from Vienna 2010

There were some great sessions led by leaders in the field and names to watch out for in the future - Stefan Baral seems to be the researcher to watch. There was so much information presented that it seems impossible to provide a synopsis here. But one presenter at the MSMGF pre-conference clairvoyantly summarized the International AIDS conference before it even started.

Dr. Robert Carr of Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) laid out four points to follow for HIV programming to be successful in reducing new infections and deaths from AIDS-related illnesses:

1) HIV programs for MSM [and other sexual minorities] must target social inclusion and focus on key institutions: media, police and justice officials, religious leaders, human rights advocates and ministers and heads of state

2) There needs to be a discourse on the relationship between church and nation remembering that:

  • Homosexuality is not a Western invention
  • Religious purity is not national purity
  • Homophobia is not nation building

3) The United Nations has an obligation to support democratic processes and dialogue and to ensure accountability and good governance

4) Civil society needs to be independently funded to do this work

These four points capture what I am taking away from this conference as the key areas for action and some of the first steps were taken in sessions in Vienna.

I was in a session that addressed MSM and their needs in the HIV epidemic. Surprisingly there was a representative there from the World Council of Churches. On stage this Kenyan woman never spoke directly about the needs of MSM nor how her organization was addressing those needs.

In the Q&A I asked her to specifically state what her organization was doing for MSM. She answered in that winding way that official representatives often use, that frustratingly seems to avoid providing any answer at all.

However, off-stage she was very open in talking with me about MSM and future collaboration in meeting their needs. Talking “off the record” in this open way is not itself a revolutionary, game-changing step but it is a step forward. In our movement each of these small steps forward is vital and could potentially see us reach the tipping point toward equality.

Things for next time:

Though my first Conference experience was great, there are some things missing in Vienna that I hope to see at the next conference in 2012 in Washington, DC:

Lube - in my experience there were few organizations that gave sachets of lube along with condoms. Gay men, MSM and lesbian, bi and trans people need not only lube itself but also a portable vessel. In my experience in Lesotho, sex is gotten where one can find it and carrying around a bottle is not logistically or financially feasible.

Visibility - it felt like every 10 seconds there was a sex-worker protest, chant or march. "Sex workers rights are human rights" was often the march song. Has LGBT advocacy skipped this important part of expression and validation? In my advocacy at Baylor University both diplomacy and protests were vital and protests were what brought us together as a community.

Did the sex workers (many) protests accomplish any real, measurable results? I don't know. But at least they were visible to the general conference attendees. MSM were mentioned in so many plenary speeches and sessions, but were not particularly visible as a group.

Next year let’s take a cue from this year's MSMGF pre-conference and Be Heard!

What would you like to see at the next conference? Leave your answers in the comment section below.

18th Annual International AIDS Conference »
Be Heard! MSMGF Pre-Conference Reflections »
How You Say: Public Health or Human Rights? »