A Heart Wide Open

By Rob Banaszak on July 25, 2012 in 2012 International AIDS Conference

by Doug Wirth
Chief Executive Officer
Amida Care

For me, the opening session set the conference tone, blasted my heart wide open (again) and reminded me why I and so many others continue to do HIV work: “AIDS work calls for the best in humankind, our faith in people and Spirit is challenged when our most basic needs go unmet, as such we must STAND UP and turn the tide together, to use our personal power to change the course of this global epidemic and end AIDS once and for all, it’s within our grasp, let us be UNITED in our purpose, let it be so, let US MAKE IT SO!”  I’ve been looking forward to sharing time, space, ideas with people from around the globe who are making the waves in these tides of change!

I’d like to highlight three sessions from Monday/Tuesday that will impact New York’s Positive Charge project: 1) MSMs in US: Involve[MEN}t urged us to look clearly at the differences in associated sexual risk exposures between Black and White MSMs, and use the data they shared to allocate resources and support culturally competent programs most capable of reducing new infections within Black MSM communities.  We must move now, and quickly, to address the underlining/structural issues associated with HIV transmission among Black MSMs, which Dr. Ken Mayer from Boston outlined: poverty, housing instability, lack of jobs/unemployment and incarceration.  I am moved by the United State’s leadership in global HIV efforts but dissatisfied with our efforts at home to support life, liberty and happiness for my gay brothers of color.  And I’m reminded in this moment of a decade old conversation with Douglas Brooks, AU’s Board Chair, that men/women of color get tired of teaching white folks about their racism.  It’s my/our job to look inside to find the ugly and misinformed human parts within Caucasian cultures that limit love, compassion and appreciation which in turn contribute to HIV transmission among African Americans and Latinos, especially MSMs; 2) Harm Reduction: I sat in on a presentation that showed clearly, given limited resources, ensuring access to clean needles with minimal/didactic teaching on their use, is as effective (or better) than more interactive and lengthy behavioral change programs.  Access to clean needles, and other harm reduction approaches, must be expanded now.  The United States has an opportunity to show leadership in this area; and 3) Trans-competent HIV Work: Much must be done in this area, but JoAnn Keatley, from UCSF, perhaps said it best, when trying to make HIV programs trans-competent, “give us a job, we’re competent, capable and we need good pay that includes health care, affirms our dignity and offers us stability,” which is a great antidote to the high rates of employment, housing and education discrimination that Cecilia Chung outlined are components driving trans-migration.  After all, are most of us looking for a better life and some one to share it with?  What’s more universal than that?

Thank you AIDS United, and all the business, community and foundation partners who support AU – especially BMS who made it possible for 5 AccessNY partners to attend the IAC 2012!  We are inspired and changed by this experience.  Doug Wirth, President/CEO, Amida Care, NY, NY.

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