HIV positive Gay Activist Proposes Alternative Research Agenda at the AIDS 2014 Conference
Third blog post from the Melbourne AIDS conference by Dr. Enida Friel of Oxfam Ireland
One of the best speeches given at the AIDS 2014 Conference which ended last week in Melbourne, Australia, many agreed, was that of Laurindo Garcia of the B Change Group from the Philippines, a gay man living with HIV. It caught me by surprise somehow, as it came at a moment when feeling exhausted from the jet-lag, I was thinking of leaving the room to get a cup of coffee, but out of respect for Laurindo, who was the last speaker of the session, I decided to stay. And I am glad I did.
He first said that he had planned to tell his story of how when he was diagnosed with HIV he risked deportation from the country where his partner of ten years lived. But he decided not to dwell on that, and spoke instead of the discrimination that the men having sex with men (MSM) and the transgender community – one of the population groups with the highest HIV prevalence rate – face on a day to day basis around the world. And this is not just in the form of stigma, social exclusion, or lack of access to services, but also outright hate, beating and even killing. Some countries have seen introduction of laws that now criminalize homosexuality and HIV transmission. At a time of other progress in the field of HIV and AIDS, things have gotten worse not better for MSM and transgender community, he said.
As Laurindo spoke with such passion, yet clarity, eloquence and a bit of humour thrown in – about issues that so personally had affected him – I was reminded of the powerful speech made by Irish HIV positive gay activist Rory O’ Neill aka ‘Panti’ (his stage name) in the Abbey Theatre not long ago in Dublin.
So here is the solution that Laurindo proposed: ‘a new research agenda’, as he put it for all those attending the AIDS conference.
- An ‘intolerance’ vaccine mirroring the AIDS vaccine which has been much talked about at this conference. We know that intolerance against men having sex with men (and the transgender community fuels HIV so this vaccine would therefore prevent HIV and even wars, Laurindo said.
- A ‘violence’ condom – a condom we can wear over ourselves to protect us from the physical violence being experienced. “Ultimately it might be a bit uncomfortable,” he said with a sense of humour, “but worth it”.
- ‘Pre’ and a ‘post hate exposure prophylaxis’ – a parallel of the ‘pre’ and ‘post-exposure prophylaxis’ against HIV also much discussed at the conference, but which in this case would protect us from the hate experienced on a day to day basis.
“Any donors up for this?” Laurindo asked. By this time he was being applauded by everybody in the room. In the meantime however, we can all be more tolerant, health workers, politicians, religious leaders to whom he issued a call to action.
I left energized, jet-lag gone (for a while anyway) and wondering what would Panti have made of Laurindo’s speech and more so perhaps, those of whom Panti spoke that night in the Abbey Theatre.
30th July 2014
- Enida Friel is Oxfam Ireland’s HIV Programme Coordinator.