Search the website for the upcoming 16th International AIDS Conference for the word “gay” and you get two hits. Considering queer men once “owned” the disease — remember the early days when it was still called the gay cancer? — it doesn’t seem like a whole lot.
“We’re definitely trying to make sure that the issues pertaining to the gay community are kept as a focus,” assures Nicole Amoroso, local media rep for the conference.
Amoroso says there’ll be no lack of homo content at the conference, what with queerly themed sessions within the science and community components, as well as events and displays in the publicly accessible Global Village, the large, ideas marketplace where many local AIDS service organizations (ASOs), including the AIDS Committee Of Toronto, will be setting up shop.
“It is, in Toronto, gay men and women at highest risk [of contracting HIV], but we also want to be sure we’re paying attention to other special groups.”
At the same time, delegates are likely to select sessions that they see as being most relevant to the situation in their home countries, which may mean many delegates choose to skip queer sessions altogether.
“People will come looking for specific info pertaining to their own work… they’ll have very specific agendas we’re trying to meet,” says Amoroso.
If it’s any indication of what Toronto can expect, the 2004 international conference in Bangkok saw a lot of debate centred on whether campaigns promoting abstinence rather than condom campaigns were more effective for reducing rates of infection. Not exactly the kind of debate that’s common in queer circles.
There are more than 20,000 delegates expected to attend the upcoming conference, to be held from Aug 13 to 18 at the Metro Convention Centre. There will be delegates coming from all over the world, from countries where the bodies on the front lines of the epidemic aren’t visibly queer. Countries where statistics on infection rates amongst men who have sex with men (MSMs) aren’t collected or are dubious because homosexuality is criminalized.
But that doesn’t mean that MSMs aren’t being disproportionately affected in these countries. Last week the Associated Press reported that elevated HIV-infection rates amongst gay and bisexual men in various countries in Asia are being downplayed by local ASOs because recognizing the problem would mean acknowledging that queer men exist at all.
How’s that for an issue for the Global Village?