In the last two weeks, I’ve spent four days at conferences for poz peeps. This not being downtown Toronto, we were a mixed crowd, about 50% gay men with the remainder divided about equally between women and straight men.
Some guys from our group, GMSH (Gay Mens Sexual Heath Alliance) presented some of the work we’ve been doing in a 90-minute session the first day. They did a good job.
Afterwards, an earnest gay guy came up to me and said he felt uncomfortable with it, because there were straights in the room and they don’t like hearing all this gay talk, plus of course it sends the wrong message - that HIV is a gay disease.
Yikes! Brian talked about this monkey on our back in a previous post, but this is where the rubber hits the road. Clearly some folks think de-gaying HIV is a a good thing. I don’t.
Anyway, how did I handle his complaint? I rambled on about how a lot of this stuff - disclosure and the law, viral load concerns, poz prevention, etc. - was relevant to a straight poz crowd too. Lame, I know. But later I regretted it. I should have been more blunt.
These regional gatherings routinely discuss issues affecting groups at risk - this one, for instance, had sessions on injection drug users, womens’ issues, the Hep C co-infected and more. All good stuff. But this GMSH presentation was the first time I can remember that gay men have even been the subject of a session, and I’ve been going many years. And talking about HIV and gay men raises eyebrows?
As it happened, this wasn’t the only gay content. I made sure to include references to the history of gay men in our movement when I presented a session on leadership. Later there was an amazing performance-piece by some high school kids who’ve been working with a local AIDS Service Organization to develop a show about homophobia. So kudos to the conference organizers for no longer turning a blind eye to the gay thing. Uptight poz gay guy must have been frothing at the mouth, though, by the end of it.
But it’s stigma of a kind, whether from within our community or not. Even if that stigma comes from a desire to be inclusive, to be considerate of other at-risk groups, to avoid rocking the boat, to make sure that folks know that HIV can impact everybody (because it can, but who doesn’t know that now?) - it’s stigma. Some would prefer, I think, that gay men, 60% of the newly infected as it happens, be silent, take a seat at the back of the bus. It’s a terribly misguided attempt at being pc, I think
I should have spoken out at the time, of course. I will in the future.