April 26, 2012
The White House held a conference focused HIV/AIDS in LGBT communities on the campus of Morehouse School of Medicine on Thursday April 19, 2012. AIDS United Southern REACH grantee Georgia Equality, was instrumental in the planning of the historic event with other key community stakeholders in Georgia.
The conference opened with remarks from Gautam Raghavan, LGBT liaison in the White House Office of Public Engagement. Following him was Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, Dean of Morehouse School of Medicine (and former AIDS United Trustee), who urged the community to transform "health disparities into health equities," and highlighted Morehouse School of Medicine's commitment to ending health disparities in marginalized communities. Rounding out the early morning speakers was Dr. Grant Colfax, the recently appointed White House Director of National AIDS Policy, who spoke about the possibility of achieving an AIDS free generation.
Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) talked about the impact of HIV/AIDS on LGBT communities in general, and young black men that have sex with men (MSM) in particular. There has been a sharp rise of HIV infections among young black MSM, which is a 50% increase between 2006-2009. Dr. Fenton went on to talk about some of the drivers of the epidemic, including social factors like stigma, among the country's more vulnerable populations. Fenton was particularly passionate about the role homophobia plays in the epidemic in LGBT communities, and insisted that a more holistic approach has to be adapted in grappling with the social drivers of the epidemic. Dr. Fenton also indicated that as education and income decrease, HIV prevalence increases. He affirmed CDC's commitment to the health and wellness of gay men, and said that the agency will be launching more social marketing campaigns as well as other initiatives to target vulnerable populations.
The first panel of the day "Overcoming Disparities, Getting to Equity," was moderated by Allison Nichols of the U.S. Department of Justice. The panelists included: Loida Bonney of Emory University, Beverly Guy-Sheftall of Spelman College, Rhonda Holliday of Morehouse School of Medicine, Reverend Edwin Sanders of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church and Patrick Sullivan of Emory University. Sullivan asserted that "homophobia is a Public Health hazard." The panelists went on to talk about the lack of resources and challenges faced by the transgender community in accessing HIV care.
The second panel was led by former Surgeon General David Satcher on "Improving Health Outcomes through Science, Policy and Practice." The panel included Vignetta Charles, Senior Vice President of AIDS United; Michael Horberg of Kaiser Permanente; Vel McKleroy of CDC; and Patrick Sullivan. The panelists addressed how to best overcome the barrier between Science and Policy, the importance of looking at not only the challenges of the transgender community but also the resilience. Vignetta Charles indicated that AIDS United's Access to Care program works closely with LGBT communities, and pointed out how everyone in the room is impacted by anti-gay stigma.
David Malebranche, Professor at the Emory University School of Medicine, was the lunch time plenary speaker and provided fascinating insight into the nuisances of sexual pleasure and sexual health. He also spoke about the importance of addressing intersectionality, which is the multiple identities that we inhabit, and how those identities shape our worldview.
The afternoon wrapped up with a series of workshops which included: Leadership Development and Organizational Capacity Building for LGBT Organizations, Medical Provider Readiness, Successful LGBT HIV Prevention and Access to Care Programs, Needs of MSM and Transgender Youth, Community Partnerships, and Couples. The conference provided an excellent blueprint for how we address the disparities of HIV in LGBT communities. The next White House LGBT Summit will be in Minneapolis, MN on April 28.
Charles Stephens is the Southern Regional Organizer for AIDS United. You can follow him on twitter @CharlesAUsouth.