The International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC) recently cancelled plans to hold its 1997 biannual meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The action was in response to a letter from a Florida state official on Florida Department of Transportation stationery stating that "AIDS as a disease was created as a punishment to the gay and lesbian communities across the world." The cancellation of our conference was followed by a letter to other medical organizations explaining the reason for our action and calling for a boycott of Florida as a convention site. Boycotting Florida was our attempt, as our French colleagues might say, "pour encourager les autres" (to encourage the others). The phrase is derived from Voltaire's reference in Candide to the execution of Admiral Byng in 1757: "The English shoot an admiral now and then to encourage the others."
I'm not certain if our shooting a state official is in the same league as shooting an admiral, but our latest skirmish in the AIDS war resulted in some battle stories. First was my unfortunate experience on WFLT shock jock Norman Kent's radio show where I was accused of using "financial blackmail" against the State of Florida in response to a statement by someone Kent referred to as "a Department of Transportation bimbo." I responded that I would consider canceling a conference in any city in which local entertainment personalities demean women by calling them bimbos.
Human-rights records of cities and states historically have played a role in the choice of convention sites. One would hardly expect an NAACP meeting to be held in Phoenix after Arizona's initial opposition to recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. It's time to start considering disease, racial, religious, and sexual orientation discrimination as a criterion for the choice of medical convention sites, considering the money that conventions can bring into the economy of states that refuse to accept the challenge of combatting blatant class hatred and discrimination through education.
Then there was the call from an aide to Governor Lawton Chiles--a man I have long respected for his political pragmatism as well as for being one of the last true "gentlemen" in Cardinal John Henry Newman's definition of the term. In my discussion with the gubernatorial aide, I recommended that the governor should not allow any slack in responding to such statements of intolerance against any group. One might speculate that the governor might have moved more decisively if the remarks were anti-Cuban, anti-Black, or anti-Semitic. I also pointed out that there is always a possibility of such unfortunate remarks. It is the response to such remarks by appropriate officials, and not the remarks themselves, that defines any administration's position on human rights.
Governor Chiles subsequently called Ken Wolf, IAPAC trustee and former communications aide to the Governor, to discuss the matter. Ken suggested that the State of Florida require AIDS education and sensitivity training for state employees. The Governor quickly responded with an official proclamation mandating such training.
Cardinal Newman was right when he defined a gentleman as one who does no harm. Governor Chiles has extended the definition by being a true gentleman--namely, one who takes action to prevent harm.
This article was provided by International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care. It is a part of the publication Journal of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care.