Friday, February 12, 2010

Healthy Gay Men Panel Discussion: Countering Another Gay Sex Panic

Moderator Shane Snowdon with panelists Michael Scarce, David Gonzalez, Bill Jesdale and Clinton Fein

There was a panel discussion at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center on Feb. 10 to analyze the Staph/MRSA infection panic caused by an unfortunate UCSF study two years ago, and to work to deter future gay sex panics.

The discussion was entitled “Healthy Gay Men: Messaging: Media & Messes” and the activist panelists did not hesitate to point out the series of events that provided fodder for the extreme homophobic fringe groups that still infest the U.S. in the new millennium.

Artist Clinton Fein, who is well known for his controversial re-staged photographs of Iraqi prison scenes, opened the event with a description of the supposed MRSA infections that were presented by the UCSF study and a San Francisco Chronicle reporter as a threat to the Bay Area’s citizens. And then it was picked up by journalists worldwide as a new gay disease, and the homophobic fringe ran drivel online that any surface that gay men touched would spread treatment-resistant infections. Activists realized that not only was it an untrue situation, but that it could also lead to violence against gays. Fein said that disease rates are down now, and that gays need to be aware and quick to dispel distortions about gay men’s health.

Writer Bill Jesdale spoke next about the campaigns against the meth scourge and how there was too much emphasis on poor health choices of gay men. Then he gave a thumbs-up to the Our Love/Stop AIDS Project poster campaign in the Castro that displays former Emperor John Weber, who is an African American. And he said that such posters should be mounted in other minority communities. He said that public health agencies have a lot of resources invested in poor health projects, and that qualified interviewers are needed to be direct and ask men “where they stick it” since many do not identify as gay and many are bisexual, so that useful new health information can reach them.

Author Michael Scarce mentioned that not just the UCSF study and the Chronicle reporter caused a media firestorm, but also the Annals of Internal Medicine publication failed to review the information before disseminating faux facts. He also spoke about how the media works, and the need for some outlets to seek profits at any cost. And he spoke about the possibility of a future health crisis that will need the community’s attention, and that the MRSA panic has damaged the chances of getting the word out. And he said that the lives of gays and PWA’s should be spoken about, so that it is more difficult to sensationalize their lives.

Panelist David Gonzalez

David Gonzalez, who is the HIV Services Manager for the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, spoke last. He spoke about the deplorable lack of meaningful health outreach to people of color, the Down Low phenomenon perpetrated by Oprah Winfrey and others, and the childish and over-simplified MRSA educational materials that did reach the non-white communities. And he spoke about Lesbian Health 101 as a fine model, where outreach was conducted in the most positive way, and the need for languages other than English to be used.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty was an attentive audience member and the panel was coordinated by Shane Snowden, who is the Director of LGBT Resource Center at UCSF, and one of the few women at the discussion. Turning around for the Q&A revealed that a room that can accommodate over 100 people only had 30 in attendance.

The panel’s connection to a notoriously loud and abusive individual is supposed to have led to the small turnout. And the admirable model of Dr. Marcus Conant’s forums was not followed since there were no paper handouts and no food and drink provided. Discussion attendees are used to reading about the panel subjects and the panelists’ biographies, and it helps them to ask questions later. And many busy people in our community do not have time to eat lunch and they depend on evening meetings to provide sustenance.

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