A Call to Action – Out With It Closing Keynote

Sergio López of SOMOSGAY closed out the 2018 Out With It Pre-Meeting on Young Gay and Bisexual Mens Health and Rights with a keynote speech that functioned as a call to action leading into AIDS2018

Watch our Facebook Live stream of our closing keynote featuring Sergio Lopez’s speech here:

While I’m not sure how to start a keynote speech -or deliver it at all- I wanted to confess here that for me it’s extraordinary to be in Amsterdam for the first time, and I’m beyond overwhelmed about having spent all morning and the afternoon with many of you whom I consider my family of activists in the distance. ​My sisters.

Amsterdam received us all with the warmest weather, I believe, and ready to kick-off a week full of activities. Beyond our gatherings and eventual kikis, I can assure that what excites me the most is the level of concurrence and honest discussions we had all day today during the Out With It pre-meeting, and for that, we all deserve a round of applause!

As part of MPact’s Steering Committee, but more specifically as a member and former co-chair of the Youth Reference Group, I had the chance to learn from, and accompany the work of this amazing organization, along with a dedicated group of people, for the past six years. When I first joined in 2012 I was passionate about the impact of the group, and I still believe that today, of course.
Many of you know as well, I am Latino. I was born, raised and spoiled in Paraguay, where I had the honour to grow over the past ten years as an activist with SOMOSGAY, the extended family in Paraguay that received me as a gay adolescent then, and a young adult now, who is still trying to be aware of his value. I found that with SOMOSGAY.

I consider myself a collective child of many gay men (not to be confused with my daddies, please) – I say I am a collective child of many wise, proud, brave and brilliant gay men, who taught me everything I know. It was like the right people I met connected me and oriented me towards the other right people I needed to meet, and so on.

I am telling this because this is not about ​me giving a speech. If anything, this is me standing on the shoulders of giants, trying to bring more young people along the way, to our fight.

Why? Because ​we need it.

We had some light, brothers and sisters, for sure, but we are in the middle of the darkest night in many places, even some countries where victories where built for our movement and now are trying to take our rights back. I believe that it is a critical moment for our generation, where the response to HIV and human rights has to be more solid than ever.

I speak of light, dark… don’t mistake me for a priest. But we need to realize that there is a very formidable storm (that’s my only way to put it) of fascism, stigma, homophobia and misogyny -that we’ve seen before, yes, but is getting worse for example in places like Paraguay, where the other side has way more money, political will at disposal and a clear target against gay men.

We have some power to go out with it as well.

“Out With It” ​can sound like a very powerful phrase, but is also a more concrete call to action for us if we want to spark change during these days at the International AIDS Conference. This is our moment to speak our minds, to be bold, and go out with it!
This is the moment for young gay men all around the world to be creative, and to use the best tools we have available.

I feel excited because this year the contestants of our global challenge were able to call our attention on some of the issues that are faced by young gay men in different regions, and at the same time, they facilitated ideas and solutions to change the rules of game a little bit, for the better, for gay men all around the world. Out of many great ideas, we had the chance to revisit some of them here and let me tell you, it is quite inspiring the work that you guys have put into this. Really.

We took a look at the sessions and panels over the day, with examples of best practices from all over the world that can successfully help the HIV-response, where communities are partners at the core and avant garde of the response. We also took a lot of value in this constant intergenerational conversation that feeds our movement and helps us advancing even more, with new challenges, for sure, but with better and more resilient understanding of our sense of community, as a reflection of the process that we are all engaged in.

When we were thinking this pre-meeting to be driven by themes of sex, sexuality and wellbeing, we discussed how to end this day with a call to action. By facilitating a space where young gay men can express themselves, we now have a platform to share our thoughts, needs, desires and advocacy priorities, for now and for the future.

In my walk around life and over the years, I had the chance to view and experiment sex and sexuality in a different way. I’ve learned that sex is such an important aspect of our lives as gay men, is part of our rituals of socialization. ​I am here to say that there’s nothing wrong with that.

I only speak of this because, in honesty, I ​was​ one of those people who couldn’t understand an act of sex without a condom, or that guy who couldn’t give a blowjob without feeling guilty automatically after. Then the AIDS activism taught me to deconstruct sex, necessarily, while the gay movement taught me the real lesson of my sexual life: to let go of catholic guilt in order to enjoy my sex as an act of love.

And this is important right here: we gay men have sex out of love as well. ​Sex is an act of love and resistance.

I believe that after decades of the epidemic, to simply explore alternatives to overcome stigma and homophobia, from a community perspective, is not enough anymore. We know there’s unfinished business in our response, which is why we need a collective response to HIV that goes beyond our partnerships and our own communities; a response that transcends ideals, agendas and of course, with enough passion for the wellbeing of our humanity.

I also have a burning question to the participants: how many of us still find difficult to speak about sex without discussing HIV?
I raise my hand as well as an act of honesty, and because from now on, I wanna re-visit this aspect and take part in a movement that values more what happens during and after sex as an experience, not only for the sake of epidemiological data.

We are here to start discussing other issues affecting our lives, starting with the kind of sex we have, the kinks we wanna explore, the relationships we wanna build, and the community we wanna celebrate around the world. We must be convinced about the fact that all sex should be pleasurable, and to keep fighting for more open conversations about sex.

Let’s talk about anal sex, our desire to explore horizons, partners (yes, in plural), and about all the things we wanna discuss as gay men beyond HIV and the counterculture of stigma and discrimination that damaged our lives for so long.

We are here to reject the idea that gay sex is sinful, and inappropriate. We are here to reject the idea that all the sex gay men can have is with a rubber piece between us, between our bodies, and souls. We are here to expel shame and guilt out of our beds, out of our darkrooms and wherever we find pleasure.

I’ve learned that sex is fun and pleasurable, but I learned this only recently. We need to continue improving the lives of those adolescents and young people who might feel alone right now, and let them know they aren’t. No gay men should be alone ever, given the power we have to change some things when there’s at least two of us.

I believe these are topics we need to cover from now on.

As it happens with every human revolution in our history, real change only comes when we are bold, innovative and brave. Let’s be brave and do what we need to do, to have our revolution and end suffering once and for all.

Today, with conviction and compromise, we send out a call to stop criminalizing and incarcerating our communities: gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, trans people, drug users and people living with HIV; to end the war on drugs, the wars against same-sex behaviors and same-sex relationships, to end the wars on ​our own communities.

We need to dare more, as a humanity, on behalf of our collective health, it’s true, but today we are meeting here not to re-discuss what’s been known for over three decades of the epidemic, but ​to resignify what we know today in our community response and, more than ever, continue working ​with an implicit and constant empowering message on gay men’s sexual health.

This is our moment to be beyond solidary, people, to practice “sorority” among ourselves and trust, and care ourselves more than ever. Let this be a space for learning, sharing and collaborating, but beyond that, let this be a ritual of celebration, for happy returns and to keep on sharing under comfortable familiarities.
A dear friend of mine taught me a long time ago about gratitude and potential reflection under situations that often endanger our lives, merely by expressing who we are, who we love, how we want to dress, and the ideas that we sustain as queer subjects in our society.

Today we gather here to reflect and say, as young gay men and all gay men in the room who were young once: ​our lives have value, and we have the power to inspire other movements as well.
I recall what I said at the last conference in Durban, that we have something unique as queer people: a global family and community. One that is vibrant, diverse, very colorful and with an enormous power to change the world.

It is time we use that power, and all the pride in it, ​NOW​.
I can say I am very happy to be joining this Conference now, after this amazing and inspiring day with all of you. We know there’s a long way to go, not only during this week but in our fight. But we are here now, and we envision a future full of love. And that’s something to celebrate.

Please, go ​out with it during this week at AIDS 2018, and don’t forget: act up, fight back, fight AIDS.

Thank you, ​muchas gracias.