AIDS 2020 Letter of Concern

Civil society and community advocates are calling on the Interational AIDS Society to address a series of questions regarding their choice of the United States’ California Bay Area as the location for the 2020 International AIDS Conference. Full text of the letter is below:

Sign onto the letter to IAS here

Kevin Osborne, Executive Director, International AIDS Society (IAS)
Anton Pozniak, President, IAS and International Chair, AIDS 2020
Adeeba Kamarulzaman, President Elect, IAS
Cynthia Carey-Grant, Local AIDS 2020 Co-chair
Monica Gandhi, Local AIDS 2020 Co-chair

cc: AIDS 2020 Conference Coordinating Committee members

Dear IAS Leaders,

We write to express sincere concern around International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020), currently planned for early July 2020 in San Francisco and Oakland in the United States.

The signatories to this letter include individual researchers, research participants, clinicians, providers, advocates, public officials, funders, allied stakeholders, and members of the HIV workforce, including people who are living with HIV ourselves, as well as organizations and networks. Many of us have been donors to, members of or worked with IAS for years or decades, and been a part of many International AIDS Conferences, including the 1990 conference in San Francisco and AIDS 2012 in Washington D.C., as well as others around the world. In addition, some of us are or have been sex workers or people who use drugs, two populations explicitly banned from entry into United States. And many of us are people of color, immigrants, and/or LGBT people who are currently experiencing increased violence and assaults on our civil and human rights.

While we as individuals and representatives of organizations have a range of opinions about the selection of the Bay Area for the 2020 conference, we share concerns about the issues below, and look to the IAS and partners for explicit and meaningful answers that have not yet been provided to us.

As is always appropriate in our work, we are centralizing the lives and health of people living with HIV and members of key populations in this inquiry. However, we also care deeply about the well-being of the IAS itself, in relation to these concerns.

We recognize the planning for AIDS 2020 is proceeding. Yet there is an urgent need for answers to the questions below, and others that may arrive, given political instability in the United States and other pressing issues. We respectfully ask for an open and thorough response to these concerns by November 15th.

We offer this letter in the spirit of collaboration with the genuine wish to find solutions that are best for the long term global HIV response. Our questions are below.

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Questions for IAS:

1. As you know, efforts by the Obama administration and HIV community partners to obtaining exemptions or a waiver on the explicit ban on the entry of people who use drugs and sex workers were unsuccessful in 2012*. Since that time, federal policies and border practices regarding entry have devolved considerably. We recognize that IAS is in dialogue with Democratic elected officials about this issue. However, given the lack of success in this approach during a Democratic administration, what other strategies or measures is IAS taking to ensure the safe and unimpeded entry of all Conference participants?

2. What combination of circumstances and/ or documented reports of barriers to entry and acts of detention or violence would be recognized by IAS as a de facto ban and/or situation of unacceptable potential risk for many people living with HIV and key populations, to the extent that participation in the conference would become unfeasible, unsafe or impossible for significant numbers of ourselves, our colleagues and our community leaders?

3. How has the IAS worked with US-based and international legal experts to evaluate the impact of the United States January 2018 changes to the Foreign Affairs Manual via a memorandum to the consulates and the proposed public charge regulatory changes, as far as their current, ongoing and potential impact on the quantity and qualitative makeup of conference participants? As you may know, the proposed public charge rule considers “costly medical conditions” a negative factor for those seeking entry to the United States. It further requires proof of significant financial holdings. Note that these criteria were used to deny entry to African would-be participants in the March 2018 meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

4. IAS has stated it will not hold the conference in the United States if there is an explicit ban on the entry of people with HIV. While we all hope this will not come to pass, how are you accounting for this possibility as far as contractual obligations, other financial matters, and in your relationships and plans with local and national groups in the United States, in a way that does not hold undue financial risk to IAS and partners if there is a need to alter plans?

5. Given the explicit ban on the entry of people who use drugs and sex workers into the United States, how does or will the IAS advise members of these key populations who seek to attend the conference? Is there an implicit expectation by IAS that members of these communities will misrepresent their past or present lives in order to gain entry? How will IAS provide support and guidance to those who wish to attend without jeopardizing their identity or safety, or IAS itself?

6. Last year, a new federal law went into effect, which criminalizes and applies significant legal penalties to a very broad range of professional and educational activities now considered sex trafficking (known as SESTA/FOSTA, the name of the two companion bills in Congress Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).What legal counsel has IAS sought or obtained in order to evaluate its activities around AIDS 2020 to ensure that it would not be risking itself or participants given SESTA/FOSTA, which did not exist in the last time the conference was held in the US? As you may know, the Desiree Alliance, a national sex worker rights organization, was compelled to cancel their biannual national sex worker convening in the United States scheduled for 2019, due to its passage.

7. The conference is scheduled to occur right before what is likely to be a highly contentious Presidential election (and in the midst of Political Convention season, a week before the Democratic National Convention). Given the recent politically-based violence seen in the Bay Area and throughout the US, and sustained or increasing violence against people of color, poor people, immigrant groups, and LGBT populations, there is reasonable and real concern for attendees’ safety. What steps will IAS take to ensure the safety of all attendees on and around conference venues?

8. Recognizing the limitations on the ability of people who use drugs and sex workers to be on site or who in principle refuse to participate, what explicit support, resources, and material aid will be given to ensure that these populations are able to gather in settings and in ways of their choosing ?

* In responding to these concerns, the International AIDS Society has frequently compared rates of visa denials from the 2012 U.S. conference with rates of denials from the Toronto conference. However, comparing visa denial rates with Canadian or other locations is not helpful – it is widely known by key populations that it is likely to be unsuccessful, or even dangerous, to attempt to gain entry to the United States, and thus many may not have ever gotten to the point of formal rejection. Further, in 2012, alternative gatherings were organized for sex workers in Kolkata and for people who use drugs in Kiev, in recognition that entering the US was likely to present an insurmountable barrier for these populations to attend the conference.

Sign onto the letter to IAS here

The undersigned

Jim Pickett, for the International Rectal Microbicides Alliance (IRMA), and
Suraj Madoori, for Treatment Action Group (TAG)

in addition to:
(list in formation):

African Services Committee
American Medical Student Association (AMSA)
ATHENA Network
Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Davida/Daspu/Brazilian Network of Sex Workers
Empower India
Funders Concerned About AIDS (FCAA)
Harm Reduction Coalition
Health GAP
HIV Justice Network
Howard Brown Health
Minority AIDS Council of Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun Counties
MPact Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights
National Coalition for LGBT Health
Sero Project
SWOP Behind Bars
Transgender Law Center
Trans Sistas of Color Project
US People Living with HIV Caucus
Warren-Vance Community Health Center, Inc.

Lucy Bradley-Springer, PhD, RN, ACRN, FAAN Dr, Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care
Gina Brown, Black woman living with HIV, PACHA member, 2014-2017 (PACHA6)
Reginald Brown, M. Ed., Ambassador, Unity Fellowship of Christ Church NYC
Ulysses Burley III
Scott Burris, Professor of Law and Public Health, Temple University
Alejandra Cabral, UCLA
Bré Anne Campbell, Detroit, MI
Christine Campbell
Christopher M. Cannon, MPH
George M. Carter, FIAR
Marco Castro-Bojorquez, Founder, HIVenas Abiertas
Paul Causey, MSM (and Transgender) Asia (Pacific) Google Group
Cecilia Chung, San Francisco, CA
Ben Collins, Director, ReShape/International HIV Partnerships
Namakula Nakato Daisy, National Coordinator, Uganda Network of Sex Workers’ Organisations (UNESO)
Lynda Dee, Executive Director, AIDS Action Baltimore
Jacob Distel, Executive Director, Lansing Area AIDS Network
Kelly Doyle, Executive Director, CARES, Chair, HIV AIDS Alliance of Michigan
Dr. Carrie Foote, Professor of Sociology, IUPUI, Chair of HIV Modernization Movement-Indiana
Grissel Granados, PACHA Member 2015-2017
Mauro Guarinieri, EATG, EuroNPUD
David Holtgrave, PhD, Albany, NY
Brian Hudjich, Washington, DC
Christian Hui
Audu Kadiri, Youth Builders Initiative (YBI)
Brian Kanyemba, Key Populations Prevention Advocate
Pat Kelly, A Family Affair
MARK S KING, Activist, My Fabulous Disease
Keiko Lane, Marriage and Family Therapist
Edward Low, Positive Malaysian Treatment Access & Advocacy Group (MTAAG+)
Vickie Lynn, MSW, MPH, Doctoral Candidate
Brian Minalga, MSW
Alex Margery, Executive Chairman, TANEPHA – TANZANIA
Sandro Mattioli, Plus Onlus
Mark Misrok, Executive Director, National Working Positive Coalition
David Munar, Chicago, IL
Terry McGovern, JD, New York, NY
Chantal Mukandoli, Peer Support Worker Assistance, APAA(African In Partnership Against Aids)
Kenneth Mwehonge, Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development (HEPS Uganda)
Toni Newman, Executive Director, St. James Infirmary
Michelle Collins Ogle, MD, Medical Director, Warren-Vance Community Health Center, Inc.
David M. Phillips, DC Community Coalition for AIDS2012
Malcolm Reid, Policy Director, ThriveSS
Fred Schaich, President, International Foundation for Alternative Research in AIDS
Luca Stevenson
Martha Tholanah
Luca Stevenson, International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE)
Anna Tokar, ISGlobal, University of Barcelona, Spain
Monique Tula, Oakland, CA
Hilary Viens, MSW
Terry White
Liaam Winslet, Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo

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