Global Human Rights Advocates Demand 2020 International AIDS Conference Be Removed from U.S.

Advocates and activists at AIDS2018 in Amsterdam took over the RAI Convention Center on  for an impromptu press conference to demand that IAS move the 2020 International AIDS Conference from the Bay Area due to the deteriorating state of human rights in the U.S. under the Trump administration.

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MPact Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights believes the decision to hold the International AIDS Conference in the U.S. two years from now is a mistake. It reflects a gross disregard for the expressed requests from communities of gay men, people who use drugs, sex workers, and transgender people worldwide who will not be able to attend because they we face numerous unfriendly borders. Borders tied to both expense and to bigotry. Specifically, our network is concerned about:

  1. The deteriorating human rights climate in the U.S., which includes travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. government; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s increased profiling of immigrants and people of color; the U.S. Justice Department’s continued attack on California’s sanctuary cities; and recent language by the U.S. despot calling for the death penalty for people who sell drugs and praising Philippines’ President for presiding over a regime marked by extrajudicial murders of people suspected of using drugs. The hostile political context in the U.S. will make it nearly impossible for sex workers, people who use drugs, people from Muslim countries, and anyone with a criminal record (including LGBT human rights defenders) in our respective networks to enter the country and feel safe to participate in the conference;
  2. Persistent disparities that exist between San Francisco and Oakland, which we expect will get glossed over by global organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and scientists who profit from the HIV epidemic and nostalgia that ensures the continuation of the status quo. Large international AIDS conferences reveal social and structural inequities while doing very little to pro-actively address them at the local level;
  3. The huge resource strain that the conference will create for community-based organizations, especially in Oakland as well as those led by people living with HIV, and communities of color;
  4. The conference’s tendency to privilege established researchers, governments, celebrities, corporations, and funders, an entire industry appropriately labeled “AIDS Inc.” – while community-based organizations and advocates get segregated and relegated to second tier decision-making roles and background programming;
  5. The inordinate amount of money it will take to produce a conference for 20,000 people or more in the very expensive Bay Area. It is difficult to justify such an expense at a time of shrinking resources and when there are still millions of people worldwide without basic HIV prevention, care, treatment, and support services they need;

As a community-led global network, we have repeatedly expressed these concerns to the International AIDS Society to no effect. Time and time again, the International AIDS Society has opted to take decisions about the frequency and location of their conferences without regard to community views. It continues with closed bidding processes that ignore background policy and legal environments, which make it unsafe for members of our communities to attend.

We are compelled to question the wisdom behind bringing international conferences to countries that bar the participation of critical community partners. We must also question the desire to bring multi-million-dollar conference productions to resource rich cities without proactive plans for addressing gross HIV disparities that persist at the local and global levels.

The International AIDS Society’s opaque decision-making about the frequency, location, and size of its conferences jeopardizes meaningful partnerships with communities most impacted by HIV, therefore undermining its credibility as a leader in the global HIV response. We cannot condone decisions that intentionally or unintentionally leave anyone behind.

We once again call on the International AIDS Society to:

  1. Reconsider its decision to bring AIDS2020 to San Francisco and Oakland, including a request to the San Francisco organizers, in a gesture of global solidarity, to use the resources they have mobilized to support a low or middle-income country to host the conference.
  2. Engage our communities worldwide in a thoughtful and transparent discussion about the purpose and utility in trade-show style international HIV conferences and to explore alternative approaches for deliberating scientific breakthroughs, supporting critical information exchange, and facilitating opportunities for networking.
  3. Commit to alternative models for producing International AIDS Conferences that are less expensive, less frequent, and purposefully in sync with critical policy and advocacy milestones set by the global HIV community.

Our communities need a modernized, forward-thinking, proactive, and progressive global HIV movement, not an AIDS Inc. that habitually recycles old ideas using outdated formats and fora. This can only be possible when community partners are equally engaged in the process of selecting formats and venues for conferences like these.

– George Ayala, MPact Executive Director

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