“We are evidence-based, human rights-focused, inclusive and accountable partners in the HIV response.”
Evidence-based: Every day, more evidence mounts that the United States under Trump is volatile, dangerous and particularly hostile to people of color, sex workers, immigrants, trans people and other key populations. Drawing on the political leverage used in eras of AIDS conferences in the United States is not appropriate evidence for these distinctly-different times. The false belief that progressive politicians in California will be able to secure the entry and safety of targeted communities to attend the conference has no bearing in evidence. For example, evidence from AIDS2012 in Washington DC shows that — even under a supportive president — entry bans on sex workers and drug users will not be waived. Further, risks of detainment, seizure of resources, persecution, criminalization, and violence have heightened, given changes to recent laws and practices, while random harassment at borders, and in transit (including at the San Francisco airport) and encounters with vigilante citizens have increased.
Human rights-focused: Human rights violations continue to mount in the US, including the recent death in ICE custody of Roxana Hernandez, a transgender woman living with HIV who requested asylum, ongoing separation of families, and the proposed plan to raid funds originally meant for HIV to pay for the infinite detention of children.
Some have said it is vital to have the conference in the US to show fortitude against oppression. However, making a stand at the expense of people living with HIV and key populations globally is unacceptable. Further, we predict that there will be little attention paid to the IAC just four months before the presidential election. It is already virtually assured that one candidate will vow to follow the murderous policies of the current regime, and the other will repudiate them. No one’s votes will be swayed by any HIV-related media; no politician’s platform will change. Organizing and hosting a conference is a low priority when communities are literally fighting for survival and dignity.
Accountable: It is unethical to plan to hold a conference under current circumstances in the United States, where key populations such as sex workers and people who use drugs are already banned from entry and travel violence is on the rise. It is even possible that the HIV entry ban, which is one executive order away from being rescinded, may return. What does it meant to be accountable to the full US and global communities, when whole categories of people from those communities most impacted by the epidemic will not be able to access the conference?
The HIV community needs a conference plan that is itself resilient and accountable, not one that will likely face mounting challenges under a violent, unethical regime that ignores the rule of law.
Accountability by IAS would include launching a d a process to identify a new site, and allowing as much time as possible to do so, with inclusion of civil society groups, and the resources it will take to do so, as well as full transparency about the process to be used.
Inclusive: Holding AIDS2020 in the US precludes inclusiveness, and subjects key populations to risk of violence, detention and prosecution. Explicit entry bans preclude participation of current and former sex workers and people who use drugs to any conference held in the United States. Due to new laws such as FOSTA and SESTA, it is risky to even provide meeting space or other support to sex workers and consequently US-based sex worker advocacy organizations have called a halt to their own convenings.
Further, vigilante violence is on the rise, and there is no truly safe space — violence and repression has occured in San Francisco, New York City and other areas historically considered progressive havens.
Finally, we can see from past conferences that most conference-goers are unable to travel far from the conference to satellite or shadow city events, meaning that events in Oakland (a sister city with majority Black population and less-resourced HIV effort) will be inaccessible to most.
Partners: We are here to partner in good faith with IAS to do what it takes to move the conference. Refusal to relocate, given wide and deep concern in civil society and among professionals, is divisive; we can do better than this. Now more than ever, we need to be stronger together.