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“Anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.” American Anthropological Association
What do you want to hear from the pollies?
As the state election looms (with a federal election to follow), Melbourne Star has teamed up with the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby to design a questionnaire we'll be sending to all candidates, to discover their views on issue of importance to the community. I'll also be hosting a series of interviews with candidates on Bent TV, Channel 31.
If here are any questions you'd like me to ask, post them here.
Here is the text of the letter I (and several others) have received from the Attorney General, Phillip Ruddock. My translation in italics.
Dear Mr Pollard
I refer to your e-mail dated 15 May 2006 in which you raise a number of issues about same sex couples and in particular about the Civil Unions Act 2006 (ACT).
The Australian Government believes overwhelmingly in the institution of marriage and, in 2004. acted to define in legislation the common understanding in our community of marriage which is the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’. This legislation was passed with bipartisan support. The Government believes that this definition reflects the views of the majority of the Australian community.
It's not our fault - Labor voted for it too. And besides, everyone esle agrees with us. We're just reflecting the will of the people.
1 note the public assertions of ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope that the ACT legislation was specifically drafted to avoid confusion between civil unions and marriage. With respect I believe these assertions to be wrong. The arrangements under the Act bore marked similarity to those contained in the Marriage Act 1961. Indeed, on the web site of the ACT Legislative Assembly, debate on the Civil Unions Act 2006 was tiled in the subject index under the heading “marriage”, providing a revealing insight into Mr Stanhope’s real motivation.
John Stanhope and the entire ACT government are liars - only I can't say that directly 'cos it's a) not true and b) libellous.
The ACT Government did make some amendments to the Civil Unions Bill before its debate and passage in the ACT Legislative Assembly but they did not deal adequately with the fundamental concerns of the Government. As one example the legislation still states in section 5(2) that:
A civil union s different to a marriage but is to be treated for all purposes under territory law in the same way as a marriage.
In the Government’s view, the amendments passed did not alter the substance of the ACT laws.
The Government strongly opposes any action that would reduce the status of marriage to that of other relationships. It will also oppose any action which would create confusion over the distinction between marriage and same sex relationships. The Government does not believe that same sex relationships have the same character as marriages and therefore considers that they should not he given the same legal and community status as marriage.
Same-sex relationships and the people who enter into them are inherently inferior to us heterosexuals and our marriages, so the law needs to reflect that.
The Government believes the Civil Unions Act 2006 (ACT) compromised the unique status of marriage. This is why the Government decided to take action to ensure that the legislation would not be able to come into operation in the Australian Capital Territory As you may know the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Australian Government has disallowed the Civil Unions Act 2006. This disallowance has the effect of repealing the Act.
I should note that the Australian Government condemns discrimination in all its forms, including discrimination on the basis of sexuality. The Government believes that each of us should have the opportunity to participate in the life of our community and to experience the benefits and accept the responsibilities that flow from such participation without fear of discrimination. The Government is committed to maintaining the Australian traditions of tolerance and respect for diversity, which are the foundations of one of the world’s most successful multicultural societies.
And in case anyone should think differently, I personally forbade all government departments from co-operating with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) Enquiry which is currently documenting existing anti-gay discrimination, to try to prevent them from finding the evidence that proves me wrong.
For example, Government amendments to superannuation law since 1999 have allowed trustees to accept binding death benefit nominations from members so that death benefits are payable to a person nominated appropriately where that person is a dependant of the deceased member or his or her personal representative. In 2004, the Government expanded the definition of dependant, and thus the range of potential beneficiaries of tax-free superannuation death benefits, to include people in an ‘interdependency relationship’. This will benefit, amongst others, people in same sex relationships who may not otherwise have met the definition of dependant.
This is the smallest possible change we could get away with, and of course you still have to prove you had a relationship (because you don't have a marriage or civil union certificate) and that you were dependent on the other person. If you were financially independent you probably won't get the cash - but then again, you won't need it, will you? And trustees don't have to accept death benefit nominations - it's at their discretion. And you still don't get a spouses survivor pension. And Commonwealth employees are excluded.
Further, in the area of migration, a person who shares an interdependent relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident is able to apply for an interdependency visa to allow them to reside in Australia. This includes people in same sex relationships.
But if you come to Australia on a working visa, your partner still doesn't automatically get one too, the way a wife does - even if they are 'dependent' on you. And anyway, even though we recently relaxed the rules on this, we're thinking of changing our minds.
The Government has also agreed to extend certain conditions of service entitlements to members of the Australian Defence Force in interdependent relationships, which will include members with same sex partners.
Yeah, the bastard poufs in Tasmania somehow persuaded the RSL this was a good idea, and we can't argue with our old soldiers.
In the area of industrial relations, the Commonwealth Workplace Relations Act 1996 contains provisions that prohibit an employer from terminating a person’s employment on various specified grounds, including because of their sexual preference. Complaints of unlawful termination on the basis of sexual preference can he lodged with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).
Actually we did away with 'unfair dismissal', which was relatively easy to prove and could be argued in front of the commission, and replaced it with 'unlawful dismissal', which means you now have to pay thousands to lawyer up and go to court - if you can afford it - and meet a higher standard of proof.
In addition to the AIRC, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has power to inquire into and conciliate complaints of discrimination on the ground of sexuality in the employment context. HREOC also has the power to inquire into any Commonwealth act or practice which may be inconsistent with specified human rights and to report to me on its findings and recommendations, Such reports are then tabled in Federal Parliament.
However, we nobbled HREOC by refusing to co-operate with their current enquiry into discrimination against same-sex couples, and of course we can just reject or ignore the report when it coms in. Should play well to the god-botherers in the marginals.
All States and Territories of Australia also prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference in a range of areas of public life, including education and employment. ‘the majority of States and Territories also prohibit harassment on the ground of sexual preference.
We can't do much about this because all the State governments are held by the Opposition party. So we might as well take the credit for it while we're about it.
The Government believes that existing measures create a legal and policy framework that adequately addresses discrimination on the basis of sexuality.
We're going to ignore the HREOC enquiry, we're not going to let Warren Entsch have a conscience vote on his anti-discrimination bill, in fact, we're even thinking about bringing in a ban on same sex couples adopting. You don't vote for us anyay - and there's more votes in bashing you.
Don't forget, I'm the minister who recommends to cabinet what we do with the HREOC enquiry, and I'm the minister who recommends whether or not Entsch's bill is in the public interest. So you can all fuck off and die. Have a nice day.
The way to win our equal rights cannot be, first, via the courts, then perhaps via legislation, and finally, converting public opinion. The order has to be reversed if there's to be any lasting success.
In Australia the argument has to be, first and foremost, about being treated equally. We are already tolerated, mostly, and grudgingly. Now we have to move towards acceptance, until the current law seems as absurd to the majority as it now does to us.
There are no short-cuts - as the US experience shows. Check out the link for details in this report from US News.
First it was radio. Then the newspaper. Today, I taped my first television appearance. Bent TV, which provides gay programming on Channel 31, has asked me to be a regular on a segment called QFocus, a fortnightly discussion on news and current affairs.
Along with my good mate Pete Dillon, formerly of VGLRL.
I haven't seen myself yet but I suspect I'll be horrid. I kept trying to remember not to do all the things I do on radio - look down at my notes, scratch my nose, pull faces at what someone else is saying . . . . and failing. I couldn't tell which cameras were on and when, and I couldn't see the time cards that were being flashed up saying 'three minutes left' etc.
So I didn't know where to look or when to shut up, AND I talked over the panel chairman, the lovely Mark Mead. But then again, so did Pete.
The resulting effort will air on Channel 31 on Thursday night, sometime after 10.30, or so I believe. Please don't watch - wait till I get better!!!
Times of London
Sexuality is a supple thing, and sometimes can be influenced, even promoted
SOMETIMES IT IS only after a period of absence that, on returning, we can see something — a room, a face, a place — for what it is. Perhaps we used to be too close to look properly, but now we see clearly what we never saw before. So it can be, also, with an idea.
Earlier this summer a television researcher making a programme about homosexuality and politics asked me a question that I must have heard a hundred times during the past couple of decades, but had not for some reason been asked recently: not for a year or two. “How many gay MPs would you estimate there are in Parliament?”
All at once it struck me that the question was absurd, like asking “how many merlot drinkers are there in this room?” Does the questioner mean heavy merlot drinkers, exclusive merlot drinkers, drinkers who wouldn’t exclude merlot if offered it, or drinkers who might like merlot if they were to try it? The answer to the question of how many gay MPs there are is “between five and two hundred, depending on what you mean”.
In my Notebook column in The Times I have been recording, in an occasional way, candidates for inclusion in a speculative list of truths or nonsenses staring us in the face that we somehow cannot see: things future ages may dismiss with a snort — just as we look with incredulity at our forebears’ faith in the theory of the four bodily humours or possession by demons. Here is another modern candidate: the idea that there is a set of males called homosexuals, and another called heterosexuals, plus a handful in the middle called bisexuals who can’t decide. This, we shall one day realise, is a distorting glass through which to look at male sexuality.
Let me suggest, first, what I think is the truer picture; and secondly my evidence for it. Thirdly, I shall explain why I believe such evidence is being rejected by an unwitting conspiracy between opinion-formers in the male “gay community” and moralisers in the heterosexual world.
Make a horizontal line whose left margin represents a sexual orientation so completely heterosexual that such men have never felt, however fleetingly, any sexual attraction to another man; and whose right margin represents gay men utterly unteased by any other interest. Mark 30 million dots between these two poles, representing each of us men in Britain, located towards left or right depending on the balance of the attractions we’ve felt in our own life. How will the resulting scatter look as a shape?
If popular talk is to be believed, the shape would trace the silhouette of a wine glass lying leftwards on its side: long, thin stem in the middle, opening out to a big bowl on the left and a small base on the right. The large cluster (at least 80 per cent, the bowl) would be the “straights”. A much smaller but distinct cluster (perhaps 5 to 10 per cent, the base) would be the “gays”. The stem would be a thin scatter of “bisexuals”.
But if only we knew it, the true shape, I believe, would be closer to that of a champagne bottle lying rightwards on its side, its base to the left, tapering gently towards its mouth at the right. I think a substantial preponderance of men are more heterosexual than homosexual, but scattered fairly evenly between 100 per cent and half-and-half; and that the smaller number who think of ourselves as gay are likewise quite evenly distributed along the spectrum from the halfway point.
My evidence? Direct experience and personal observation. I’m the type who calls himself totally homosexual, but I know from dreams and from occasional involuntary physical responses that some small heterosexual part of my nature, though elbowed aside, is still there. My sexual sample is less prolific than I would once have wanted, but I reckon about a third of the men I’ve slept with were what you might call “viable heterosexuals” — in the sense that they wanted and got girlfriends, believed themselves to be more straight than gay and in many cases ended up (unforced and happily) married. I’ve also known a fair few men who seemed quite contendedly gay, then changed their lives and went straight. And, of course, vice versa. We all know that plenty of married men dabble in homosexual behaviour; but plenty of gay men have flings with women too.
I talk to people. This is an area notoriously difficult to access through professional polling, but late-night conversations between people who trust each other are different. They suggest to me a world where men do not find their own actions and feelings neatly fit the categories that language furnishes for us. We end up saying, effectively: “Well, I am this but I did that — don’t know why really.” I doubt our age is supplied with the right language or conceptual framework to talk about these things. Perhaps Europe before the 20th century was not so wrong as we now think to have adopted no category of “homosexual” (or indeed “heterosexual”), and to have talked only of urges, acts and “sins” to which all human flesh was prone.
If I am right, why have both the gay and the straight worlds so fiercely resisted the ambivalent and perhaps fluid analysis I propose? Reasons why those we might call “hetero-evangelists” might resist it are obvious. It suits their view to see homosexuality as a deviation and to think in terms of “normal” and “abnormal”. The wine-glass silhouette suits this view much better than the champagne bottle.
Gay reasons for rejection of my “even scatter” theory are clear to me too, however. First, we who call ourselves gay know well that most men who call themselves “bisexual” are more gay than straight, but afraid or unwilling to say so. But what we overlook is that for every gay posing as a bisexual, there are probably a dozen bisexuals posing as straight.
Secondly — and this is very important — the idea that many of us have a potentially variable sexuality opens up the uncomfortable possibility of personal choice; and we gays have lived in a transitional era in which we have very much wanted to believe and claim that “God made us” like this, and “we can’t help it”. Whether or not this is true, it is comforting for those troubled by suppressed guilt, and has provided a knock-down argument against those moral conservatives who say we could choose, and therefore should choose, not to be gay. It has also seemed to rebut the complaint that homosexuality could be “promoted” or that gay men might “corrupt” potential heterosexuals. What, however, has not yet dawned on still embattled crusaders for equality is that true equality — equality of self-regard as well as public esteem — will have arrived when we are as careless as a blond or a redhead might be whether or not we were made that way.
Does “I can’t help being black” strike you as a self-respecting argument against racism? That “I can’t help it” is a subtly self-oppressing argument for acceptance does not seem to have occurred to supposedly liberated gay activists, for whom it has always been the easiest way of ending the argument.
But it is intellectually sloppy (would you accept it from a child molester?), calculated to close off troubling thoughts about might-have-beens, and no answer to the Christian evangelists’ insulting talk of cures for our “affliction”. We retreat into a simple, bipolar world of can’t-help-it straights and can’t-help-it gays. We push these feelings and people into closets marked “latent” homosexuality, “in-denial” homosexuality and “confused” homosexuality.
I think sexuality is a supple as well as subtle thing, and can sometimes be influenced, even promoted; I think that in some people some drives can be discouraged and others encouraged; I think some people can choose. I wish I were conscious of being able to. I would choose to be gay.
The Prime Minister appeared to have failed at the first hurdle in his attempt to prove that he was interested in removing discrimination against same-sex couples, with reports that federal departments and agencies had been instructed not to make submissions into an inquiry by the federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said today.
“Earlier this month, when the Federal Government made shameful history by overturning the ACT’s Civil Unions legislation, senior Government figures were keen to have Australians believe that they were not motivated by anti-homosexual sentiment,” Mr Stanhope said today. “And the Prime Minister himself has said on more than one occasion that he is in favour of removing discrimination on a case-by-case basis.
“Yet when his own statutory body charged with inquiring into discrimination decides to examine residual areas of financial discrimination against same-sex couples in this country, it seems the Federal Government is not even interested in knowing what the facts are, or whether the Federal Government itself might be a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.
“It is curious, to say the least, for any government to issue a blanket instruction to its departments and agencies not to make a submission to any HREOC inquiry at all, but most particularly to an inquiry looking at an issue upon which the Prime Minister wants Australians to believe he is active.
“It is interesting that the Federal Government has not been so reticent in the past in making submissions to HREOC inquiries. The Department of Workplace Relations, for example, was happy to make a submission to the ‘Striking the Balance’ inquiry into work-life balance and the Commonwealth Government made a submission into the ‘Stolen Generations’ inquiry, just to name two.
“I wonder if there has been any previous occasion upon which departments and agencies have received a blanket instruction not to cooperate with a HREOC investigation?”
Mr Stanhope said that in light of these reports, the ACT Government, which had so recently been witness to the Federal Government’s true and deepest feelings on the rights and entitlements of gay and lesbian Australians, was entitled to question the Prime Minister’s repeated assertions that he was committed to non-discrimination.
“Actions, not rhetoric, are what counts in this debate, and the Federal Government’s actions tell the true story,” Mr Stanhope said.
I've posted my interviews on this topic with Senators Milne and Stott-Despoya here in full for those who are interested - the highlights I've already published in Melbourne Star.
They were done just after the Senate decided to let the government's disallowance of the ACT Civil Unions Act to stand.
I've also posted the news about the Howard government's attempt to nobble the Human Rights Commission enquiry into same-sex couple discrimination: it should be borne in mind that governments usually co-operate with these sorts of enquiries automatically.
And there's also a rundown of what Howard mught do against us next.
Although parliament has now risen for a six week recess this issue isn't going to go away, especially if Howard thinks he's on a roll with anti-gay manoeuvres.
DP: Why bring forward a Private Members bill to try to change the Marriage Act – we’ve got away from the marriage issue onto civil unions, and that seems to be playing very well for us, so what’s the reason for resurrecting the marriage issue?
CM: I’ve just made yet another speech about Inequality exclusiveness and unfairness with their new electoral laws
CM:Yes, but at least there’s starting to be a resurgence and I take great heart from that and I’m certainly … my whole focus now is to try to get the community to see that whatever happens after the next federal election in terms of the lower house, that the government loses its majority in the Senate and the greens will certainly be campaigning to try to get control of the Senate, and this is where Victoria is critical because at the last federal election it was the labor party in Victoria that preferences family first ahead of the greens, and had not happened, we’d have had David Ristrom there yesterday instead of Steve Fielding.
Not content with overriding the ACT Civil Unions Act, John Howard is rumoured to be planning more moves against the gay and lesbian community.
(As published Melbourne Star 22nd June)
You won't find his on the net unless you have a subscription to the AFR, so it hasn't had wide publicity.
AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW – Thursday 22nd June 2006
Federal ban on aiding same - sex rights inquiry
Chief political correspondent
Howard government ministers have instructed federal departments and agencies not to make submissions to a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry into discrimination against same-sex couples in accessing financial and work-related entitlements.
The inquiry, set up early this year, is seeking to audit commonwealth, state and territory laws to develop a full list of circumstances in which same-sex couples and their children may be denied financial and/or work-related benefits and entitlements worth tens of thousands of dollars that are available to heterosexual couples.
But a spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock told The Australian Financial Review that ministers had discussed the inquiry and collectively agreed to instruct their departments not to make submissions to it, arguing that since it was HREOC’s inquiry it should be left to HREOC to do the work, rather than their departments
The instruction to the public service appears to fly in the face of the stated position of Prime Minister John Howard who, despite the federal government’s move last week to overturn ACT same-sex union laws, has in the past insisted his government was keen to address any financial discrimination same- sex couples might face.
Submissions to the inquiry already published document discrimination on issues such as public service superannuation, housing loans, war veterans pensions, workers’ compensation and Medicare benefits, which can cost couples thousands of dollars.
The superannuation industry has made a submission to the inquiry highlighting the problems of same- sex couples in super, such as being unable to split their contributions, leaving them exposed to tax payments of 15 per cent on amounts of more than $129,751 which heterosexual couples have not had to pay.
When Mr Howard announced amendments to the Marriage Act in May 2004, he also announced the government would be legislating in the area of superannuation to intro- duce the concept of financial interdependency.
This meant same-sex couples could access the same concessional tax treatment for superannuation death benefits available to heterosexuals instead of facing a 30 per cent tax bill.
But a pressing concern among the federal government’s own public servants is that the legislation did not apply the law to its own public sector funds.
This month, Mr Howard was asked if he had a problem with same-sex couples having the same entitlements as married couples.
‘ ‘I am in favour of removing areas of discrimination and we have, and I’m quite happy on a case- by-case basis to look at other areas where people believe there’s genuine discrimination but I think they should be looked at on a case-by- case basis,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that can be done in an across the board fashion.
‘ ‘We made some changes in relation to entitlements a couple of years ago and if there are other areas of genuine discrimination, then I’m in favour of getting rid of them.
“But that doesn’t mean that you equate those relationships with marriage. I think that is a step that the Australian community doesn’t want to occur, whilst at the same time there are many genuine areas of discrimination.”
Last night on The Rainbow Report on Joy 94.9, Liberal MP Warren Entsch told me he agreed with the Attorney-General’s position, but Shadow Attorney General Nicola Roxon said it was unprecedented for government departments not to make submission to enquiries when requested to do so.
I also understand that HREOC may still ask departments for information, but they may have to pay for it. And of course, it all depends on knowing exactly the right questions to ask in the first place!!
I also understand that HREOC may still ask departments for information, but they may have to pay for it. And of course, it all depends on knowing exactly the right questions to ask in the first place!!
Just when you think everything’s going swimmingly, life creeps up behind you and socks you over the head with a lead-filled sock (apologies to P G Wodehouse).
Forgive me if I stray from my usual topics and get a bit personal for once.
Ever since I came to Oz various doctors have remarked about blood in my urine. Scans and X-rays showed nothing, and a particularly vicious cytoscopy under local anaesthetic only – dyno-rod your dick - produced a diagnosis of ‘possible stricture in the urethra’.
Well, there’s one more piece of wishful thinking down the gurgler.
Interesting show last night (Thursday 30th) with an interview by Tony Nicholls with Peter Stokes of the Saltshakers.
IN THE wake of the surge in HIV infections, disagreements have broken out in the AIDS sector on what has gone wrong and how to put it right.
Respected AIDS expert Dr Jonathan Anderson of the Carlton Clinic has written to Bronwyn Pike, Victorian Health Minister, suggesting a shake-up of the Victorian Aids Council that would see VicHealth take over some the VAC’s key functions.
While acknowledging the excellent work done by VAC in the past, he says, “Much of the education and prevention budget is spent on program staff and administration, rather than direct campaigns.”
And he also says a review two years ago, which identified changes that need to be made, has still not been implemented. And he said the problem isn’t just a lack of funds.
“If they can’t get additional funding from government they need to work out whether they can go ahead . . . within existing budgets. They were told two and half years ago that there were some programs that needed to be pared back, some could stand on their own or were being provided elsewhere, and some needed to be expanded to face the new changed environment.”
“Have they made those hard decisions?” he asked, “ I believe that if we waste money that is much worse than not having money in the first place.”
He suggests the VAC be split into a services and support community health agency, and a separate community representation agency, while their health education and promotion work should be taken over by VicHealth.
“What I’m saying is that I think we have an opportunity here in
He dismissed objections that health education and promotion should be done by groups within the gay community.
“Certainly the programs need to be delivered by your peers at the local level, but that doesn’t stop the actual agency that’s commissioning the work and co-ordinating the whole program not being among the peers,” he said.
“If you look at the VicHealth website they’re doing tons of programs, and if they’re doing one for Somali women, for example, they’re funding Somali women to run programs.”
He said that VicHealth was a well funded body running very efficient and effective programs. And he pointed to the increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians in the mainstream in other areas, saying, why not in health promotion too?
“It’s changing nowadays . . we are more accepted in the wider world, we don’t necessarily need to rely on the gay community for everything. Which is why I argue that we should start to claim our part in the mainstream in terms of health promotion, too. Why aren’t we using the best mainstream health promotion agency in the world? Why don’t we?”
Sources within the HIV positive community said all the organisations involved had to face the fact that, “Whether we like it or not, we’ve failed. If our brief is to minimise infections in this state, we’ve failed. Now we have to say, what have we done wrong (?) and we must look for new ways to tackle the problem.
Mike Kennedy, CEO of the Victorian AIDS Council, said, “I don’t think we can talk about this in terms of success or failure. It’s not a useful way to have this discussion.”
Dr Anderson said the problem was that an organisation that tries to do everything may be unable to focus on the key things that need to be done. The VAC has been trying to be a jack of all trades he said, and when you do that, you lose focus.
But he was at pains to stress, “This is not about the VAC. This is about people not getting HIV/AIDS. If we look at the rates of unprotected sex, we don’t see any drop or flattening of the rates…if anything, it’s increasing. That’s the figure that matters. Let’s try and work out whether we can spend the scarce resources that are available in the best way to maximise health. That’s all I really care about.”
Last issue of Melbourne Star we reported a significant spike in new HIV infection rates. Dr Jonathon Anderson from Carlton Clinic wants reform of the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
HIV infections have been rising slowly but steadily since at least 2000, and the latest statistics show a big jump. Dr Jonathan Anderson has called for many of Victorian AIDS Council’s functions to go to Vic Health instead (see front page). But not everyone - and especially not Mike Kennedy, CEO of the VAC – agrees. Greg Iverson, President of People Living with HIV/AIDS Victoria (PLWHA), says a lack of funding is the problem. On the other hand, Sean Slavin, researcher with the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS), says the kind of big budget campaigns seen in
Mike Kennedy, CEO of the VAC disagreed with both analyses.
“Jonathan’s contribution is starting at the wrong end,” he said. “The discussion Jonathan has started is about who should be doing it. The discussion about funding is, we need more money to do it. We need to agree what this it is before we start talking about who is going to do it, or whether we need more money for it.”
Sean Slavin, of the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS), doubted that big public campaigns like those run by AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON) could work.
Slavin, who is normally based in
“From what I’ve seen, rejection would be the mildest outcome,” he said. “They also run the risk of some fairly strident stigma being thrown at them.”
So if the leading organisations and individuals involved in fighting HIV/AIDS can’t agree, who will sort out the mess? Mike Kennedy reckons Health Minister Bronwyn Pike needs to step in and take a leadership role, get everyone together to sort through the options and make the decisions.
Kennedy said the funding would be there if the community could make a case for it.
“I’m not suggesting we do another inquiry, it doesn’t need months and months of work. But ....you’ve got to get the policy stuff right first,” he said. “You’ve got to mount the business case, and... when we’ve been able to do that effectively, government has found the money..”
Greg Iverson of PLWHA said that while he didn’t always agree with the VAC – in particular there were strong objections to the Staying Negative campaign – in this case they were right. Funding was the major problem. But he also thought that over the longer term the need for dedicated AIDS groups would fade away.
“This... trend is already happening,” he said. “Linkages have been established between AIDS councils and Hepatitis C councils. We’ve already got a gay and lesbian section in our health department – the only one in the country that does. Where does that leave the VAC? They need to ponder that.”
While organisations, bureaucrats and activists wrangle, new infections continue to occur, because some dangerous myths are leading men to make high-risk decisions that increase their risk of getting HIV.
Unprotected sex – sex without a condom – also referred to as raw or bareback sex – is on the rise. That doesn’t mean that gay men are recklessly deciding the risk of HIV is worth the feel of skin-on-skin. Instead they are experimenting with a range of strategies to try and have unprotected sex safely.
Drugs, Drink and Sex-on-Site
A study of 15 newly infected HIV positive men in
Researcher Sean Slavin said the study also showed that positive men often assume that when a prospective partner offers unprotected sex, he is positive too. Negative men, on the other hand, assume he’s negative. Either way the false assumption leads to risky sex.
This is what’s known as sero-sorting – trying to reduce your risk by only having unprotected sex with partners of the same HIV status as yourself. The problem is, it’s not possible to have unprotected sex safely with a casual partner in any circumstances.
Sero-Sorting – Positive Guys
If you’re both positive, there is still the danger of other sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, and syphilis, which are fast rising in the gay community. These are a major problem for people whose immune systems are already challenged. Mike Kennedy of the Victorian AIDS Council, says, “Particularly gruesome complications can arise from being HIV positive and having syphilis.”
Sero-Sorting – Negative Guys
In a casual context, you can never be sure that you’re both negative. Greg Iverson of People Living with HIV AIDS says you can never call yourself negative unless you’ve had an HIV test, “and what’s more, unless you had the test yesterday.” Otherwise your status is not negative, it’s unknown. In other words, sero-sorting is not going to protect you.
The Joys Of Monogamy
The only time when it’s safer – not safe – to have unprotected sex with a partner is within a monogamous committed relationship. But even that’s not simple. The VAC publishes guidelines on the web called Talk-Test-Test-Trust - Details: www.vicaids.asn.au
In short, while community organisations try to decide what they should do next, we as individuals need to look at some the assumptions we’ve made that have resulted in some of us becoming infected.In the meantime, as the party season gets under way, remember to play safe.