It’s 2018 and we still have HIV/AIDS denialism from “professionals”.

Kelly Brogan (Photo: Bryan Bedder)

This weekend, Lululemon-clad wellness aficionados descended on New York for the In Goop Health summit, where they learned about trendy workouts, nibbled on Instagram-worthy organic food, and heard from a doctor who doesn’t think HIV causes AIDS, despite conclusive science saying it does.

Article via Fast Company

As Jezebel reports, one of the featured speakers at the one-day conference was Dr. Kelly Brogan, a “holistic health psychiatrist,”who said back in 2014 that the idea that “HIV causes AIDS is a ‘meme’ brought upon us by the ‘medical-scientific-industrial marriage,’ and that ‘drug toxicity associated with AIDS treatment may very well be what accounts for the majority of deaths.’”

When Newsweek asked Brogan about it recently, she called the link between HIV and AIDS an “assumption.” Brogan also brought the world the article headlined, “Why you should stop taking your antidepressants” and pretty much argues against taking any and all medicine.

In short, she’s basically the medical world equivalent of a climate change denier, ignoring overwhelming research that HIV does cause AIDS.

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A gay man’s experience of using PEP (Emergency HIV medication)

In recent months I experienced something I never thought I’d have to deal with when I faced the possibility that I might have contracted HIV.

I have been sexually responsible for my entire adult life and have always been heavily influenced by warnings of the past regarding HIV and AIDS, however all it takes is one moment of passion to let your guard down and you can find yourself in a situation similar to mine which resulted in me taking the HIV emergency medication known as PEP. The days leading up to my 28-day treatment were possibly some of the scariest of my life. Experiencing this drug first hand and the people I encountered along the way brought on a variety of conflicting emotions and an understanding of sexual health I never thought I’d have to comprehend.

Story via Metro

What is PEP?

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a month-long course of medication which aims to prevent HIV infection after the virus has potentially entered a person’s body. The drug is used as an emergency measure on a person who may have been exposed to the virus, either through infection or sexual transmission. Although PEP is not 100% guaranteed to always work, the success rate is very high. It’s very important to make clear that PEP should not be considered an alternative to using condoms as prevention for contracting HIV. Using condoms is the most effective method of preventing HIV transmission as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.

The drug should also not be viewed as some form of a morning after pill either – PEP is a powerful drug and users like me risk side effects, not to mention the fact PEP isn’t taken on just one occasion like with morning after pills. I myself am lucky enough to have not experienced any side-effects of PEP, but the potential side-effects include prolonged headaches, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these side effects you should not stop taking the medication as once stopped, PEP will not be effective. Contact your doctor to discuss any issues you may be encountering on the drug to get an informed decision on what to do next. Timing is also crucial when it comes to PEP. If the course of drugs has not started within 72 hours of potential infection, the drug will no longer be effective.

Why I took PEP

My reasoning for using this often misunderstood drug was down to one thing: paranoia. The partner I had engaged in potentially risky sexual activity with was someone I know to be practising safe sex, and although we weren’t in a relationship we were very open with one another about our fears of HIV risks in the gay community and HIV tests we had previously taken. Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling of ‘what if?’ after this particular sexual encounter.

After two days of endless overthinking, excessive Googling and sheer panic I decided to bite the bullet and visit my nearest sexual health clinic. On this particular evening the clinic stated upon my entrance that the session was for appointment-only patients – my heart sank as this was my final chance to obtain PEP before the 72 hour window had closed. However, after quietly asking if I could speak to a nurse in private I was humbled to learn how genuinely concerned and helpful the staff at the clinic were. I was ushered into a private room where I explained my situation and within five minutes the nurse had made space for me and I was on the waiting list.

After a short wait I was seen by the doctor who carefully took note of my situation, perfectly explained what PEP was and reassured me that coming to the clinic after potentially being exposed to HIV was the right thing to do. Hearing that my decision to take PEP was the right one was all I wanted to hear from a medical professional at that time. The doctor agreed with my sentiment that if you’re asking yourself ‘what if?’ then you should absolutely take no risks when it comes to HIV, because, ultimately, the only sexual health status you can be 100% sure of is your own. After taking a few blood samples and a quick HIV test, which is something I had done many times over the past few years, I was given my PEP medication.

The instructions were to take one tablet in the morning and two at night, taken exactly 12 hours apart at the same time every day. I was however only given a three day supply of the drug. The doctor informed me that this is normal practice and it’s up to the patient to pick up the remainder of their 28 day supply from their pharmacy. It is absolutely imperative that users of PEP plan ahead to make sure their supply of pills does not run out before retrieving the full medication.

The future

My experience with PEP, which I am currently still using until my 28 days are up, has been both fearful and insightful. In the short amount of time between considering starting a course of the drug and actually taking it I learned more about HIV and the treatments available than ever before. I also came to appreciate the services we have available in this country – if I wasn’t lucky enough to live in such a privileged part of the world who knows how I would be forced to handle a situation like this. Life after PEP will most likely enhance my sexual health paranoia, however I believe that being overly careful is always better than being slack when it comes to an issue such as this. Although I’m confident my treatment will be successful, I am currently still in my PEP bubble which involves a daily routine of taking pills with an alarm reminder at either end of my days. In the end, whether I actually needed the drug or not in the first place, it was most definitely worth it.

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Save Our Sexual Health Services!

Reverse the damaging cuts to the public health budget in England and provide sufficient funding to ensure that patients can continue to access high-quality sexual health services throughout the country

Why is this important?

Sexual health services that are free and open to anyone who needs them have been the keystone of world-leading sexual health care in England for over a hundred years. They provide essential functions such as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, free contraception including emergency methods such as the ‘morning after pill’ and long-acting methods, as well as sexual health promotion, advice on STI/HIV prevention and outreach services across the community.

These services are free to access, confidential and are there for everyone, including those who are the most vulnerable in society.

However, sexual health services, which are no longer funded from the NHS, are facing unprecedented threats as a result of damaging and persistent Government cuts to local authority public health budgets, from which they are now funded.

These cuts come at a time when more people are accessing sexual health services than ever before, record levels of STIs are being diagnosed, difficult to treat antibiotic-resistant strains of infection are being detected and the need for quality contraception and HIV testing is more important than ever.

Therefore, it is essential that the Government ensures appropriate public health funding is made available for local authorities so we are able to address these challenges head-on and continue to provide the care that people rely on.

Failure to do so represents the falsest of false economies and will jeopardise the sexual health of both individuals and society as a whole.

Sexual health services are for everyone – you do not know when you, your friends, loved ones or family may need them – so join with us now to pledge your support and help ensure that services receive the backing they require.

Supported by more than 25 leading patient, professional and third sector organisations, the petition is hosted on the ’38 degrees’ website and is accessible online here.

– British Association for Sexual Health and HIV
– Beyond Positive
– British HIV Association
– British Medical Association
– Brook
– Family Planning Association
– Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare
– GMFA (the gay men’s health charity)
– The GMI Partnership
– iwantPrEPnow
– LGBT Foundation
– LGBT Consortium
– MENRUS
– METRO Charity
– NAM
– National Aids Trust
– National HIV Nurses Association
– The NAZ Project
– PositivelyUK
– Prepster
– Royal College of Nursing
– Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
– Saving Lives
– Society of the Social History of Medicine
– Sophia Forum
– Spectra
– Terrence Higgins Trust

To support the petition, please do sign it yourself if you haven’t already and help to promote it on social media, making sure to share the link with friends, family and anyone else with an interest in sexual health or healthcare.

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Life on London’s first Aids ward

In 1993, Gideon Mendel spent a number of weeks photographing the Broderip and Charles Bell wards in London’s Middlesex Hospital.

The Broderip was the first AIDS ward in London and was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1987.  This was the era before antiretroviral medications had become available, a very distinct and tragic time. All of the patients on the wards, many of whom were young, gay men, were having to face the terrifying prospect of an early and painful death.

During his time at the hospital Gideon followed the stories of four patients in particular – John, Steven, Ian and Andre. These two wards at The Middlesex Hospital were some of the few dedicated AIDS wards that existed in London, and even more unusual for their decision to open themselves to being photographed.

Considering the high levels of stigma and fear that existed at the time, the decision of these four patients to allow themselves, alongside their families, lovers and friends to be photographed was an act of considerable bravery.

During his time at the hospital, he photographed their treatment and many other aspects of ward life, including the intimate way in which the staff, patients and their families related to one another.

Treatment was not a passive process, but rather an active engagement on the part of the patients, who were often extremely knowledgeable about their condition. The staff too became far more attached to their patients than was commonplace in hospitals at the time.

All of the patients in these photographs died soon after the pictures were taken. They were the unlucky ones, who became sick just before treatment became available.

The Ward poignantly reminds us of a different time, how it felt to live with HIV when it was considered a veritable death sentence, and how the wards at the Middlesex Hospital became unique and special places full of love.

Mendel’s project aimed to move away from the representations in the popular media at the time, which he believes tended to show the horror of the illness.

“The work is gentle and compassionate and loving, and the intention was to try and move away of images of people living with HIV as being emaciated, dying skeletons,” he says.

“I was trying to show relationships and show the love.”

“The Ward” Photo Book is available to buy from World AIDS Day, 1st December 2017 – ISBN: 1907112561 

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We’re Recruiting! Finance Manager

LASS (responding to the challenges of HIV and health) is 30 years old this year. In that time, it has seen the environment around HIV treatment and prevention change radically. Over the last few years we have been branching out; we have started our own social enterprise and have started to generate income in a much wider variety of ways. However, strict control of our finances remains a priority and we are looking for an experienced person with accounting qualification to AAT licensed accountant level 4 or equivalent.

The task list includes:

  • Maintain financial procedures and financial controls
  • Ensure finance reporting and accounting is managed in a timely manner and in keeping with all necessary financial protocols
  • Administer and monitor bank accounts and payments
  • Income management – invoicing, record keeping
  • Payroll
  • Assist with the financial aspects of bids, grant applications and project proposals
  • Annual returns
  • Prepare accounts for audit or independent review at year end and liaise with the external company providing these services
  • Use appropriate finance software packages to produce report and manage accounts – we use SAGE

There is the opportunity to work flexibly and to work-from-home on occasion.

To apply, download and review the Job Description / Person Specification and please send your CV together with a letter of application outlining your experience, knowledge and skills in brief against the person specification to Caro Hart (caro@lass.org.uk)

Please give examples from the world of work, volunteering or other areas or work. Please note that your application will not be considered unless you have completed the letter of application in full.

  • Closing date 24th November 2017 at noon.
  • Interview date Friday 8th December at times between 09:00 and 13:00 (Please indicate your availability in your covering letter).

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From HIV to trafficking: shifting frames for sex work in India

Hijras in a train in Rajasthan in 2012. Giannis Papanikos/Demotix.

Hijras in a train in Rajasthan in 2012. Giannis Papanikos/Demotix.

The conflation of trafficking and prostitution in anti trafficking discourses not only frames all sex workers as victims in need of rescue, but elides the reasons many include sex work as part of their complex livelihood strategies.

NGOs focusing specifically on ‘sex work’ and ‘trafficking’ (where ‘trafficking’ is conflated with prostitution) in India have only been around since the mid and late 1990s. There has been a steep rise in their numbers in the last decade. Previously, if organizations addressed the needs of sex workers, they did so within the rubric of HIV/AIDS. Indian HIV/AIDS organizations were spurred into existence by the flow of international aid dollars that increasingly became available to organisations working in Asia, Africa, and Latin America during the first decade of the AIDS pandemic (1985-1995). Funds for HIV-related work in India came from the European Union, Sweden, Norway, and Canada into then relatively new entities like India’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO). This money provided the infrastructural support for both governmental and nongovernmental efforts to surveil, control, and eventually treat HIV and AIDS. Local organisations also emerged as a result of this new funding to provide HIV-related services to sex workers, men who have sex with men, andhijras (people assigned male sex at birth who live as a ‘third sex’ in the feminine range of the gender spectrum).

By the late 1990s, thanks to feminist debates on pornography and prostitution, an antitrafficking framework—composed of laws, policies, and theories that used prostitution as an allegory for women’s oppression by men—was taking hold within some national governments and segments of the international policy-making community as a primary lens for understanding sexual commerce. This framework now largely dominates the discussion, having become the ‘common sense’ of sexual commerce and even, to a degree, migration among poor and working class people. This is despite the fact that the trafficking framework has been repeatedly criticised for conflating human trafficking with prostitution, and for failing to provide clear parameters for tracking the phenomena it aims to describe. It remains, for the moment, a significant but contested lens on sexual commerce for international policy, especially with respect to interventions crafted for countries in the Global South.

The rise in the explanatory power of the anti trafficking framework for understanding phenomena like migration and the exchange of sex and money in the Global South paralleled an increase in the significance of prostitution in the global image and imaginary of India, usually as the dark foil of India’s buoyant economic growth rates. By 2007, ‘prostitution in India’ had become a categorical focus for charitable organizations, an object of study for filmmakers, a worthy cause for politicians and celebrities, and a Wikipedia entry. This was not due to the discourse on HIV per se, nor was it due to an increase in the proliferation of HIV in India (the national rate of new infections decreased by half between 2000 and 2009). Rather, the increased significance of prostitution to the idea of India itself was linked with the increased global significance of the anti trafficking framework.

While this framework is far from being unequivocally dominant in managing and understanding prostitution, its increased significance in the halls of international policy formulation has helped position prostitution as particularly important to understandings of women in the Global South. This conflation of trafficking and prostitution is contextualised by a number of historical trends, including the ways in which discourses of venereal disease have figured female sex workers as infectious vectors since the nineteenth century. It is also contextualized by the altered conditions for labour migration brought about in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to the adoption of neoliberal economic policies in many parts of the world; the well-rehearsed histories of feminist pornography debates in the United States; and the confluence of interests between governments and some segments of women’s movements in seeking to eliminate illegal and undocumented cross-border migration. While migrancy has changed dramatically in the era of neoliberalism, such that economic migrants are vulnerable to wage theft, debt bondage, exploitation, and abuse in new and unprecedented ways, we may ask whether the frame of ‘trafficking’ accurately tracks and addresses these vulnerabilities, or whether it is more effective in protecting states’ interests in securing and monitoring borders?

At worst, the rise in the explanatory power of ‘trafficking’ for prostitution consists of an elision of political economy within discourses of sexuality, contributing to the reproduction of the idea that sexual freedom, autonomy, expression, and even sexual subjectivity are all luxury goods, available only to those whose access to food and shelter is secure. This form of depoliticisation within sexuality politics in the United States and elsewhere has attracted much scholarly and activist attention, as well as criticism from both the mainstream left and the LGBTQ left. In my view, a sustained scholarly engagement with sexual commerce in the Global South would not only offer a way to critique prostitution per se. It would also demonstrate the kind of discussion of sexuality, politics, and power that is possible when sexuality is not primarily or exclusively understood as a form of individuated, innate human expression.

The result of this depoliticisation in understandings of sexual commerce has been the subjection of women and girls selling sexual services to a discourse in which prostitution is a state of being from which they must simply be rescued. In this discursive trajectory, sexual commerce is never figured as a livelihood strategy that is part of a complex set of negotiations for daily survival that include, but cannot be reduced to, violence and precarity. Just as identitarianism marginalises questions of political economy with respect to LGBTQ politics, the conflation of selling sexual services with human trafficking deprioritises and, in some spaces, erases the question of survival with respect to sexual commerce. This individuated frame reinforces and reifies the idea of origins, on the moment in which an individual subject knew, came out, was forced, was called into being, within a fixed subjective matrix.

_Street Corner Secrets _takes up this critique by asking what an analysis of sexual commerce would be if it were to use a framework other than trafficking, one that focuses instead, for example, on the relationship between sexuality and livelihood? How would such an analysis account for violence, without conflating the exchange of sex and money with violence? The book does this by emphasizing the idiosyncratic and extremely local ways in which laws and criminality are interpreted and enforced as part of a larger focus on migration and daily economic survival. This emphasis is able to account for the relationship between sexual commerce and the profoundly uneven and inadequate access to water and land among poor migrants living in Mumbai. Here, the difference between living in a brothel and a slum is, among another things, the relatively higher access to municipal services like water and government-run schools among brothel-based sex workers, compared with those eking out a living in the slums at the edge of the city.

The emphasis in the book on livelihood, economic informality, housing and the liminal legal zones migrants must navigate in the city opens up a number of questions that are subsumed, or unasked, when abolitionism imbricated with trafficking serves as the primary interpretive frame for sexual commerce. What, for example, could a critical examination of sexual commerce reveal about the politics of day wage labour? What would it show about the exercise of state power on the urban street? What could it reveal about economic survival, in the Indian context, or in any other? Addressing these questions brings us closer to discursively repositioning violence, such that we may account for violence as it is meted out in myriad forms by police, housing authorities, and clients against people selling sexual services, while also explaining why sexual commerce endures as a livelihood strategy among people who are extracting survival from an shrinking field of economic options.

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LASS AGM 2017

We are pleased to invite you to LASS’ 30th Annual General Meeting on 26th October 2017. We will be celebrating the past 30 years of achievement and looking ahead to the future and new horizons.

The meeting will take place at 18:30 in the Lounge at the LGBT Centre 15 Wellington St, Leicester LE1 6HH (Map / Directions). The formal business will be followed by a presentation on LASS’ first thirty years and the opportunity to chat to LASS’ staff and trustees.

Coffee & tea and nibbles will be available from 18:00 and we invite you to stay for a drink and birthday cake afterwards.

Please RSVP to Sylvia at reception@lass.org.uk or please call us on 0116 255 9995.

We look forward to welcoming you.

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