Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s 2008 Creating Change Conference, held in Detroit, was a success. It showcased dozens of organizations and, with a $3.6 million infusion into Detroit’s economy and over 2,100 attendees, is estimated to be the 11th largest convention this year in Detroit, according to Crain’s Detroit Business. Visitors and activists were abundant, the community was celebrated and most every event went off without a hitch. There was, however, one thing that, in the minds of some, overshadowed the good. It was a little five-word sentence – three seconds out of two and a half hours of empowering speeches, award giving and standing ovations. That sentence, said by Matt Foreman in a fiery moment during his State of the Movement Address Friday afternoon, pushed the buttons of many: “HIV is a gay disease.”
For those who were there, it took a few seconds for the implications of what was said to sink in through the elation and excitement of the rest of Foreman’s speech. For those who weren’t, however, it is now being read as an isolated, disturbing quote by some. Now, people are waiting for it to erupt in the anti-gay circuit as confirmation that they were right all along.
But the fact is, Foreman’s quote was just one piece of a speech that was basically a call to action on all different types of issues, from local activism to supporting the new ENDA bill to lobbying for more federal support for fighting HIV in America.
This wasn’t some right-wing, homophobic nut. This was the executive director of one of the largest LGBT organizations, and he was expressing his genuine concern for the community’s apathy and inaction, both toward HIV and other issues. What Foreman wanted to point out is that the statistics show that the majority of people with HIV in America are gay or bisexual and that it’s time to stop ignoring that fact and take action.
It was a bold thing to say. But boldness may be the best way to get a new generation of LGBT activists to take the necessary ownership of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In Michigan, 57 percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS are black men who have sex with men, and 39 percent are white MSM. The younger generation of activists have not witnessed the wholesale die-off of their friends, partners and co-workers that devastated their elder organizers, but it is dangerous to let the healthcare bureaucracy continue their foolhardy prevention campaigns that focus on abstinence and give little or no effort and funding to prevention education within the LGBT community.
Foreman’s speech was an incredible one, and it exemplified what the entire conference was about. In addition to his speech, there were many memorable and empowering moments at Creating Change. There were amazing speeches given by NAACP Chairman and Civil Rights activist Julian Bond and Bishop V. Gene Robinson. There were social events, from the Awareness Ball to Between The Lines and GM’s media reception. And, of course, there were over 200 caucuses to choose from over the four-day period. And the attendance was diverse, ranging from high school students to the elderly, transgender people to straight people and hard-core activists to shy first timers.
Getting angry with members of the community won’t get anyone anywhere. As Foreman reminded everyone in his address, and as the thousands of different people at the conference showed, the movement is about forgetting differences and fighting together. And with the lack of funding coming from Washington on many fronts, but especially HIV/AIDS as we report on in this issue, we need nothing less than a clarion wakeup call around this pandemic.