13 March 2018 – The International AIDS Society (IAS) has announced that San Francisco, California, in partnership with nearby Oakland, will host the 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020) but that decision has already drawn fire.
While the decision was hailed by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi as “fitting and deeply inspiring”, a letter released today by every major national network of people living with HIV in the U.S., along with other organizations and individuals calls it “extremely disappointing that the IAS supported the bid” and asks the IAS to reconsider their decision in favour of a host city somewhere in the Global South.
Over 50 Bay Area, US & Global Orgs representing key populations oppose AIDS 2020 in San Francisco. The many reasons for this are detailed in the letter, but heading the list is this:
“… we cannot overemphasize this point: Under the policies and political climate of the current federal leadership in the United States, it is impossible to honor the five values of IAS by hosting AIDS 2020 in the U.S. at this time. We refuse to stand by while those most affected by HIV within and outside of the U.S. are, at best, excluded and, at worst, put in harm’s way by holding the conference in San Francisco.”
The letter, with over 200 signatories, goes on: “Hosting AIDS 2020 in the U.S. flies in the face of ample and undeniable evidence that the Trump administration’s violation of human rights, targeting of vulnerable communities for harm, and exacerbating HIV-related stigma worldwide, coupled with drastic budget cuts, threatens the advancements we have made in the domestic and global epidemics.”
And while the IAS press release cited San Francisco’s historic role in the epidemic as a reason to bring the conference back to the Bay Area, the letter counters by saying that while having a conference on U.S. soil could appear to open up access and opportunity for greater participation by U.S.-based advocates it would exclude vulnerable communities and most people impacted by the HIV epidemic from around the globe, as well as many scientists, clinicians, researchers, public officials and providers.
“We anticipate that the U.S. political climate will only be worse in 2020, in the final months of a presidential election year that, like 2016, may well be marked by heightened violence, intentional promotion of stigma and the need to mobilize to protect our communities.
“We are gravely concerned about the ability of the most vulnerable communities globally impacted by HIV to participate in a U.S.-based conference in 2020. History shows that local, state or even federal officials cannot guarantee the human right for safe travel of marginalized groups.
“As you know, the 1998 conference was relocated from Boston to Amsterdam, due to U.S. travel restrictions on PLHIV. In 2010, President Obama lifted those restrictions for PLHIV, which allowed IAS to host AIDS 2012 in Washington, DC. However, despite significant advocacy, the Obama administration failed to lift the travel restrictions on sex workers and people who use drugs for AIDS 2012.
“Because sex workers could not get permission to enter the U.S., the Global Network of Sex Workers (NSWP) hosted a satellite conference in India during AIDS 2012 and the director of Desiree Alliance, a national sex workers rights organization in the U.S., chose to boycott the conference. Thus, one of the most marginalized communities affected by HIV was unable to participate in a global conference due to restrictions by the host country. This was, and is, unacceptable.
“It is completely predictable that conditions for those seeking entry for AIDS 2020 will be demonstrably worse.”
“In solidarity with PLHIV, sex workers, people who use drugs, disenfranchised communities and citizens from all the countries President Trump has insulted or banned, we stand in strong opposition to the U.S. as a host country for AIDS 2020.”
The signatories invite further individual and organizational endorsers.
The complete letter can be read and signed here.