AIDS and Public Policy

It finally happened! We had our AIDS conference! Originally scheduled for the end of April, the event took place (in modified form) on June 23rd, after the post office had failed to send out the flyers as requested and then, even worse, sent them out after we had decided to reschedule the panel. Fortunately, we were able to convene the combined session on “AIDS and Public Policy” in the Graduate School auditorium as part of the New York City observance of Gay Pride Week. This event was cosponsored by the Program in African-American Studies at Columbia University.

David Hansell, Deputy Director for Policy at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, delivered a paper entitled “AIDS Politics: The Second Decade,” in which he predicted a movement away from the focus on education among various current public policy initiatives toward an espousal of more behavior-oriented, coercive policies. In her talk, “Between Innocence and Safety,” well-known AIDS scholar Cindy Patton focused on the cultural dynamics of the formation of AIDS policies and the ways in which cultural myths such as the “innocent victim” serve to militate against constructive policy decisions.

Nellie Mathu, Chairperson of the African Women Against AIDS Network, provided us with a useful international perspective in her talk, “Women and AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa,” about the necessity of understanding the socio-economic realities that shape the way specific communities respond to AIDS. In a presentation entitled “HIV and Gay Men of Color: Still An Invisible Population,” Frank Oldham, who is the director of the Office of Gay and Lesbian Health Concerns of the City of New York, addressed the problems of community outreach inherent in current local policy initiatives and the importance of relying upon more inclusive models of society and culture in dealing with the experiences of people of color.