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2017

16 Oct 2017

HIV and AIDS sector mourns the loss of activist and visionary leader Levinia Crooks

Tireless HIV/AIDS activist, researcher, mentor and visionary, Levinia Crooks died in Sydney on Sunday evening after a long battle with illness.

Levinia’s work in HIV/AIDS has spanned the epidemic in this country. Levinia was the first Executive Officer for the National Association of People Living with AIDS (NAPWA, later to become NAPWHA) and she was the President of the AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON) from 1988 – 1989 and 1991 – 1992. Levinia was also instrumental in the work of the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF), one of Australia’s longest running HIV and AIDS charities. Typical of her no nonsense, practical approach to issues, she has spoken on the need for such a charity in the early days of the epidemic, “In an environment like that you have to act. It is wrong that you have to act, it is wrong that you have to establish a parallel process. But there is a period of time in which you do have to do that.” BGF continues its important work to this day.

For the last 18 years Levinia held the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM). During her tenure Levinia elevated the profile and breadth of ASHM through her professionalism, research insight and overall vision of the role the organisation would play both nationally and in the region.

“It is probably difficult to think of another person who has had the kind of influence that Levinia has had over the course of the last three decades of the epidemic,” said Chad Hughes, VAC President.

“Her career began at a time when there was little hope for people living with HIV and she was instrumental, not only in the areas of care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS but at important moments in prevention such as her role in the drafting of national guidelines for the provision of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).”

“Levinia’s commitment to the work of HIV and AIDS activism ranged from her roles in community based organisations, direct contact and care for people living with HIV and AIDS to high level collaboration with researchers, politicians and policy makers to advance HIV medicine in this country and the care and support of people living with the virus,” said Simon Ruth, VAC CEO.

“The range of Levinia’s research interests is formidable. She contributed to work on counselling, service capacity, combination therapy, health promotion and HIV and the law,” added Chad Hughes.

“At every level, her contribution furthered debate in substantive and important ways. Her leadership legacy is one of partnership, collaboration, vision and courage and in many ways she will be impossible to replace.”

4 Sep 2017

VAC encourages the LGBTI community to look after their wellbeing with ‘Equality Mixtape’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

4 SEPTEMBER 2017 - In the face of the public debate around marriage equality, the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) is calling out for suggestions to add to the ‘Equality Mixtape’ on social media. The fun and collaborative initiative is being used to encourage the community members to take a moment out of their day to enjoy a ‘pride’ anthem.

Following some of the negative messaging aimed at LGBTI communities during the ongoing debate around marriage equality and the impending postal survey, the ‘Equality Mixtape’ initiative aims to bring the LGBTI community together to share their favourite music as well as fond memories linked with some of the pride anthems. Everyday until the end of the postal survey, VAC will be posting another track on social media and invite the community to take five minutes out of their day to let go and enjoy the music.

“With the Marriage Equality debate bringing out a lot of negative sentiments it has been an emotionally taxing time for a lot people. We wanted to send out some positive energy, and long before we were depicted in movies and television, the LGBTI community has found our own stories in music. ” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.

“Music has been an outlet for our community to find escape, build resilience, and celebrate with pride in the face of hard times. We’re hoping to continue that tradition, and share some feel good stories along the way.”

Started as a small social initiative amongst staff, VAC is now encouraging members, volunteers, and the broader community to submit songs and stories via VAC’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. A selection of the submitted songs will be shared on social media as well as being played during Well, Well, Well on Monday from 8PM on JOY 94.9.

Song suggestions for the ‘Equality Mixtape’ and accompanying stories can be submitted via Facebook or Twitter #EqualityMixtape

For more information, contact:Liam ClarkMedia Officercommunications@vac.org.au(03) 9865 6700

29 Aug 2017

More than 35 national health organisations unite for equal marriage

36 leading national health organisations have called on the Federal Government to put an end to marriage discrimination and legislate for marriage equality.

More than 35 leading health organisations across the nation have united together and called on the Federal Government to legislate for marriage equality and put an end to marriage discrimination.

Tiernan Brady, Executive Director, The Equality Campaign welcomed the statement, “It’s easy in the middle of all the politics to forget what or rather who this is about.

“Marriage equality is about real people, our friends and family, teammates and work colleagues who just want the same dignity as everyone else in their families. This statement by so many groups representing the people who take care of the health and well being of all Australians is an important and timely reminder of this.

“Our laws should never deliberately marginalize and exclude one group of people. It is time for our politicians to do their job and pass marriage equality. Our family and friends deserve better” Tiernan Brady continued.

Nicolas Parkhill, CEO of ACON said, “There is conclusive evidence that LGBTI people experience higher levels of depression, anxiety disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide compared to the general population because of stigma, prejudice,discrimination and exclusion. These health conditions are exacerbated by the ongoing marriage equality debate in this country. This protracted discourse is harming people, creating segregation and contributing to poorer health outcomes.

“We call on our elected representatives to recognise the negative health consequences of marriage discrimination, to legislate for marriage equality and to improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTI Marriage equality is beyond politics – real people, Australian families, dignity and importantly, health, are at the centre of this issue” Nicholas Parkhill said.

“The Marriage Equality debate is harming the health and wellbeing of Australians. We do not need to debate any longer. We do not need a $160 million plebiscite. What we need is to treat LGBTI Australians with the same dignity and equal rights as everyone else,” Simon Ruth, CEO, Victorian AIDS Council.

“Young people overwhelmingly support marriage equality and tell us it’s a really important issue to them. For ReachOut, supporting marriage equality is a ‘no brainer’," ReachOut CEO, Jono Nicholas said.

For information on the LGBTI communities’ response to the senate inquiry that provides a cross-party pathway for marriage equality go to: http://www.equalitycampaign.org.au/welcome-senate-report

MEDIA: Clint McGilvray 0413 285 186

Leading Health Organisations on the United Statement for Marriage Equality

ACON HealthAIDS Action Council of the ACT (AACACT)Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM)Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO)Australian Healthcare and Hospitals AssociationAustralian Lesbian Medical AssociationAustralian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF)Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA)Australian Women’s Health NetworkBlack Dog InstituteCentre for Culture, Ethnicity & HealthChronic Illness AlliancecohealthDrummond Street ServicesEACH Social and Community HealthFamily Planning Alliance AustraliaFamily Planning NSWFamily Planning TasmaniaFamily Planning VICFamily Planning Welfare Association Northern TerritoryHeadspaceLife Without BarriersMental Health AustraliaMental Health First AidMIND AustraliaThe Equality Campaign is the national campaign to win marriage for all Australians through a vote in Parliament.Neami NationalNorthern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council (NTAHC)Public Health Association of AustraliaQueensland AIDS Council (QuAC)ReachOut.comRelationships AustraliaSexual Health Quarters (i.e Family Planning WA)Shine SA (i.e. Family Planning SA)Tasmanian council on AIDS Hepatitis and Related Diseases (TasCHARD)Victorian AIDS Council (VAC)Western Australian AIDS Council (WAAC)

24 Jul 2017

2017 Melbourne Gay Periodic Survey Results

The results of this year’s Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey demonstrate a growing community confidence in the efficacy of biomedical HIV prevention strategies amongst gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM). This includes a nearly threefold increase in the uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and over 97% of men living with HIV on treatment having achieved an undetectable viral load (UVL). The 2017 results also recorded the highest ever level of HIV testing which has increased over time to 90% of men in the survey - continuing the upward trend over the last several years.

Conducted by the Centre for Social Research in Health at UNSW, the 2017 survey captured the responses of 2,956 gay men and other MSM to a broad set of questions related to sex, relationships and sexual health.

The proportion of men using PrEP increased from 6% in 2016 to 16% in 2017, with most of the men on PrEP in the 2017 survey (84%) obtaining it from a research study or trial. In Victoria, PrEP has been made available through the PrEP-X study, sponsored by the Victorian Government, Alfred Health, and the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC).

VAC CEO Simon Ruth said that these findings add momentum to prevention efforts across the community.

“This is further evidence that when it comes to HIV prevention, gay men are at the forefront in protecting themselves and others. When taken consistently, PrEP is proven to be close to 99% effective at preventing HIV.”

“What we need now is for the Commonwealth to list PrEP on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as soon as is possible to ensure all people at risk of HIV can benefit.”

Over 99% of men living with HIV in the survey reported being on HIV treatment and over 97% of those men in treatment having an undetectable viral load – meaning they are not infectious and cannot pass on HIV.

“HIV positive men are playing a substantial role in the low rates of new HIV infections by working to maintain an undetectable viral load,” said Brent Allan, CEO of Living Positive Victoria.

“There is increasing evidence that UVL amongst men living with HIV will be a key factor in the decline of new diagnoses in Australia.”

The majority (87.7%) of HIV positive men who have condomless sex with casual partners reported UVL as their primary risk reduction strategy.

“Biomedical HIV prevention tools mean that safe, condomless sex is possible; however, PrEP and UVL won’t protect people from other STIs so it’s important that sexually active men test regularly to maintain their sexual health and wellbeing,” Mr Ruth said.

The 2017 survey results around testing are encouraging with 77% of men testing for HIV in the previous 12 months (the highest level recorded in the survey) and an increase in the proportion of men reporting 3 or more HIV tests in the previous year (30% in 2017). Over 92% of men living with HIV reported an STI test in the previous 12 months, and STI testing amongst HIV negative men is continuing to rise with nearly 78% having tested in the past 12 months.

13 Jul 2017

New campaign to address risky drinking behaviours amongst LBQ women in regional Victoria as part of VicHealth initiative

Through VicHealth’s Alcohol Culture Change Initiative, the Victorian AIDSCouncil (VAC) will be leading a two-year project to address potentially risky drinkingbehaviours amongst lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women living in regional Victoria.Aimed to increase social support for low-risk drinking and reduce the impact of alcohol, theproject will receive over $200,000 to develop and implement a health promotion campaignaimed at creating a culture of support and encouragement to reduce risky drinking in fourregional areas of Victoria including Bendigo, Ballarat, Morwell, and Geelong.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said, “We know that one-size doesn’t fit all – Victoria is a diversestate with many drinking cultures. These new projects will target groups of people mostlikely to drink at risky levels.”

VAC CEO Simon Ruth said, “We know that drinking behaviours amongst same sex attractedwomen pose considerable risks to their ongoing health and wellbeing. This funding willallow us to expand upon our existing services to reach those women in regional centres, andchallenge some assumed social norms and attitudes around drinking by encouraging positivebehaviour change and peer support.”

The project aims to establish focus groups from its four key regional centres to consult inthe development of a social marketing campaign. Furthermore, the project will work closelywith LBQ women’s community networks and health service providers in regional settingsand raise awareness of risky behaviours and support pathways.

“As a community-led organisation, lesbian, bisexual, and queer women have played animportant role in VAC’s work since it’s very founding. That tradition will carry on as thisproject aims to understand and influence the values, attitudes and beliefs of LBQ womenand their support networks of friends, family, and co-workers,” said Ruth.

Rechter added, “This initiative is about people socially supporting one another to reducehigh risk drinking, resulting in reduced harm for themselves, their family and friends, thosein the vicinity and the broader community.”

For more information on VicHealth’s Alcohol Change Initiative, go to: www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/programs-and-projects/alcohol-culture-change-initiative

28 Jun 2017

Victoria’s new HIV Strategy emphasises the importance of a community-led response

28 JUNE 2017 - The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) welcomes the Andrews Government’s announcement of Victoria’s HIV strategy for 2017-2020 - setting the bar higher as we approach the global targets of 90-90-90 in HIV diagnosis, treatement, and viral suppression and recognising the importance of the community-controlled response in reaching those goals.

Announced this morning by Minister for Health, the Hon Jill Hennessy, the plan aims to renew and reaffirm Victoria’s commitment to the vital elimination of new HIV transmissions by 2020 by working closely with those communities most affected.

“We applaud the Government on their dedication to working with the community-controlled organisations in the ongoing response to HIV in Victoria,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth. “This plan recognises that HIV affects a broad range of people, including women and members of the trans and gender diverse community, as well as acknowledges that HIV continues to disproportionately affect gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.”

“As the Government affirms that ‘in Victoria, equality is not negotiable’, we want to ensure this disparity in health outcomes is addressed.”

The strategy also recognises the important role HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) will continue to play in HIV prevention. The PrEP-X study in Victoria now has 3,800 people enrolled and expects to reduce new HIV infections by 30 percent.“Victoria’s rapid enrolment rates in PrEP-X have demonstrated that the community is serious about taking control of their sexual health and wellbeing and accessing this game-changing tool in HIV prevention,” said Ruth.

“Our plan forward will need to be a comprehensive one ensuring HIV testing is accessible and affordable to everyone and that we respond to the needs of people living with HIV - in particular, those aging with HIV.”

22 May 2017

VAC responds to PrEP-X Victoria Seroconversion

VAC has learned that a person on the Victorian PrEPX study has seroconverted and become HIV positive. There are two ways that this may have occurred.

• If a person is not adherent to their PrEP regimen (taking the prescribed dose regularly) it is possible that they would not be protected against acquiring HIV;• If a person comes into contact with a person living with HIV who has detectable viral load together with a strain of the virus that is resistant to PrEP medication it is possible (although extremely rare) that they might acquire that viral strain of HIV.

“Currently there are over 100,000 individuals who are taking PrEP globally as a way to protect themselves against HIV acquisition. To date there have been no confirmed cases in Australia of a person on PrEP being infected with a drug-resistant HIV,” commented VAC CEO, Simon Ruth.

“There have been no reported occurrences of widespread PrEP failure here or around the world where in many locations PrEP is approved and subsidised. The vast majority of people taking PrEP in this country and around the world continue to be protected by this powerful HIV prevention tool.”

Mr Ruth went on to stress the importance of continuing to consider all options when it comes to HIV prevention.“It is important that gay men and all people at risk of HIV infection consider and decide on the best way to protect themselves from the range of safe sex options available to them,” he said.

For more information or comment, contact Liam Clark on liam.clark@vac.org.au or (03) 9865 6700

10 May 2017

VAC, JOY 94.9 and Switchboard partner to recognise volunteers at inaugural L.O.V.E. — LGBTI Organisations Volunteer Event

Last night, as part of National Volunteers Week, the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) partnered with community radio station JOY 94.9 and LGBTI telephone and webchat counselling service Switchboard Victoria to host L.O.V.E. - LGBTI Organisations Volunteer Event. Held at St Kilda Town Hall, the event recognises the vital contributions volunteers have made to the work of these three organisations in supporting LGBTI communities.

While JOY and VAC volunteers regularly combine forces with the Laird Hotel at Northside Bizarre each October, this is the first time the three community organisations have partnered together to recognise the substantial contribution of volunteers.

L.O.V.E. sees the three LGBTI community organisations combine forces to recognise and celebrate the remarkable contribution of volunteers on a grander scale. The event recognised a number of long-serving volunteers having served at least 5, 10, 15, 25 and even 30 years of service as a volunteer.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood that keeps organisations like ours alive,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth. “Without our volunteers, none of us could operate the services we provide to the community. It is only fitting that we celebrate and formally recognise the longstanding contribution volunteers have made.”

JOY CEO Tenille Moisel added, “JOY is thrilled to work with VAC and Switchboard to recognise our volunteers for the tremendous support they provide our organisations and the broader LGBTI community.”

Switchboard General Manager, Jo Ball highlighted the collaborative nature of volunteers in our community.

“Considering that many Switchboard volunteers also volunteer at VAC and JOY it only makes sense to hold a joint event. As we all know, we are stronger together, and I look forward to continuing to find projects that VAC, Switchboard and JOY can collaborate on.”

The event included performances from the Melbourne Rainbow Band and invited guests include City of Port Phillip Mayor Cr Bernadine Voss with Victoria Police Gay and Lesbian Liason Officers (GLLO) Gabby Tyacke and Travis Costelow to host the event.

24 Mar 2017

VAC supports the Council of Australian Governments calling on the Federal Government to fund PrEP.

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) supports the call by the State and Territory Health Ministers, lead by Victoria’s Minister Jill Hennessy, to the Federal Government to fund pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) access nationally, ensuring availability for all Australians. Access to PrEP is vital to reaching the target of virtually eliminating new HIV transmissions by 2020, as established by the National HIV Strategy.

Furthermore, VAC welcomes the Andrews Government’s announcement of a further $100,000 of funding to the PrEPX trial – making PrEP accessible to more Victorians at risk of HIV. This further funding puts this highly effective HIV prevention tool in the hands of an estimated 600 additional Victorians.

PrEP is a powerful HIV prevention tool, where HIV-negative people take medication every day to almost completely reduce their risk of contracting HIV.

Following its initial investment in the PrEPX trial, VAC committed an additional $100,000 to PrEPX in January in order to meet overwhelming demand after the trial met capacity. At that time, the organisation also called upon the Federal Government to fund PrEP access nationally.

This additional funding means that those currently on the waiting list will be able to access PrEP; however, this additional expansion alone will not be enough to stem the need in the community for this powerful HIV prevention method. The Victorian PrEPX trial has been the fastest enrolled clinical trial of PrEP anywhere in the world.

“This further commitment from the Andrews Government is an important step, but now we need the Federal Government to take action,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.

“The fact that so many are enrolling in the trial shows real motivation by the public to take responsibility their sexual health and the prevention of HIV transmission. At this stage, the Federal Government needs to acknowledge that community demand and demonstrate their commitment to making PrEP accessible and affordable to everyone as quickly as possible.”

At this point in time, half of Australia’s states and territories have no current government supported access to PrEP; South Australia and Western Australia are due to commence trials in the coming months, while Tasmania and the Northern Territory are without government supported access entirely.

Even among the states and territories with trials, only the New South Wales trial is currently uncapped. This leaves those seeking PrEP access in Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory at the mercy of waiting lists that rely on unpredictable and unreliable funding.

“This level of inequity and inconsistency in PrEP access across the states is shameful and harmful,” said Michael Whelan of community PrEP activist group PrEPaccessNOW.

“The Federal Government cannot stand idly by and just hope that this issue will simply fix itself. PrEP works — and federal funding is essential to ensure PrEP access to all Australians.”

VAC calls on the Commonwealth Minister for Health and his department to:• Support equitable access to PrEP across Australia.• Work with the states and territories to ensure that equitable access to PrEP is available for all Australians at high risk of HIV.• Encourage the Turnbull Government to fast track the listing of PrEP on the PBS.

VAC President Chad Hughes stressed the importance of PrEP in reducing new HIV transmissions.

“We would like to thank Minister Hennessy for continuing to support the PrEPX trial and helping thousands of Victorians at risk of HIV to access PrEP. We look forward to a time when access to this important tool in the fight to end HIV is available to everyone who needs it.”

If you live in Victoria or South Australia and wish to enrol in the PrEPX trials, visit the Alfred Health PrEPX website by following the link to: https://www.alfredhealth.org.au/prepx

For more information about whether PrEP is right for you, or about personal importation, see the following links:

PrEP’D For Change web site: http://www.prepdforchange.com/PrEPaccessNOW web site: https://www.prepaccessnow.com.au/

23 Feb 2017

Gay, bi and queer men’s stories of meth use encourage healthy conversations in new VAC resource

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has launched ‘Be-Longing for It’, an online resource to encourage gay, bisexual and queer men to have conversations about taking care of themselves and each other when it comes to methamphetamine use, sex and intimacy.

The resource is based on an exhibition held by VAC during the 2017 Midsumma Festival. VAC worked with community-based artists Sam Wallman, Michele Vescio and Bailey Sharp to develop the exhibition, which drew on real gay, bi and queer men’s stories of meth use within the community. The artists worked with these stories to create animated videos and audio stories exploring the men’s experiences.

The resource and the exhibition are a response to the ongoing conversation about meth use within gay, bi and queer male communities. According to the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey gay and bisexual respondents were almost three times more likely to have used meth recently than their heterosexual counterparts.

“Gay, bisexual and queer men enjoy drugs at much higher rates than the general community, particularly methamphetamines. When drug use becomes problematic it can have a severe impact on people’s health and wellbeing,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.

“We consider peer stories to be a valuable tool in reducing the harms associated with methamphetamine use. They capture the complexities of meth use in our communities and make understanding them more accessible to everyone. This project will foster important conversations between our communities and alcohol and drug services.”

Jeremy Wiggins from VAC coordinated the project and interviewed the men involved about their meth use.

“I interviewed eight men about their experiences with methamphetamine use for Be-Longing For It. Some of the men felt their use was really destroying their lives, while others had developed tools and strategies to manage their use within particular personal boundaries,” said Wiggins.

“The stories are very individual, but a common link between them all was about a desire to belong and to feel connected.”

‘Russell’ (not his real name) was one of the eight participants who shared their real-life stories of methamphetamine use for the project.

“For me it was a crucial opportunity to convey my own experience through a different medium to reach and impact a broader audience and engage people around complex issues like drug use, addiction, social isolation, sexual activity and identity among gay, bi and queer men,” Russell said.

“The raw and sometimes confronting material conveys powerful truths in an entirely accessible way and leads to candid and unexpected insights and crucial conversations around reducing harm and addressing problematic use.”

The Be-Longing For It stories are available as part of VAC’s TouchBase website, a national resource on alcohol and drugs for LGBTI communities. Find the stories here: http://touchbase.org.au/stories

For more information about gay and bisexual men and drug use, see the National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report, p. 95–96: http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129549848

17 Jan 2017

VAC funds access to PrEP for 600 Victorians, calls on Federal Government to fund further PrEP access

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has announced it will give an additional $100,000 to the PrEPX trial to fund access to pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PrEP) for 600 Victorians at risk.

VAC’s announcement comes months after PrEPX reached capacity for men living in metropolitan Melbourne—there is already a substantial waiting list for those wishing to access PrEP as part of the trial, which is the fastest growing PrEP access scheme in the world.

In light of VAC’s announcement and the fact that the PrEP has already been knocked back once for listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), VAC is also calling on the Federal Government to use discretionary funding under the Communicable Disease Prevention and Service Improvement Fund to support broader access to PrEP across Australia.

“It is an embarrassment that we don’t have access to PrEP via the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in Australia, and it’s time the Federal Government looked at other options. People at risk of HIV across most of the country don’t have subsidised access to PrEP, and even in states that do we’ve seen spaces in the public PrEP trials fill up in no time,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.

“The Seventh National HIV strategy is now three years old, and HIV-prevention has changed a lot over that time—the strategy only mentions PrEP in passing. We call on the incoming Federal Health Minister to show a genuine commitment to HIV-prevention and take PrEP seriously.”

VAC President Chad Hughes stressed the importance of PrEP to reducing new HIV transmissions.

“The Federal Government has committed to ending HIV by 2020, and it can’t meet that commitment without PrEP,” said Hughes.

“We again congratulate the Victorian Government for establishing the PrEPX trial and helping thousands of Victorians at risk of HIV access this vital HIV-prevention tool.”

PrEP is a highly effective HIV-prevention method, where HIV-negative people take HIV medication to significantly reduce their risk of contracting HIV.

PrEP is approved by the Therapeutic Good Administration in Australia, but was rejected by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) for listing on the PBS in August last year. It is not likely to be reconsidered for listing until later this year.

Spaces are still available on the PrEPX trial for people living in rural and regional Victoria.

If you live in metropolitan Melbourne and wish to join the waiting list to enrol in the PrEPX trial, visit the Alfred Health PrEPX website and follow the link to access the waiting list: https://www.alfredhealth.org.au/research/research-areas/infectious-diseases-research/prepx-study

13 Jan 2017

All-star lineup for VAC’s 2017 Midsumma Hypothetical, including David Marr, Benjamin Law and Judith Lucy

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) Midsumma Hypothetical is back for 2017 with an allstar lineup that includes journalist David Marr, author Benjamin Law and comedian Judith Lucy.

Now in its third year, VAC’s Midsumma Hypothetical uses the format once made famous by Geoffrey Robertson on the ABC in the late 1980s: a panel of guests discuss questions on a particular theme arising from a hypothetical narrative. Previous VAC hypotheticals have looked at drug and alcohol issues within LGBTI communities, and at the state of LGBTI issues in federal politics.

This year’s hypothetical is Who Killed Sharon Swallows?, a whodunit set in a small country town in Victoria where each panellist is under suspicion for the murder of fictional right-wing columnist Sharon Swallows.

As the hypothetical unfolds, the columnist’s attacks on the LGBTI community place each panellist in the spotlight as a potential suspect and raise difficult questions. Should free speech mean columnists can say whatever they want? Should businesses be able to discriminate against LGBTI people on religious grounds? Is being LGBTI fundamentally un-Australian?

“After a year when LGBTI issues became a major fault line in both Australian and international politics, a hypothetical built around a caricature of a right-wing columnist is a fun way to get at some of the issues dividing the broader community,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.

“It’s important for our community to be able to talk openly about thorny topics like racism, HIV stigma and transphobia, and the hypothetical is a great opportunity to foster discussion.”

Panellist Professor Dennis Altman has a connection to the original Geoffrey Robertson hypotheticals.

“Thirty years ago I clashed with Fred Nile on Geoffrey Robertson’s Hypothetical Does Dracula have AIDS? A great deal has changed since then, but we’re still facing some of the same bigotry, if in very different guises,” said Altman.

Back for his third year in the Hypothetical and his second as moderator is comedian Adam Richard.

“I’m looking forward to a frank exchange of opinions and some big laughs from a very diverse panel. Given the broad intellect of our panel, I’m going to be on my toes the entire time. It’s gigs like this where I really regret the fact that I didn’t finish university,” said Richard.

“I can’t even imagine the kinds of innuendo I’m going to have to wrap my tongue around given the title is Who Killed Sharon Swallows? VAC have no doubt cooked up quite a ribald murder mystery for me!”

The full line-up of panellists for the 2017 VAC Midsumma Hypothetical:

Moderator — Adam Richard, comedianDavid Marr, journalist and biographerBenjamin Law, journalist and authorJudith Lucy, comedianProfessor Dennis Altman, author and academicAssociate Professor Edwina Wright, HIV researcher and clinicianKaren Price, Deputy CEO at ACONMichelle Sheppard, broadcaster and entrepreneurJoel Murray, advocate and activistTennille Moisel, JOY 94.9 CEO

Who Killed Sharon Swallows? is on Tuesday, 17 January at 7pm at Deakin Edge, Federation Square. The event is free to attend but spaces are limited. To register, go to vac.org.au/hypothetical.

The event will also be broadcast live on Channel 31, and via a live stream on VAC’s Facebook page.

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