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30 Nov 2016

Casey Conway heads groundbreaking new campaign tackling rising STI rates across the Northern Territory

Leading Aboriginal model and youth and family practitioner Casey Conway is the star of a new campaign from the Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council (NTAHC) and the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) to encourage increased sexual health testing in the NT.

The campaign is a response to rising rates of HIV and other STIs in the Northern Territory, leading to the territory having the highest STI rates in the country. A syphilis outbreak in the Top End has seen over 300 cases in the Northern Territory alone.

“An increase in HIV infections and the high rates of STIs demonstrate a serious issue about equal access to health and education in the Northern Territory,” said NTAHC Executive Director Kim Gates.

“Aboriginal people, particularly those living in remote and very remote communities, often have little or no understanding of the importance of maintaining their sexual health. Health clinics are under-resourced and over-burdened by conflicting and competing health needs, which often results in sexual health taking a back seat.”

“The school health curriculum does not include education around STIs and blood-borne viruses and the only reference to using condoms is to prevent pregnancy.”

Adapted from VAC’s award-winning ‘Drama Downunder’ campaign, the new campaign aims to remove the stigma from sexual health by taking a light-hearted approach to testing. Casey Conway, an openly gay man and former rugby league player, appears in his underwear along with the message: “Wet or dry—any season, sexy health is deadly! Get tested, get treated no drama!”

“We have to do something about STIs in the Northern Territory, and among Aboriginal people in particular,” said Conway.

“I really hope the campaign will get people testing every three-to-six months—once in the wet and once in the dry. As the campaign says, get tested, get treated, no drama.”

In 2015 VAC developed a ‘Seasons’ version of their long-running campaign, which encouraged people to use the changing seasons as a prompt to get a sexual health check. Posters and advertisements featuring summer, autumn, winter and spring encourage testing four times a year.

VAC CEO Simon Ruth recalled an early conversation he had with NTAHC Executive Director Kim Gates about working together on a campaign.

“When I first talked to NTAHC about bringing our seasonal testing campaign to the Northern Territory, Kim reminded me they don’t have four seasons up north—it’s just wet and dry,” Ruth said.

“There’s a good lesson here in the ways health promotion campaigns developed by the large HIV organisations down south don’t always take into account the specific needs of communities in the Top End. It’s been great to work with NTAHC to adapt a successful campaign like the Drama Downunder for a new audience.”

21 Nov 2016

Community activists honoured as VAC Award winners announced at Victorian AIDS Council AGM

Community activists PrEP Access Now have received the prestigious VictorianAIDS Council (VAC) President’s Award at the organisation’s annual general meeting on Sunday. Thegroup were honoured for their groundbreaking work establishing an access scheme for pre-exposureprophylaxis for HIV, or PrEP, the HIV-prevention pill.

Award recipients also included PASH.tm, a sexual health and HIV advocacy organisation for transmen who have sex with men, and long-standing VAC member Bev Greet, a leader in the Aboriginalcommunity’s response to HIV both in Victoria and nationally. Greet was one of four individuals given LifeMembership this year, the highest honour awarded by VAC.

“This year’s VAC Award winners represent the past and future of the organisation. Grass-roots activistslike the committee of PrEP Access Now are part of a long legacy of community-led responses to HIV inVictoria,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.

“VAC was founded by community activists, and we’re proud to support the work of a new generationwhile we also look back and celebrate the people in our community who built Victoria’s HIV response.We’ll always be looking to the future as an organisation, but it’s important we acknowledge our past.”Committee member Phillip Joffe accepted the President’s Award on behalf of PrEP Access Now.

“The PrEP Access Now committee is extremely humbled to be recognised together with the incrediblepast winners of this prestigious award. We have enjoyed the unwavering support of VAC since ourinception,” Joffe said.

“We would like to thank the President and Board of VAC for honouring us with this amazing award andlook forward to working closely together and achieving even more together.”

The full list of VAC Award winners is below:

• Life Membership: Bev Greet — founder of Positive Women Victoria and former VAC Board member• Life Membership: Vikki Sinnott — former VAC Board member• Life Membership: Bill O’Loughlin — harm reduction advocate• Life Membership: Bruce Parnell — former VAC Education Program Manager• President’s Award: PrEP Access Now — community-led PrEP access scheme• Greig Friday Young Leader Award: Rian Branthwaite — VAC volunteer• Media Award: Mark Kearney — Journalist, Bendigo Advertiser• Special Service Award: John Manwaring, Jarrod Lester & Craig Burnett — featured in the Treat HIVNow campaign• Special Service Award: Gareth D’Souza — VAC volunteer• Special Service Award: Myka Williams — VAC volunteer

As a member of the inaugural, 1984 VAC Board, human-rights advocate Jamie Gardiner also received hisLife Membership after being unable to attend last year’s AGM.

Sunday’s AGM also included the 24th annual Keith Harbour address, delivered this year by AssociateProfessor Edwina Wright, who received a standing ovation. Wright recounted her experiences workingwith AIDS patients as a doctor at Fairfield Hospital in the early 1990s, drawing a line from the height ofthe epidemic in Australia to current developments in HIV prevention and treatment.

Results of elections to the Board were also announced ay the AGM, with three vacancies on thecombined Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre Board filled. Chrissie Feagins and current VACPresident Chad Hughes were returned to the Board, and Anthony Maynard was newly elected.

25 Oct 2016

The “rise of chemsex” among gay men has been sensationalised in media and the community

“Chemsex” among gay and bisexual men and its link to HIV transmissions hasbeen sensationalised in media reports and the community but LGBTI people still need targeted support,according to a world-renowned expert on drug use in LGBTI communities.Dr Adam Bourne is visiting Australia for the upcoming Australian Professional Society on Alcohol andOther Drugs (APSAD) Conference, where he is giving the first keynote address in the conference’s historyon drug use within LGBTI communities. During his visit Dr Bourne is also meeting with public healthofficials about strategies to address drug use in LGBTI communities.Dr Bourne is an expert on harm reduction among people who use drugs, sexual health and HIVprevention among marginalised populations such as LGBTI people, and on “chemsex”, the use of drugsby gay men in sexual settings.“Chemsex is something we have to remain vigilant about, but we also have to be wary of drawing simpleconclusions without considering the right evidence. Only a small minority of gay men use drugs on aregular basis, and only a minority of those do so in a sexual context,” said Dr Bourne.“Not all chemsex is risky—many men are able to manage their drug use safely and are able to negotiatesafer sex in a way that works for them. Of course there are exceptions, but it would be wrong to attributeall risky sex solely to drug use.”“HIV and STI transmission among gay men took place a long time before drugs such as crystalmethamphetamine (ice) were present on the gay scene. While ice may have a role in risky sex for a smallproportion of men, there are a whole host of other reasons why gay men are exposed to HIV.”Leading up to the APSAD Conference, the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has called for greater awarenessof the needs of LGBTI people within mainstream alcohol and other drug (AOD) services, as well asincreased funding for LGBTI-specific AOD services.“We know that LGBTI people use drugs at higher rates than the rest of the community, so we needaccess to services that understand our specific needs. Drug use and sex is a sensitive topic, and manyLGBTI people need a safe space where they can feel comfortable to discuss these issues,” said VAC CEOSimon Ruth.“The reality is mainstream AOD services will continue to provide most of the treatment for LGBTI people,and those services do need greater awareness of LGBTI issues. But a lot of people don’t feel comfortableaccessing a mainstream service—we also need better funded LGBTI-specific services.”Dr Bourne supported VAC’s position with examples from his work in the UK.“We’ve certainly found in the UK that many drug services aren’t set up to deal with drug use among gaymen. Research tells us that gay men often fear judgement or discrimination talking about their drug use,”he said.Dr Adam Bourne will be speaking at a community forum on sex, drug use and mental health for LGBTIpeople on Tuesday, 25 October at 7PM, at Hares & Hyenas in Fitzroy.His keynote address at the APSAD Conference (30 October–2 November) is on Tuesday, 1 November at1.15PM, at the Four Points by Sheraton Sydney.For more information or to arrange an interview, contact:Benjamin Riley, Media Officerbenjamin.riley@vac.org.au03 9865 6700 / 0401 267 024

20 Sep 2016

The Victorian AIDS Council warns about the effects of a marriage equality plebiscite on LGBTI health and wellbeing

As an organisation at the coalface of mental health in LGBTI communities, the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has warned that the effects of a divisive public debate during a plebiscite on marriage equality could be devastating. VAC met with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten today to provide feedback alongside other LGBTI organisations on the negative impacts of a plebiscite campaign for LGBTI communities. “It is deliberately misleading to suggest that a plebiscite on marriage equality would be for the benefit of LGBTI people. Our communities do not want this,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth. “As we said to the Opposition Leader, we already see the terrible cost of homophobia and transphobia for LGBTI communities, and we can only imagine how much worse it could get during a divisive and vitriolic public debate.” VAC manages an LGBTI counselling service, which sees clients from the community who are often dealing with the mental health impacts of homophobia and transphobia. “Many of our clients struggle with the effects of homophobia and transphobia, which LGBTI people can encounter on a day-to-day basis. These messages of hate and fear understandably take their toll, and this is a major contributing factor to mental health issues within our communities,” Ruth continued. “The Australian Christian Lobby have already said that much more than marriage equality will be on the table during a plebiscite campaign—this will become a debate about our right to exist.” VAC President Chad Hughes said VAC would continue to speak out against a national plebiscite on marriage equality. “VAC has consistently advocated against holding a plebiscite on marriage equality, and our reasons for doing so have not changed. A plebiscite is costly, it is unnecessary and it has the potential to cause harm to some of the most vulnerable in our community,” said Hughes. “We are particularly disturbed that the Federal Government has committed to funding homophobia, with $7.5 million proposed for groups like the Australian Christian Lobby to say that our relationships and our families are not valid. This would be nothing less than state-funded homophobia.” “Our community is united on this, and we have already waited too long for this basic right. It is insulting and unfair for Parliament to continue to delay what should be an easy reform. This could be taken care of tomorrow with a free vote.”

19 Aug 2016

VAC responds to PBAC decision not to recommend PrEP for PBS listing

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has expressed disappointment at today’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) decision not to recommend PrEP for listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and encouraged pharmaceutical company Gilead to resubmit a new application. Gilead made the application to have Truvada listed on the PBS for use as PrEP after the drug was approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration earlier this year. Cost-effectiveness was cited as one reason for PBAC’s negative decision, which means Gilead would have to make a full resubmission later this year for PrEP to be reconsidered at a March 2017 PBAC meeting. “This is an incredibly disappointing outcome. PBAC’s decision means Australians will have to wait even longer to access a HIV-prevention tool that has been proven to work. Every year 1200 Australians contract HIV, and PrEP could substantially reduce this number. It is distressing to see access to PrEP for the people who need it most held back by a decision like this,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth. “We encourage Gilead to resubmit in November for a decision in March, and to do everything they can to bring down the cost of the drug and get this over the line. We hope Gilead and the government will do everything they can do expedite the process.” “We can’t end HIV without PrEP—it is the most effective HIV-prevention tool we have. Other countries have already approved PrEP and now we need it to be accessible and affordable in Australia.” Ruth commented specifically on one section of the PBAC decision, which stated: “The efficacy of Truvada was highly dependent on adherence, and that it is not clear if subjects at high risk of contracting HIV due to self-reported low adherence to safer sex practices would also have lower adherence to medication”. Ruth responded, and said: “Drawing a comparison between risk behaviour and adherence to medication is illogical. It is wrong and offensive to assume that gay men would not be taking every measure to protect themselves when it comes to HIV, and we view PrEP as the most powerful tool for doing that. PrEP demonstration projects have shown gay men’s adherence to PrEP is extremely high, and comments like this are unhelpful, stigmatising and homophobic.” VAC President Chad Hughes said Victorians have waited too long already to access PrEP. “This is a particularly devastating outcome for states that don’t have a state-sponsored PrEP trial, like South Australia and Tasmania—these states will bear the brunt of new infections the longer we delay listing PrEP on the PBS,” Hughes said. “We’re lucky to have the support of the Victorian Government for the PrEPX trial, particularly now that we will have to wait so much longer for PrEP to be listed on the PBS. PrEPX has had the fastest uptake of any PrEP scheme worldwide—we’ve seen a thousand enrolments in just three weeks. Those numbers and the grass-roots efforts to make generic Truvada more accessible through personal importation show that gay men in Victoria want PrEP now.” “Our community wants to take more responsibility for preventing HIV, we understand that PrEP is a big part of that, and now we just need it to happen.” For more information about how to access PrEP if you are unable to access a clinical trial, visit: www. prepaccessnow.com.au

23 Jul 2016

Parties go head to head for #RainbowVotes in final weeks commitments

Labor provides no Ministerial responsibility for LGBTI affairs; Coalition and Greens commit to portfolio responsibility Coalition cuts funding for Safe Schools; Labor support but no funding commitment; Greens commit additional funding Strong support for LGBTI health and ageing, but no firm commitment from major parties to renew LGBTI Ageing Strategy

The results of a major survey of political parties on LGBTI issues have revealed important differences in the major political parties. The parties differed significantly on their approach to LGBTI representation and engagement, including on the issues of a party spokesperson and a commissioner for LGBTI affairs. “We are pleased that a Coalition Attorney General will have responsibility for LGBTI equality, ensuring that our issues are heard at the Cabinet table. However, we are disappointed that Labor has not committed to a party spokesperson for LGBTI affairs. The Greens and the Victorian Labor Party have long had a spokesperson; it’s time federal Labor followed their lead,” said Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) Co-Convenor Rachael Hambleton. The Greens have put forward a proposal to establish a Commonwealth Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality, which would be able to work across Government to provide support for the LGBTI community. “Whilst the Labor party's proposal to establish an LGBTI Discrimination Commissioner and the Coalition's plan to give the new Human Rights Commissioner responsibility for LGBTI affairs are both welcome, we believe the Commissioner should not be stuck at the Human Rights Commission but able to work within Government to advance the rights of LGBTI Australians,” said VGLRL Co-Convenor Sean Mulcahy Two issues that have dominated the media have been the Safe Schools program and balancing religious freedom with LGBTI equality. "We welcome the Opposition Leader's comments in support of Safe Schools, but those words need to be backed by funding. The Coalition needs to explain what they are going to do to when the funding contract for the Safe Schools Coalition programme ends given that they will not extend the funding,” said VGLRL Co-Convenor Rachael Hambleton. “Given that faith leaders such as the Australian Christian Lobby's Lyle Shelton and the Archbishop of Sydney say they would not use religious exemptions to discriminate against LGBTI Australians in critical service delivery, we are disappointed that neither of the major parties would commit to amending the law to end discrimination against LGBTI Australians in service delivery,” said VGLRL Co-Convenor Sean Mulcahy. Marriage equality and the proposed marriage plebiscite has been another strong focus of the election campaign. “Upwards of 70% of Australians now support marriage equality. To deny a free vote on marriage equality, to deny the will of the vast majority of Australians, and to deny LGBTI Australians their right to equality, dignity and respect is a statement which says that our love is not equal. We will continue to fight for a free vote in Parliament and for the passage of marriage equality,” said NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (NSW GLRL) Co-Convenor Lauren Foy. The parties also made commitments to the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people, including improvements to aged care services. “We are encouraged to see all the major parties make commitments to the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people. We are delighted to see parties have highlighted the unique health needs of LGBTI people and provided strategies for addressing them. Across all measures, LGBTI people are more likely to experience poor health outcomes and have greater difficulty accessing care. Whatever party forms government, we will work with our community partners to ensure the parties follow through on their commitments to LGBTI health,” said Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) CEO, Simon Ruth. “Unfortunately, there were no solid commitments from the two major parties to renew the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy beyond 2017. Older LGBTI Australians need support and we need to continue the reform in aged care towards an inclusive sector. Good strides have been made and need to be continued,” said VAC CEO, Simon Ruth. There is also increasing awareness of the plight of LGBTI asylum seekers seeking refuge in Australia. “There is an increasing number of refugees seeking protection in Australia based on their LGBTI status with at least 77 countries worldwide criminalising homosexual behaviour. LGBTI asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable individuals held in detention around the world and should not be repatriated to their country of origin if it would compromise their safety,” said NSW GLRL Co-Convenor Lauren Foy. The survey also addressed specific issues facing the transgender, gender diverse and intersex communities, with the parties making commitments to support the health and wellbeing of these communities. "It is wonderful to see some political parties finally begin to address the stigmatisation and treatment of people born with intersex bodies, in line with concerns stated by the United Nations and other international human rights organisations,” said Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia CoChair, Morgan Carpenter. “We urge all those with an interest on LGBTI issues to carefully examine these responses which we believe cover our communities comprehensively. From the trans and gender diverse perspective, we note in particular the responses regarding critical health and medical issues for trans and gender diverse people of all ages,” said Transgender Victoria (TGV) Executive Director, Sally Goldner. The survey organisers urge all LGBTI Australians and anyone with an interest in supporting these communities to pay close attention to the results. “This election is going to be a close one, so it’s more important than ever that voters who care about LGBTI issues know not just where their candidate stands but also what the party policies will be,” said VGLRL Co-Convenor Sean Mulcahy. The complete survey responses and assessment are available at rainbowvotes.com.au

16 Jun 2016

VAC calls for major parties to adopt quotas for LGBTI candidates in winnable seats

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has called on Australia’s major political parties toadopt quotas for LGBTI candidates in winnable seats. Preselection quotas within the major parties willincrease LGBTI representation in Parliament and ensure sufficient attention is paid to issues affecting thosecommunities.Quotas have been used successfully in Australia in the past to increase representation for women inParliament, and LGBTI quotas should be adopted by the major parties to redress poor historical LGBTIrepresentation within each party.By adopting this position VAC hopes to draw attention to entrenched discrimination within Australia’spolitical parties and campaigns. VAC also believes increased LGBTI representation within the major partieswill help curb the extreme rhetoric about LGBTI people that has become commonplace in the publicsphere, and balance those extreme viewpoints in the party room.VAC CEO Simon Ruth said representative quotas for women could serve as a model both for how LGBTIquotas might work, and their potential for positive outcomes.“We’ve seen the success organisations like Emily’s List have had in increasing women’s representation inParliament, so we know quotas can work in Australia,” said Ruth.“Having more women in Parliament has contributed to positive change on issues like paid parental leave,pay equity and measures to reduce family violence, and we believe quotas for LGBTI representation coulddo the same for issues specifically affecting our communities.”“Representative quotas and merit-based systems are not mutually exclusive. Encouraging a Parliamentthat better reflects the diversity of the Australian community, its different backgrounds, experiences andviewpoints, will lead to better outcomes for all of us.”VAC President Chad Hughes said preselection quotas for LGBTI candidates could have a significant impacton the tone of debate on issues affecting those communities.“This isn’t just about legislative and policy outcomes, it’s about recognising the impact that political andpublic debates about LGBTI people have on our communities,” said Hughes.“We know that discriminatory language negatively impacts the mental health of LGBTI communities, andthe toxic discourse we’ve seen on a few issues this year needs to change. We would hope that having moreLGBTI people present in party rooms will have a positive effect on how these issues are discussed, andallow political positions to be shaped by the people they affect the most.”VAC’s full position statement on LGBTI quotas is attached, or can be found at www.vac.org.au/lgbtiquotas.For more information, contact:Benjamin RileyMedia Officerbenjamin.riley@vac.org.au03 9865 67000401 267 024

15 Jun 2016

The Victorian PrEP Accord launches the Double Happiness Campaign with Health Minister Jill Hennessy

The promotion of Treatment as prevention (TasP) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) will be the focus as the Victorian PrEP Accord launches the Double Happiness Campaign with Minister Jill Hennessy on Thursday, 16 June at the Multicultural HUB at 2pm*.“I – along with all Australian health ministers – am committed to the goal of the virtual elimination of new HIV transmissions by 2020,” said Health Minister Jill Hennessy. “PrEP and Treatment as Prevention are effective strategies to help us achieve that goal.”The campaign uses Chinese symbolism for ‘double happiness’ to promote the union of the two complementary strategies working together: the use of anti-retroviral drugs for people living with HIV to reduce the HIV viral load to an 'undetectable' level (TasP), and the use of anti-retroviral drugs taken by HIV negative person to prevent HIV transmission (PrEP). At present, the drug Truvada has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for PrEP use, however it has not yet been listed on Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).“Although there has been progress made, it’s not enough,” said Phillip Joffe, Chair of PrEPaccessNOW. “The quick access and availability of this drug is imperative to the health and wellbeing of Australians at risk for HIV.”The website for the campaign, TasPLovesPrEP.info, will launch on Thursday and in addition to providing essential information about TasP and PrEP, some information will be available in multiple languages including Chinese, Greek, Spanish and Vietnamese.“Whether you are HIV negative or HIV positive, we want to educate everyone about both of these methods of HIV prevention and convey the message that everyone can play a role in ending new HIV transmissions,” said Brent Allan, CEO for Living Positive Victoria. “We’re all in this together, HIV shouldn’t stand in the way of love.”The Victorian PrEP Accord is a partnership between Living Positive Victoria and the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC), alongside grassroots PrEP organisations PrEPaccessNOW, Time4PrEP, PrEP’d for Change, and researchers from VicPrEP who are all committed to ensure the availability of PrEP for the Victorian community.*Please note the Minister will be in attendance from 2-2.30pm

7 Jun 2016

How are gay men in Melbourne having sex in 2016?

The results of this year’s Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey give us a snapshot of sex andrelationships in our communities, said the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC).Recruited throughout Melbourne’s Midsumma festival at gay venues and events, the survey captured the responses of2886 gay and same-sex attracted men to a broad set of questions about sex, relationships and sexual health.Conducted by the University of NSW in conjunction with partner organisations around the country, like VAC in Victoria,the gay community periodic surveys have been running since 1998, giving not just a snapshot but a picture of howtrends change over time.Just one highlight of the 2016 survey is the effect of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) on what sex and sexual health inour communities looks like, and how gay men are becoming more aware of ways to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.Some key findings for 2016:• A drop in men who have tested for HIV at all over the past year (down from 69.9% in 2012 to 65.6% in 2016), buta big increase in men who have had three or more HIV tests in the past year (up from 11.9% in 2012 to 22.8%in 2016).• A large increase over time in the proportion of HIV-positive men on treatment and with an undetectable viralload, up from 65.1% in 2008 to 95.2% in 2016. Having an undetectable viral load makes HIV transmission duringsex very unlikely.• A gradual increase over time of the proportion of gay men in open relationships to 32% in 2016—it’s now themost common type of relationship.• An increase over the past year in the proportion of gay men not using condoms during anal sex with casualpartners, up from 38.9% in 2015 to 42.6% in 2016.• However, the past year has also seen a huge increase in the proportion of men on PrEP, up from 1.4% in 2015 to5.6% in 2016. This largely accounts for the increase in condomless anal sex with casual partners.• An increase over time in awareness and use of undetectable viral load as a strategy for avoiding HIV transmission,both among HIV-positive men (up from 67.6% in 2013 to 76.2% in 2016) and among HIV-negative men (up from12.2% in 2013 to 15.4% in 2016).VAC CEO Simon Ruth said the findings from this year’s survey were particularly interesting for the light they shed onPrEP use in the community. PrEP is a highly effective HIV-prevention method, where HIV-negative people take HIVmedication to significantly reduce their risk of contracting HIV.“This is really the first time we’ve been able to see the way PrEP is protecting our community,” Ruth said.“The results around PrEP and undetectable viral load show us what we’ve known for a long time now, that gay menin Victoria are smart, aware, and willing to engage with new and often complex information about sexual health andHIV prevention.”“Grass-roots initiatives like PrEPaccessNOW and PrEP’d for Change have shown us how gay men are taking the lead oneducating and informing the community.”VAC’s Director of Health Promotion, Policy and Communications Colin Batrouney pointed to the results around HIVand STI testing as an indication of positive change.“Since it began, the Drama Downunder campaign has encouraged people to get tested to maintain their sexualhealth, and for almost a year now we’ve been encouraging gay men to test every three months through our seasonalcampaign,” said Batrouney.“In these results we can see how testing behaviour is changing—the proportion of gay men who have had at leastthree HIV tests in the previous 12 months has almost doubled over the past five years. That’s an impressive result.”“Testing every three months is particularly important if you’re having sex with a lot of different guys, and these looklike the kind of men who are testing more frequently. We’re also working to make testing easier and more convenientwith peer-led services like rapid HIV-testing at the PRONTO! clinic.”

19 May 2016

Victoria’s Gender and Sexuality Commissioner calls for more funding for lesbian, bisexual and queer women’s health

Victoria’s Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Rowena Allen has called for a greater focuson lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ) women’s health, pointing to current gaps in research and services forLBQ Women, and the poorer health outcomes these groups face.The call comes ahead of next week’s Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women’s Health Conference in Melbourne,presented by the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) and ACON. Now in its second year, the conference bringstogether industry experts, service providers and community members from around Australia to discussthe health and wellbeing of LBQ women.Commissioner Allen said the conference would be a chance to address some of theses health issues.“We have an opportunity in front of us to greatly improve the health and wellbeing of lesbian, bisexual andqueer women. We need a response that includes targeted programs considering the unique needs of LBQwomen, and we need research to support that response. Funding better health outcomes for LBQ womenmust become a priority,” she said.“The overwhelming response to last year’s inaugural LBQ Women’s Health Conference is a testamentto how much the community wants and needs this important dialogue. Expanding the scope of theconference to a national level in this second year is a promising sign we’re moving in the right direction.”ACON’s Director of HIV and Sexual Health Karen Price echoed the commissioner’s calls, highlighting thespecific health issues these communities experience.“We are committed to highlighting the particular health issues facing LBQ women such as higher ratesof smoking, higher rates of substance use, poorer mental health and lower screening participation rates.We also know that this subpopulation is not effectively reached by mainstream health messaging orcampaigns,” said Price.“For those of us working to maximise the health and wellbeing of LBQ Women, we know there’s a big jobahead of us to ensure our communities’ health issues are better understood by decision makers.”“ACON is proud to partner with VAC to deliver this conference. Ensuring there is a space for key partners toshare knowledge, experience and thinking on these issues is pivotal. We believe that by bringing womentogether we will foster collaboration, galvanise effort and amplify our messages.”An international keynote speaker for the conference has also been announced: Professor Julie Fish fromDe Montfort University in Leicester. Professor Fish has published widely on human rights and LGBT healthinequalities around the world.“Professor Fish is recognised as a leader in her field, and having her deliver the conference keynote is afantastic opportunity to connect the work we’re doing here to what is happening in LBQ women’s healthworldwide,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.“This conference is the only one of its kind in Australia, and the huge interest in last year’s event provedhow much it is needed, and how much we need to find ways to create opportunities for conversationsabout women’s health specifically.”The LBQ WOmen’s Health Conference will take place on Friday, 27 May, 9.30am – 4.30pm. For moreinformation about the conference and to see the conference program, visit: www.vac.org.au/LBQWHC2016

16 May 2016

VAC marks IDAHOBIT with a focus on trans and gender diverse communities, LGBTI people in rural and regional Victoria

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) is marking International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia andTransphobia (IDAHOBIT) on 17 May with the launch of Equinox, the new name and brand for VAC’s trans and genderdiverse health service, and celebrations at the VACountry service in Bendigo.Equinox encompasses the trans and gender diverse GP service VAC launched in February, offering a wide rangeof services to the trans and gender diverse community from the Fitzroy-based PRONTO! clinic. Led by Dr PaulineCundill, Equinox’s GP service offers general medical care, mental health checks and referrals, a PrEP clinic, supportfor trans people living with HIV, sex work checkups and more.Following the launch there are plans for Equinox to continue to expand, with Hepatitis C treatment available soon,and mental health and alcohol and other drugs services to be introduced in the future.Developing Equinox has been the first activity of VAC’s Trans and Gender Diverse Advisory Group, which worked witha trans, Melbourne-based designer to create the logo and brand.VAC’s Bendigo-based service for the Loddon Mallee region VACountry is also celebrating IDAHOBIT, partnering withthe City of Greater Bendigo, Goldfields Libraries, Bendigo Community Health Services and Headspace Bendigo forevents throughout the day.“IDAHOBIT is a great opportunity for us to reflect on the ways LGBTI organisations can support some of the mostvulnerable people in our communities, and to do something about it,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.“Between the launch of Equinox and the work of our VACountry service in the Loddon Mallee region, VAC is workingwith trans and gender diverse communities and people living in regional and rural Victoria to make sure no one isleft behind.”VAC’s Project Lead for Trans Health Jeremy Wiggins said a peer-led approach to delivering services for the trans andgender diverse community is at the heart of Equinox.“We are very excited to be launching a new gender diverse health service that is run for the community, by thecommunity,” Wiggins said.“Equinox is the only service of its kind in Australia as it is a peer led model where community members can receiverespectful, confidential and knowledgeable healthcare from professionals who understand their experience. Wehave worked closely with the community in establishing Equinox. We will continue to be responsive to their needsand look forward to growing our service with them.”Since 2004, IDAHOBIT has been observed around the world to raise awareness of homophobia, biphobiaand transphobia worldwide, and to provide opportunities to address violence and discrimination against ourcommunities.Event details:Equinox LaunchTuesday, 17 May, 6–8pmPRONTO! Clinic, 175 Rose St, Fitzroywww.facebook.com/events/1136236219797791VACountry IDAHOBIT EventsTuesday, 17 May, 12–2pmBendigo Library, 259 Hargreaves St, Fitzroywww.facebook.com/events/1761438020766556

12 May 2016

Victoria’s Gender and Sexuality Commissioner, Rowena Allen, headlines the 33rd annual International AIDS Candlelight Memorial

The candles will be burning bright as Melbournian’s gather to remember those who lost their lives at the 33rd International AIDS Candlelight Memorial on Sunday, 15 May at 5pm at City Square.“The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial allows us to come together to remember and honour those we have lost to the epidemic,” says keynote speaker Rowena Allen, Victoria’s Gender and Sexuality Commissioner. “We want everyone regardless of their HIV status to engage in breaking down current barriers of HIV stigma and discrimination and empower the next generation with vital information about HIV and AIDS.”This year’s theme, ‘Engage, Educate and Empower’ is presented in partnership with the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC). The evening will be centred around a candle-lighting ceremony to honour the lives lost and showcase personal narratives from young HIV positive speakers as a way to share the journey of those currently living with HIV, their challenges to living well and the struggle to have access to treatment.“While the landscape of HIV prevention is rapidly changing in light of biomedical innovations, it’s important to remember that HIV still affects our community today and continues to have a massive impact globally,” says Simon Ruth, Chief Executive Officer, Victorian AIDS Council. “The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial is an opportunity to honour those lives lost, to reflect on where we’ve come from, and allow that history to inform how we continue to address the issues surrounding HIV and AIDS into the future.”Currently, there are more than 27,000 people living with HIV in Australia. Melbourne has already taken steps towards eliminating new cases of HIV including being the first city in Australia to sign on as a Fast- Track City with a commitment to reach the Joint United Nations’ targets on reducing HIV. Fast-Track Cities pledge to achieve the UNAIDS 90-90-90 HIV treatment targets by 2020 – which aim to ensure that 90 per cent of people who are HIV positive know their status and are on treatment, and that 90 per cent of people on treatment have an undetectable viral load.“HIV testing and treatment have improved but the biggest barrier to reaching the 90-90-90 goal is the stigma and discrimination that is tied to the virus,” says Brent Allen, Chief Executive Officer, Living Positive Victoria. “Australia is in a good position to achieve that goal and the Memorial is another way to educate the community and allow them to be part of the solution.”Started in 1983, the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial takes place every third Sunday in May and is led by a coalition of some 1,200 community organisations in 115 countries. The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, coordinated by the Global Network of People living with HIV (GNP+) is one of the world’s oldest and largest grassroots mobilisation campaigns for HIV awareness in the world.Founded in 1988, Living Positive Victoria Living Positive Victoria is a not for profit,community based organisation representing the wellbeing of all people living with HIV inVictoria. For more information visit livingpostitivevictoria.org.au


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