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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.

12 Jan 2017

VAC responds to reports of homophobic violence at Footscray Park

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has been made aware of several incidents of violence being committed in parks and public places around Melbourne, particularly at Footscray Park.

The acts of violence have included homophobic abuse and verbal threats of violence; and actual physical violence. In many instances, individuals have been lured into secluded areas then assaulted by large groups of men.

These attacks are terrible and inexcusable. Every person has the right to safety, and should be able to visit public places without fear of violence or intimidation.

VAC has informed Victoria Police about these attacks, and is committed to working with them to make Footscray Park — and all public places — safe places for our community.

Victoria Police employs a group of specially trained officers who act as contacts for members of the LGBTI community. Known as LGBTI Liaison Officers (or GLLOs), these officers can take reports and complaints from the LGBTI community and ensure they are handled appropriately and effectively.

A complete list of GLLOs is available on the Victoria Police website at www.police.vic.gov.au/content.asp?Document_ID=30300.

“If you are the victim of violence, or observe it happening, it is critical that you report it to the police. This helps raise awareness of homophobic violence, and helps the police in their efforts to prevent it,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.

“When reporting to the police you can ask to speak with that station’s GLLO. If you are not comfortable approaching GLLOs, you can contact VAC, and we can pass on any information on incidents to the releavnt authorities.”

To report an incident to VAC, contact Michael Whelan on (03) 9865 6700. If you have witnessed or been the victim of violence, or need someone to talk to, please contact VAC’s counselling team on (03) 9865 6700.

Alternately, you can contact the Gay & Lesbian Switchboard on 1800 184 527 for free, confidential, and anonymous telephone counselling and referrals.

10 Jan 2017

Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey returns to 2017 Midsumma Carnival

During the 2017 Midsumma Festival the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) will again bring the most significant survey of gay and bisexual men’s sexual health in Australia, the Gay Community Periodic Survey, to Melbourne.

Along with the Centre for Social Research in Health (CSRH) and the Kirby Institute at UNSW, VAC will be conducting the Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey in 2017, beginning at this year’s Midsumma Carnival on Sunday, 15 January. From Carnival until the following Sunday, 22 January, gay and bisexual men who have sex with men (MSM) will be asked to participate in the survey at a range of locations across Melbourne, including medical clinics, social venues such as pubs and bars, and sex-on-premises venues.

Only Melbourne men who have had sex with another man in the past five years should complete a survey form, as well as men who don’t live in Melbourne but who regularly participate in the Melbourne gay community. The survey is inclusive of trans men who have sex with men.

The survey is completely anonymous, and the results are communicated later in the year via LGBTI and other media, through public meetings and seminars, in online reports, and through journal articles.

In 2016 the results attracted significant media attention when the survey revealed “open relationship” to be the most common relationship status among the men surveyed.

First conducted in Melbourne in 1998, the short survey takes a snapshot of gay men’s sexual practices related to the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. The survey is important because it gives a snapshot of the lives of gay and homosexually active men in Melbourne from year to year. It allows comparisons to be made over time and for a picture to emerge of the changes in sexual practices and partnering habits, drug use, HIV and STI rates, and testing habits.

“All same-sex attracted guys are welcome to participate, including trans guys: gay or bi, HIVnegative or HIV-positive, we want you to fill out the survey. Not all questions need to be answered by everyone. There are specific questions for men who are living with HIV and general questions that all can answer,” said VAC’s Tex McKenzie.

“Look for the survey in bars, dance clubs, medical clinics and sex-on-premises venues in the week after Midsumma Carnival if you don’t see us there."

VAC CEO Simon Ruth added: “The information we get every year from the Periodic Survey is invaluable. This data helps us know what issues are affecting our community, and where to focus our efforts when it comes to health promotion—from HIV and STI prevention to mental health and alcohol and drug issues.”


22 Dec 2016

HIV organisations condemn stigmatising disclosure in media

Harmful reporting has occurred across multiple media outlets today involving the disclosure of an individual’s HIV and hepatitis C status and the use of highly stigmatising language in making this disclosure.

The public disclosure of a person’s HIV status without their consent compromises Australia’s efforts to prevent HIV transmission. When people worry that their HIV status might be disclosed, they are less likely to test for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and, in the case of someone living with HIV or viral hepatitis, to access care to commence life-saving treatment.

Confidentiality and privacy are fundamental human rights. People living with HIV often report discrimination and stigma, which is almost always based on fear and misinformation. The publication of a person’s HIV status can expose them to abuse and discrimination, and perpetuates the idea that it is acceptable to disclose a person’s private health information without their consent.

In the context of this story, the young man’s HIV status is irrelevant. The use of this information is sensationalist, and portrays people living with HIV and viral hepatitis as harmful and dangerous when evidence shows that the majority of people go to considerable efforts to improve their health and prevent onward transmission.

Describing the person in question as an “HIV sufferer” contributes to the false notion that people living with HIV are powerless victims. People living with HIV are leaders in the HIV response, and continue to be invaluable partners in educating others about HIV, in preventing new cases of HIV, and in making advances in HIV science. In countries like Australia, HIV is not a death sentence. People living with HIV can live long and fulfilling lives, and deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect afforded to others.

We encourage the Australian media to adopt better journalistic standards regarding future reporting of HIV and viral hepatitis. The HIV Media Guide produced by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) at www.hivmediaguide.org.au establishes standards by which HIV can be reported in language that is neutral and non-offensive.

Shine SA                                              Positive Life SA

Hepatitis SA                                        Victorian AIDS Council


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


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