While all eyes were on Denver in recent weeks, nearby Boulder was approaching the tenth anniversary of another historic convention: the first National Gay Men’s Health Summit. In 1999, hundreds of gay men gathered in Colorado for workshops and community-building that focused on gay men’s health and wellness. The Summit was a grassroots effort bringing together like-minded gay men and their allies to both acknowledge our problems and find solutions that drew on our creativity and honored our ability to help each other when nothing or no one else was forthcoming, as we famously did when AIDS struck our communities.
The gay men’s health movement grew out of resistance to a national trend of increasing moralistic condemnation of gay men and lesbians. This was further compounded by an unintended consequence of the AIDS crisis: a persistent reframing of gay men, their sex, and their lives in negative, pathological terms. This negativity pervaded even well-meaning efforts, such as HIV prevention programs, which were often based on fear and control, and which, ironically, have been rejected by many gay men resulting in a rapid increase of high risk sexual behavior.
The image of the flawed homosexual is both internalized by gay men themselves and is expressed in all types of media. Out-of-control gay men are often inaccurately portrayed as a menace to the society (remember the new strain of drug-resistant HIV set off by the promiscuous gay meth addict in New York? Or the panic about MRSA carried by gay men and spreading into society-at-large in San Francisco? Both proved false.)
The gay community certainly has serious problems ranging from addiction to epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases, but portraying us and everything we do as pathological, or at best sadly pitiful, is increasingly destructive. The LGBTQ community has an amazing gift for healing both ourselves and our communities. The gay men’s health movement seeks solutions grounded in affirmative concepts of health and wellness.
At the closing in Boulder back in 1999, a call went out to continue these gatherings both at a national and regional level. The call was heeded and now the seventh Southeast Regional Gay Men’s Health Summit will take place in Fort Lauderdale from November 7–9. Nearly 200 men from around the southeastern United States are expected to converge for networking, workshops, and a lot of fun during this exciting weekend.
These are gay and bisexual men of diverse backgrounds, who share a common interest in promoting better physical, spiritual and mental health. Participants will represent urban, suburban, and rural areas from throughout the southeast. Men of color, gay youth, and gay men who have never before participated in formal health promotion efforts are especially invited to join the Summit. The program will include plenary sessions, workshops, and social activities designed to increase health awareness and a greater sense of community.
Break out sessions will be organized around four conference tracks: health and prevention, community building, relationships, and personal development. Workshop topics range from serious to light, including sex and intimacy in crystal meth recovery, living with HIV, spirituality and the gay community, and one called “You call that a swimmer’s build?” about “creativity” in Internet profiles. There will be several plenary dinners with nationally-known speakers, including Chris Bates, Director of Health and Human Services Office of HIV/AIDS Policy in Washington, D.C.
Would you like to participate? Workshop proposals can be submitted online until September 22. There are a number of scholarships available to make the Summit affordable to everyone. See the website for registration and scholarship details.
In my practice I hear a nearly-universal complaint about a lack of community outside bars and clubs. Here is an opportunity to have a great time and experience other gay men in an affirmative and powerful weekend. Join us!
Southeast Regional Gay Men’s Health Summit
November 7-9, 2008
Embassy Suites Hotel
1100 Southeast 17 Street
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33316