Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Three HIV Groups Merge in SF Without Community Debate

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The dominant HIV service provider in the San Francisco Bay Area, the SF AIDS Foundation, just got a bit bigger today. In a news release on the foundation's web site, they herald merging with two smaller groups, Magnet, an HIV/STD testing and treatment facility in the Castro neighborhood, and the Stonewall Project, which is dedicated to helping gay men addicted to meth.
It may not be a bad thing at all to have smaller service providers gobbled up by the behemoth SF AIDS Foundation, which in recent years was seen less and less as providing much in terms of gay-specific programs, but there is one very troubling aspect to this merger - absolutely no community-wide discussion before it happens.
The release states the following:
"Ask yourselves, 'what would a healthy gay community look like?' and hold us responsible for an answer," [SFAF executive director Mark] Cloutier said.
Here's one answer. A healthy gay community would hold talks in the community before mergers took place, and that would give all of us a chance to discuss the merits, or lack thereof, over a merger. The discussions would also provide much transparency to the process of merging, allow stakeholders the chance to really buy-in and take ownership of the groups joining together. Who could object to that?
But as it stands now, the merging of Magnet and the Stonewall Project into the AIDS foundation has the appearance of a top-down decision made without much, if any, community input and debate.
This sort of decision-making process, one conducted behind closed doors with no public scrutiny, is in keeping with recent changes in the SF world of AIDS.
The SF health department recently announced it was undertaking a major restructuring of the AIDS Office, which would no longer be a stand-alone piece of DPH, and was being integrated into other parts of the department. There wasn't a single town hall forum before this change was announced.
We've also seen DPH launch two new social marketing campaigns, one to encourage disclosure about HIV sero status and another raising awareness about speed use. Neither campaign was discussed in the community before they were splashed all over billboards and bus shelters in the city.
At the same time, we've heard empty and unkept promises from the SF DPH and HIV prevention groups that 2007 would be the year in which we'd have debates about the effectiveness and hostile language of social marketing campaigns targeting gay men.
Well, today is May 1, the start of the fifth month for 2007, and no debates about the HIV and meth ads have been held, and as far as I know, none are scheduled.
A healthy gay community would be one that is fully transparent about operations and mergers of service providers, and also holds ongoing open dialogues.


Unknown said...

Thank you for addressing the issues of HIV and meth. They are important issues to address.

Anonymous said...

I depise "top down" edicts, BUT I have sat through enough "community forums" on a number of issues in the LGBT community to understand why.

WHY: Because most community forums in the LGBT community are NOT attended by the people in question (e.g., meth users) and are attended by a bunch of wingnuts who just want to hear themselves talk. The icing on the cake is that those with the biggest mouths at these forums, don't do SHIT for the LGBT community except shoot off their mouths.