NAESM exists to serve Black, gay and bisexual men. Full stop. This tenet has been central to the organization’s mission in the fight to reduce new HIV infections and to provide care for those living with HIV, including Atlantans who do not exist within the targeted group for over 30 years. It’s with the same laser focus on Black, gay and bisexual men, one of the most heavily impacted groups by HIV, that NAESM’s African American MSM Leadership Conference on Health Disparities and Social Justice, the nation’s largest annual convening dedicated to exploring HIV prevention, care, treatment, policy, and research, will escape the cold of the Southeast in January for the warmth of sunny Los Angeles.
The annual conference is an opportunity for NAESM through advocacy, services, and education to provide local and national leadership on a plethora of health issues facing Black, gay and bisexual men. With dozens of similar conferences occurring throughout the year, Dr. Alvan Quamina, NAESM’s Executive Director, says there is one thing that attendees value that separates NAESM’s conference from all others.
“I, too, remember coming to NAESM conferences as the conference where it was us,” Quamina says. “You would find us in all the other conferences. We'd be there. We'd be present. But we'd be surrounded by lots of women and lots of straight men. You go to a NAESM conference and it was just us—a few allies—but Black gay [and bisexual] men. And that was very affirming for me.”
After going completely virtual in 2020, the 4-day conference is scheduled to be in person with strict COVID-19 guidelines, including vaccination, on-site testing, and mask requirements.
“Registrants are required to be vaccinated. The expectation is 100% masking, 100% of the time when we’re in sessions. We’re also going to have sanitizing stations for cleaning,” Quamina says. “And we're reserving the right to ask people to test for whatever reason, which is for everybody’s safety.”
Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, CDC’s Director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, will deliver the keynote address during the 2022 conference. Quamina tells The Reckoning that he hopes the convening of a federal panel during the conference to strategize around ending the HIV epidemic will be contextualized in the age of COVID-19.
“I am determined in this conference to make the connection between our ability to come up with COVID vaccines—plural—that are on the street in less than a year, and our inability so far to come up with a single HIV vaccine that has hit the street. It seems to me that we should have probably learned how to get it done,” he says.
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