Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Worldwide Support, Education and Advocacy: A Report from Mexico City's World AIDS Conference

Kim Jones, our Senior Field and Policy Coordinator, reports back from her trip (along with PFLAG National President John Cepek and his wife Char Cepek) to Mexico City for the World AIDS Conference...

The World AIDS Conference was by far, the largest event I have ever attended. It was incredibly moving to see thousands of people all gathered in one place, with a common goal, from such different backgrounds.

PFLAG worked in coalition with Family Acceptance Project, let by Caitlin Ryan (PhD social worker and researcher at the Cesar Chavez Institute and Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality) and AsociaciĆ³n Internacional De Familias Por La Diversidad Sexual, led by Irma Anhalt (Mexico City support group leader) and Luis Perelman (counselor and owner of the local progressive resource store El Armario Abierto). We met so many wonderful people involved in both these organizations and heard many moving stories of how families have played both positive and negative roles with in the lives of their loved ones with HIV/AIDS. I must express my deepest gratitude to everyone who made our networking zone possible.

The slogan for our coalition was “Family Acceptance and Support = Hope, Health and Well-Being.” We truly did we see how critical this slogan was throughout our involvement in the World AIDS Conference. In addition, we saw the truth of this slogan in attending the Mexico City support group hosted by Irma Anhalt and attended by over 70 people. The traditional importance of family in Latin American cultures brought person after person through Irma’s door on Tuesday evening to sit talk with each other, for as long as seven hours (4:30pm-11:30pm), about their loved ones and the coming out process.

John Cepek, Char Cepek, and I had the opportunity to host a smaller support group on Wednesday at the Networking Zone. People were moved to tears considering the importance of family in their lives and the impact families can have in both positive and negative ways. One mother named Rosa, who has become an activist after the death of her child due to AIDS, shared her story in the press conference and in our networking zone. She said, “I believe that my homophobia and the homophobia of my family contributed to my son contracting AIDS. If we had been more accepting, maybe he would be alive today.” Her story was powerful and rang true for many people listening.

Also on Wednesday, Caitlin Ryan presented her research findings about the impact of parental acceptance on risk behaviors in youth. Her study will be published next year. During her presentation she discussed the political responsibility of LGBT organizations. She shared that for such a long time, the term “family values” has been used by our political opponents as a reason to work against the movement. We need to reclaim the term “family values” as crucial part of our movement. Family acceptance plays such a critical role in the work that we do at PFLAG and other organizations that model the PFLAG support group globally.

PFLAGers Nila Marrone and Carmen Robello, leaders of the PFLAG chapter of New York for Families of Color and Allies, did a great job of discussing the work they do in their chapter and in mentoring chapters throughout the world. Nila gave an excellent presentation about the importance of recognizing the gender/sexuality spectrum in safe schools work. Safe schools are an excellent education and advocacy opportunity for many PFLAG chapters. Suzanne Greenfield, our Safe Schools Coordinator, consults with many chapters on finding these opportunities in their local schools.

Participating in the World AIDS Conference allowed those of us involved to be mindful, more than ever, of just how important all three of our mission areas--support, education, and advocacy--are to the success of building chapters and relationships with people who are new to PFLAG. We discussed our newest educational program, Straight for Equality, in interactions with so many progressive people who have the potential to be fabulous straight allies. Also, with such a large transgender audience, we were able to talk about PFLAG’s advocacy historically and today alongside the transgender community. As we were one of the few U.S. LGBT organizations in participation at the conference, many attendees expressed their appreciation for PFLAG’s involvement. People from all corners of the globe saw that PFLAGers do more than sit in a support circle. We leave our support circles to impact the world in very real ways.

-Kim Jones

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