Michael Emanuel Rajner

Orlando hosts the 2010 United States Conference on AIDS

Filed By Michael Emanuel Rajner | September 10, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: ADAP, HIV/AIDS, National Minority AIDS Council, NMAC, PLWHA, United States Conference on AIDS, USCA

Once again I'm finding myself back in my closet trying to decide what to pack in my suitcase for the 2010 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) USCA2010_300x250a.pnghosted in Orlando, Florida from Sunday, September 12 to Wednesday, September 15, 2010.

This will be my fifth time attending the conference where nearly 3,000 case managers and physicians, public health workers, advocates, people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) and policymakers with gather to build national support networks, exchange the latest information and learn cutting-edge tools to address the challenges of HIV/AIDS. USCA is sponsored by the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) and the nation's largest HIV/AIDS gathering.

As an activist living with AIDS, each year, the conference provides me with amazing opportunities to learn, grow and discover. The conference is far from a resort get-a-way. The days and nights are grueling, and for people like myself who daily battle fatigue, the travel and conference can be rough and costly.

That reminds me, I need to pack extra-strength Imodium!

This year I'm both excited and proud that NMAC's Executive Director Paul Kawata recognized the urgency to ensure that the community most affected is provided with resources to guarantee and support their participation in the discussions. Each year NMAC sets aside a number of scholarships for people living with HIV/AIDS to assist with conference registration, hotel stay and/or travel.

IMG00444-20100713-1736.jpgThis year, NMAC set aside an additional 40 scholarships for people living with HIV/AIDS around the nation whose health and well-being depend on AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) to sustain their daily lives. This year, NMAC is encouraging the most adversely affected and vulnerable of PLWHA's an opportunity to take center stage and be part of the solution for more than 3,500 in the nation on a wait list for AIDS-medications. These scholarship recipients will be the face for all those who are suffering with anxiety wondering if they will have safe access to their life-saving medications that help them go about daily life.

For scholarship recipients, it is not going to be a free ride. They will have the opportunity to allow themselves to dive into workshops, network with peers and identify on how use the new found knowledge and connections to be leaders in their own community when they return home.

While in Orlando, I hope to have the chance and meet with some of the scholarship recipients and share their story and their hopes.

With you in the fight!

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You GO, Michael! Keep the posts coming, too- they're great!

Looking forward to meeting up with you while here.

We at Philerico expect a steady stream of reporting... from the beach! :-) Also, sexy boy iPhone pics.

Enjoy yourselves at the conference Mark and Michael!

Phil, there will be several reports going up. This morning I'm going to work on one about yesterday's opening ceremony with the AIDS Quilt.

As for photos of sexy men on the beach, Orlando is not near a beach, but I'll make a special effort to take a photo of some sexy men at the conference. I'm certain Mark will capture some of the more lighthearted laughable events...I wish I could look at life through his looking lens.

Just for the sake of being au contrare, the thorny one, if you will? ...As a PWA, I'd be much more comfortable if conference organizers would choose cities that are more 'hurtin' than Orlando. I realize that Florida's HIV infrastructure is not the best, but there are states and cities across America that are hurting more, could quite frankly use the business, and as community's would learn/benefit more for the experience of hosting. And Michael; I don't doubt one bit that you will be working very hard while there, as will virtually all participants.
The national PWA community will no doubt benefit from all of your efforts. But even saying that; the Orlando destination stills smack a bit of being resort-ish on the face of it, and I'm a bit surprised that organizers aren't a tad more sensitive to that? Whatever; hope you have a great experience and know that we readers will be looking forward to your reports.

Jimbo, I'm not certain how the conference organizers goes about selecting the location for USCA each year. I do know that availability and ability to host such an event are factored into their decision along with proximity to a major airport.

Several years ago when I served as national secretary for Campaign to End AIDS, I adopted the strong believe of use community settings for grassroots organizing. However, for a conference this size, doing so is a real challenge.

While it may look bad that the events are hosted at large conference centers, sometimes resort destinations, they provide participants a relaxed atmosphere to learn and grow.

The city of Orlando certainly needed the conference. The level of poverty of overwhelming. The number of underserved Latino's is staggering. Despite Disney being located adjacent to Orlando, the people are very conservative and at one time not too long ago, homes were reported to have been burnt down because a person living with HIV/AIDS resided in that home. Sadly, AIDS-related stigma is alive and thriving in Orlando.

Last year, when USCA was hosted in San Francisco, tours were organized for participants to visit with area AIDS service organizations (ASO's). The tour provided an invaluable opportunity for people to witness how ASO's is major urban areas meet the needs of clients. Some of the tours included visits to harm reduction centers (crack stem and syringe-exchange programs). I am still in horror reflecting back on last year's conference when I witnessed outreach workers find ways to connect with human lives out society easily discards. Each interaction was an attempt to decrease the self-inflicted harm and an attempt to bring the individual into care and treatment.

No matter where USCA is hosted, there is always a great wealth of knowledge waiting to be tapped and a city with secrets to be learned.

The challenge for our conference is that it is too large for most cities without having to go into a convention center. Convention centers are so expensive that we only use them as a last resort.

As a result, there are 14 cities in the US that can hold this meeting. I know that seems crazy, but that is the reality of doing a meeting the size of the United States Conference on AIDS.

The cities with hotels that are large enough: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas, Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, New York City, Boston, Washington, DC, Miami and Orlando.

We have not gone to New York City and/or Boston because we have not received a room rate that is reasonable. We are going to Chicago in 2011. Usually we could not afford this city, but because of the economic downturn, we were able to book it in Nov (which is off peak).

I hope that helps to clarify our process. Please feel free to email me at [email protected] if you have any more questions