Looking back at IAS 2012

Published 31, Jul, 2012

What is was like. Megan DePutter files her final post on the experience of being there in Washington, with a few of her personal highlights thrown in.

Looking back at IAS 2012

The conference is over. It’s been an amazing experience and I am so grateful to have been part of it.

A few highlights.

Show Me the Love: Poster Presentation.

One of the reasons I went to the conference was to present the findings of Show Me the Love. Getting the opportunity to present our research in the Poster Exhibition and discuss the results with delegates from around the world was a great opportunity!  But, AIDS 2012 has a strict embargo policy that forbade any dissemination of the findings until after the conference, so now that the conference is over, I look forward to sharing the findings that, I believe, are pretty important.  I will share the findings more comprehensively in the near future with PositiveLite.com readers, but for a quick sneak peak, you can see me telling Mark a little bit about the findings in his latest video on My Fabulous Disease.

Interestingly, as soon as I started describing the research to Mark, he quoted the Denver Principles, which I had also cited in our final report, and which to me, represented one of the reasons this research matters:  The rights of people with AIDS include the right to “as full and satisfying sexual and emotional lives as anyone else.” 

Learning about Video-Blogging 

I know that Mark was disappointed that no cute guys participated, but the breakout sessions at a social media skills-building workshop (led by Mark and a number of people from the Body.com, A Girl Like Me and Positive Women’s Network,) led to a private one-on-one session with me and Mark on video blogging. Woo-hoo! This private attention meant that I got a full-on brain-dump by Mark. This break-out session could have been called “everything Mark knows about video blogging, in 30 minutes.” I know he was exhausted – actually, I was too – so I really appreciated his attention. I learnt more in that session than any other. And, he followed up the next day by visiting my poster! 

A few great sessions 

At an international conference, not all talks are going to be relevant, and not all speakers are going to be good. Some abstracts will misrepresent what information will actually be shared, and celebrities are often not good speech-writers.   If you are looking to get caught up by watching the webcasts, here are my recommendations: 

July 23: The Plenary. Watch the whole thing.  It includes an excellent summary by Dr. Anthony Fauci at the beginning and a good address by Hilary Clinton at the end... but in the middle, it has the best speech given during the entire conference. Not just in my opinion, but, it would seem, in the opinions of many. Whenever I would ask people I met what they have thought of the conference, the answer would always be, “that guy who went on before Hilary was really good.” “That guy” - not a celebrity, nor a politician, is Phil Wilson, from the Black AIDS Institute, and he gave the most powerful speech of the conference. 

July 25: In the Plenary, be sure to watch Linda Scruggs on “Making Women Count:  A Comprehensive Agenda”.  Absolutely fantastic. Coming in after a technically- heavy couple of speeches, Linda makes the issues real by weaving in her personal experiences. She has wit that makes you laugh out loud, but a sensitivity that will bring tears to your eyes. And yet her fervor drives home how important it is to include women as full partners and participants in AIDS programming and research. 

July 26: This plenary was good too. It includes the Ugandan speaker, Dr. Paul Semugoma, addressing the importance of involving MSM (who I mentioned in Friday’s post) as well as some important presentations about sex workers. The fact that sex workers from around the world were excluded because of travel bans was a theme that ran through the conference, thanks to the well-organized protests and usage of props by the committees. Some of these presentations – especially the one by Cheryl Overs, which included a video from sex workers in Russia and Eastern Europe – drove home why these issues are so important and reminded us of the principle, “nothing about us, without us.” 

Renewed commitment 

Many times in this conference I’ve returned to my hotel room with blood-shot eyes and aching shoulders, hoping to get as much sleep as possible before rousing again at 6AM.  The news here has not all been good, in fact there’s been enough troubling information for me to stand before the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, and for the first time in my life, question the words of my hero – that the “moral arc is long, but it bends towards justice.” But, at the same time, I feel a sense of renewed vigor and excitement to the projects we are working on at home, reminded of their importance, and inspired by the passion and commitment of people worldwide. I love this field. I love that I work in an area where we push each other and ourselves to address every element of human rights, that we fight for inclusiveness and equity of every angle.  I love addressing the challenge of making issues like sex and pleasure topics that can be embraced rather than hidden. Doing this involves creativity, compassion, tenacity and, as Elton John said, “love.” I want to see the goals we’ve set for ourselves come true. I want to work in this field until it ceases to exist.