The sixth annual Gay Men's Health Summit took place in Salt Lake City last weekend, bringing together more than 150 gay service providers, activists, health professionals, researchers, spiritual leaders, journalists and regular guys—though no real jocks were known to have attended. Founded in 1999 by activist-writer Eric Rofes and others as a post–AIDS grass-roots movement, the summit prides itself on its reputation for being more talk—and chanting, group-hugging and the like—than action, at least in the political sense of the word.
This year's event was underattended and reportedly less frisky than previous summits, which may have had to do with the fact that Rofes himself was absent. The pioneering health activist had died suddenly of a heart attack in July at age 51. But what the Utah event lacked in numbers, it made up for in diversity in age, ethnicity and occupation, with five gay Salt Lake City police officers the No. 1 newsmakers.
According to the "Salt Lake Tribune," the cops did double duty, not only sharing their coming-out stories as gay men in blue who (mostly successfully) arrested the prejudices of their fellow officers but also issuing warnings about the health costs and criminal consequences of crystal-meth use, complete with harrowing on-the-job anecdotes. Not permitted to represent the department in dress-up while openly gay, the cops did not appear in uniform.
The Gay Men's Health Summit appeal lies, partly, in the contrast between its radical rhetoric and its warm and fuzzy reality. It grew out of a perceived need in the late '90s for an alternative to the gay health establishment's exclusive focus on HIV. It has voiced a scathing criticism of traditional HIV prevention; a controversial tolerance of barebacking, partying and other so-called high-risk activities; and an inspiring call to reclaim gay male sex from two decades' emphasis on disease and victimhood.
To learn more about this year's summit, check out www.utahaids.org.
To read Eric Rofes' writings on the gay men's health movement, check out www.ericrofes.com.