Monday, March 25, 2013

University of Tennessee Uninvites African-American HIV/AIDS Symposium

Posted By on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 at 4:21 PM

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is rescinding its invitation to host an HIV/AIDS Community Summit, bowing to pressure from conservative state legislators.

The Red Door Foundation's "Saving Ourselves" Symposium, which is scheduled for June 6-9, is geared toward members of the African-American LGBTQ community, and the bulk of the conference will focus on clinical research, treatment, and prevention of HIV/AIDS. The Community Summit portion of the four-day event was slated to take place at the UT Alumni Center.

Shelby County represents 40 percent of all new HIV cases in Tennessee and 90 percent of those infections happen within the African-American population.

"We're just trying to come in and do a community education event," says Dustin James, board chair of the conference and Executive Director of the MidSouth AIDS Fund. "It's something they said was in line with their mission as a university."

James says the "Saving Ourselves" Symposium was approved by the university last fall, but recent scrutiny over sexual health events on the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus has had a domino effect across the state.

Earlier this month, word got out about the inaugural "Sex Week" event organized by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness Tennessee (SEAT) group of UT-Knoxville. The week, April 5-12, is dedicated to promoting a "comprehensive sex-positive understanding of sexuality that promotes sexual health, pleasure, and empowerment."

In response, Sen. Stacey Campfield (R), Rep. Bill Dunn (R), and Rep. Susan Lynn (R), pressured University of Tennessee to strip SEAT and Sex Week of its state funding or face inquiry by the Senate Education Committee. Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and President Joe DiPietro quickly announced that the $11,145 originally approved for Sex Week would be withdrawn.

Shortly thereafter, James and other organizers of the "Saving Ourselves" Symposium, received an email stating that they would no longer be allowed to host their event on the UTHSC campus. They were asked to remove the UT logo from all promotional materials.

"The UT system which is governed by the president's office on the Knoxville campus is undergoing revision of policy and procedure regarding usage of campus facilities," the email said.

James says the event will go on regardless, but the conference organizers are still hoping the university will reverse its position.

"We chose this location for a lot of reasons. It's along the trolley lines and a bus line. We're trying to gear this toward the African-American LGBTQ community, and we wanted to make sure it would be the easiest accessible venue," says James. "We also wanted to have up to 12 different classes taught at one time and get as much educational information out there at one time, and this location allows for that."

A representative of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center could not be reached for comment.

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