The following report of the 2nd MSM Stakeholders' Meeting was contributed by Action for AIDS (AfA):
Assoc. Prof Roy Chan, President of Action for AIDS, opened the discussion by raising four issues: finding new ways to encourage testing; changing risky behaviour amongst MSM in Singapore, developing more effective ways to get safer sex messages across and developing an action plan.
Dealing with Authorities
Dr Stuart Koe, CEO of Fridae.com, gave an account of the round-table discussion held on November 19, 2004, with Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, other officials from the Ministry of Health, and representatives from NGOs (such as AWARE and AfA) as well as other social organisations. It was the first known meeting of its kind between the government and the gay community.
The round-table discussion started off on a positive note with gay community representatives acknowledging there was a problem within the community, and government officials also acknowledging that they needed to work with the gay community. The Minister proposed a message of 'monogamous partnership' for gays based on reports that many gay men were getting infected from their partners.
The Minister however refused to accept comments from the gay representatives that the unique dynamics of the MSM community meant that conventional notions of monogamy and spousal fidelity could not be imposed on gays in Singapore and expected to be effective (in combating HIV/AIDS).
Alex Au pointed out how the police cracked down on the AfA booth at the Nation.04 party. AfA also reported that they faced difficulty in handing out condoms to freelance sex workers as the girls feared they would be used as incriminating evidence by the police. The Ministry of Health responded by stating that they were unable to influence the workings of other Ministries.
Feedback at the Stakeholders Meeting was that there has been insufficient activism, that a more aggressive stand needs to be taken in dealing with authorities, and that instances of official mishandling of issues need to be highlighted more prominently.
Safer Sex Campaigns
Some suggestions were to increase the intensity, frequency and reach of safer sex messages via various media, to emulate the fund-raising efforts (like Condom Walks, etc) and education drives of other countries; and to use bolder and bigger messages to make more of an impact.
Tan Chong Kee proposed that the gay community run its own publicity campaign and not wait or leave it to the government to run it. The community should pro-actively raise money and run advertisements and have big events with celebrities.
Some proposed safer sex campaigns were along the lines of the Ministry of Health's anti-smoking message: using pictures depicting the horrors of AIDS. Outing, naming and shaming those who had a reputation of unsafe practices, possibly via a high profile and high-traffic website, was suggested. So was the possibility of subsequent contact tracing. However, the instilment of fear was met with some opposition, as it does not address directly the problem of unsafe sexual practices amongst MSM.
Other ideas tossed around to promote safe sex include designation of saunas and clubs as being "HIV-friendly" and informing patrons that the guys they met within those premises could potentially be HIV-positive.
Alex Au suggested that MSM who go for regular HIV testing be given discounts for entry. There was some debate about the efficacy of removing 'dark room' facilities in saunas.
Clarence Singam suggested promoting integration within the community and enhancing its self-esteem, forging a Singaporean gay identity, and paying close attention to the efforts of the vocal anti-gay minority, especially to how they expand their spheres of influence.
A follow-up meeting is expected to be held in the upcoming months.