On the inauguration of Sex Worker Pride, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) joins the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) and the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW) in announcing our full and unwavering support for HIV2020, given the IAS decision to host the 2020 International AIDS Conference (AIDS2020) in a country that has legal travel restrictions for sex workers - the USA - for the second time in a decade. We stand in solidarity with GNP+, ICW, INPUD, ITPC, MPact, and Mexican HIV activists, who we are working with to organise the community-led alternative event on 5 - 7 July 2020 in Mexico City.
NSWP has long been vocal in its concerns over the choice of the USA as a host country for AIDS2020. Travel restrictions affecting sex workers, people who use drugs and people with a criminal record, as well as people from predominantly Muslim countries and some countries in Central America, create a significant barrier for many sex workers to participate in the conference. Specifically, the USA legally restricts visas for sex workers, people who use drugs and people who have two or more convictions, which given the criminalisation of sex work in many countries, will preclude many sex workers, as well as other criminalised key populations, from attending and participating in the AIDS2020 in San Francisco and Oakland. The very serious deterioration of respect for human rights under the current Trump administration has made the country a hostile and unsafe place for our community and other criminalised, stigmatised and discriminated communities, including people living with HIV.
The decision to host AIDS2020 in the USA is at odds with the five values of the International AIDS Society, which include being human rights-focused and inclusive and encouraging of meaningful engagement with people living with HIV and key populations. In 2012, the IAC was held in Washington and as a protest about the USA travel restrictions NSWP organised the Sex Worker Freedom Festival, an alternative event held in Kolkata, India, which was attended by hundreds of sex workers from around the world. The decision to hold another conference in the USA, a mere 8 years later, is unacceptable.
Even before the announcement, an alliance of global, regional and national networks of key populations, people living with HIV, treatment activists, and supporters opposed AIDS2020 being held in San Francisco and Oakland. Following the official announcement they came together to organise an international community-led alternative event HIV2020: Community Reclaiming the Response. HIV2020 will run concurrently with AIDS2020, from 5 - 7 July, and will be key population-led, inter-disciplinary, sex positive and will focus on community-led responses to HIV.
On 6th September, UNAIDS announced its support for HIV2020, stating: “UNAIDS recognizes the importance of HIV2020 and the reasons for it being organized. UNAIDS supports efforts to mobilize the resources needed to organize and hold this conference…. UNAIDS will work with the organizers of HIV2020 to make every effort to ensure that people living with and most affected by HIV are equal partners in global deliberations about HIV research and their real-world implications and the overall future of the AIDS response”.
NSWP recognises that some sex worker activists, particularly those in the USA, may wish to attend AIDS2020. NSWP is not calling for a boycott by its members; and acknowledges and supports the role of our communities and groups of people living with HIV who will be there advocating for a rights-based, community-led domestic agenda. However, NSWP will not participate in AIDS2020, as one of the co-organisers of HIV2020, NSWP will focus on ensuring sex workers, gay and bisexual men, people who use drugs and transgender people from across the world will be able to safely participate in an alternative event in Mexico City that allows them to strategise and set community priorities.
We encourage our members and other organisations to support HIV2020 by officially endorsing HIV2020.