Dr Wendell Rosevear, O.A.M., M.B.B.S., Dip. RACOG., FRACGP., J.P. (Qual.) is a highly qualified and widely recognized expert on gay and lesbian health. A respected member of Queensland’s gay community, Rosevear helped establish the Queensland AIDS Council (now Queensland Association for Healthy Communities) way back in 1984. Boasting nearly 30 years’ experience in addressing and advocating for better health outcomes for the gay and lesbian community, Rosevear’s work as a GP means he has first hand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work in combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, suicide, depression, alcoholism and drug addiction.
It’s not surprising that when Queensland’s new LNP government decided to convene a HIV/AIDS ministerial advisory committee in July 2012, Dr Rosevear was one of the nine people appointed.
Less than 8 weeks later, Rosevear has resigned in disgust, comparing the actions of the Newman government to those of “a homophobic schoolyard bully”.
So incensed is Rosevear at the ill-advised and potentially lethal policy changes enacted by the LNP, he has agreed to the public release of his letter of resignation to Queensland Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg.
This letter is important. Of course, it is important for the GLBTI (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transexual and intersex) community because it supports my argument that the Newman government prioritises the religious ideology of its Christian right faction over the health and lives of its GLBTI consituents. That, in itself is appalling.
But, more broadly, all Queenslanders should be concerned that Queensland’s public health policies are being influenced by the religious biases of Christian fundamentalists while the specialist advice of medical experts is ignored. When governments start making policy decisions based on ideology rather than evidence, we all suffer.
The Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC) referred to in Dr Rosevear’s resignation letter was originally the Queensland AIDS Council. Under often difficult circumstances, Healthy Communities has worked successfully in combating HIV/AIDS in Queensland for 28 years. One of the first actions of the Newman government was to defund Healthy Communities. This was done with no discussion, prior notification nor even a letter or a phone call from the Minister’s office. Healthy Communities found the rug had been pulled out from under them when they read the story in the morning news.
Contrary to the claims of Messrs. Newman and Springborg (neither of whom have any expertise in this field), HIV/AIDS notifications for men who have sex with men in Queensland is significantly lower than other states which receive better funding for HIV/AIDS prevention.
Further, the efforts of Healthy Communities (among others) has significantly decreased the incidence of HIV/AIDS amongst gay men in Queensland. Because Healthy Communities adopts a ‘world’s best practice’, holistic, community-based, grass-roots approach to HIV/AIDS education and prevention, notifications of the disease in Queensland are substantially lower than in jurisdictions where the ‘public health’ policy approach (now advocated by the Newman government) has been implemented.
For an excellent rebuttal of Minister Springborg’s scurrilous claims against Healthy Communities, I recommend this excellent analysis by Mathew Burke. Healthy Communities have also set up a “Truth Watch” website to respond to the ongoing misinformation and propaganda campaign being waged against the organisation by Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg.
Please read Dr Rosevear’s letter to Mr Springborg. It needs to be far more widely circulated. I will have more to say on this issue in a later post.
Letter to Lawrence Springborg, LNP Minister for Health, Queensland
(Dated 12/9/12 and reprinted here with the kind permission of its author, Dr Wendell Rosevear)
Dear Mr. Springborg,
I write to inform you of my resignation from the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on HIV/AIDS.
I acknowledge your expressed desire to end HIV in Queensland and that you have the power to do what you want.
I also have been committed to end HIV and care for affected individuals since the beginning of the epidemic in Australia and I am sad to resign.
Fundamental to Australia’s international success in preventing HIV is a cooperative, partnership approach between Government and the affected Community and I am committed to that. It is a core part of the Sixth National Strategy and Ottawa Charter for HIV Prevention and you have acted to threaten it.
I was shocked to learn that you de-funded Healthy Communities (QAHC) without talking to them.
I was shocked to learn that two of your Senior Staff are gay and yet you de-funded QAHC.
I was shocked to learn that your Chief of staff wrote to a constituent over the de-funding of QAHC saying that “many sections of the GLBT community, does not view as appropriate spending of the Queensland Health dollar” when referring to QAHC’s focus and programmes, when I have seen thousands in the Community rally twice to support QAHC including the “Rip and Roll ” HIV campaign that had Statewide attention and targeted Men who have sex with Men in many settings: young men, older men, leather men, men in relationships, Asian men and Country Men : David Graham was a Model for the campaign. It also proactively targeted men who seek sex via the internet, an increasing trend. I think you heard the criticism but not the extensive work they do and understand the treasure that is their volunteer and community credibility base.
QAHC also proactively sought to affirm Committed, Honest and Trusting Relationships which actually are a HIV Prevention Strategy. Your government opposed this.
A high percentage of men seek negotiated safety based on trust rather than condoms.
There are only two ways to prevent HIV, Condoms or Trust. Both can break and so understanding is needed if they are to work. Only people who value themselves get to use condoms or be honest, to achieve trust. Homophobia works against HIV Prevention.
Homophobia pushes people into denial where they may get married to prove they are not gay, they may seek sex in the “safety of Anonymity” and put their wives, themselves and others at risk.
Homophobia makes people are afraid to even test. Michael Kirby points out that Commonwealth Countries where Homosexuality is illegal have a higher HIV Rate and in homophobic Jamaica the rate of HIV infection in Gay men has risen from 10% in 1986 to 33% in 2012.
It is valid for QAHC to act against homophobia to reduce HIV.
Your actions have been to divide and conquer QAHC and now I see you also plan to Silence.
I say this, as it is public knowledge that you will write into future Contracts for Community Organizations getting 50% of funding from Queensland Health or other Qld Government agencies that they must not “advocate for State or Federal Legislative Change” or ” include links on their websites to organizations’ websites that advocate for State of Federal legislative change.”
That is undemocratic. To deliver a “king hit” by defunding without talking and then seek to silence parallels the actions of a homophobic schoolyard bully.
I have a long enough view of history to remember how the Qld AIDS Council -Now QAHC was the home of the push for the decriminalization of Homosexuality in Queensland in 1990.Before that we had to do coded testing for HIV or men wouldn’t test for fear of going to prison. I cared for the last man imprisoned over homosexuality.
I have lobbied for justice despite which Government was in power, to get Anti-vilification laws after my patient Michael was vilified and murdered. I have lobbied for and end to homosexual panic as a defence for murder but your Government has chosen since the election to not address this. I lobby since 1990 for Condoms in prison rather than the hypocrisy of educating prisoners to use condoms and then banning them. I petitioned to change the Rape laws in 1997 as before that, only women could be raped and I have cared for 1,131 male victims of sexual assault. I lobby to respect committed, trusting recognised relationships as a way of ending toxic homophobia in our society.
If you don’t want gay men to have high risk sex in public toilets, you must support them to have sex in the bedroom of their homes. This is HIV prevention.
When your Government won’t change the law to end homosexual panic for a non-violent consenting sexual advance, won’t support committed, respected relationships and wastes money on police entrapping men having sex in toilets or sex workers, you are acting to feed homophobia which increases HIV transmission risk.
I know gay Christians who think taking a condom with them is to “plan to sin”. When they then have opportunistic, impulsive sex they believe they deserve to get HIV as punishment.
You can say “Use condoms” until you are blue in the face and it may make you feel good. However the truth is until people value themselves they don’t use condoms, don’t take tests, don’t take medicines once diagnosed and don’t tell others about their HIV status or risky behaviours.
It is vital you understand that the government and community must work together to support individuals valuing themself and each other and that was what QAHC sought to do. There are questions about QAHC’s “shopping list” for community development to Andrew Fraser, the Ex Treasurer, before the last election but did you ask them to show you their HIV funding requests to the Health Minister or talk to them to clarify before judging them?
When we went to the first MAC meeting the TV Advertisement using the Grim Reaper had already been made. The Website has been made without any consultation with MAC and every page of the website features the Grim Reaper as the only picture.
I think your strategy is to want MAC to give your prearranged agenda credibility.
I cannot be a rubber stamp.
Fear is a powerful short term motivator but can actually push some people further into denial where they don’t want to test as they don’t want to know. Many people are immune to fear as they think all they have to do is “take a pill” as they have not seen the multiple deaths as those of us who have been there from the beginning.
Love is a more powerful long term motivator, where people love themselves and each other and so are free to be honest, free to self care, free to talk, free to use condoms or trust.
I will not support a Fear based campaign. I will support a Love based campaign.
I acknowledge that the MAC committee wants to prevent HIV but I have seen the role of the committee is to give you advice without fear or favour and for you to decide whether to accept the advice.
While there was not a vote, there was a “strong consensus” ( See Minutes Page 5) by the committee to support you and QAHC as the representative of the majority affected community to have a dialogue to re-establish a workable relationship and to fund QAHC even if you want to name the limitations of the use of the money. I had hoped you would be open to this as I once heard you speak at a Justice Mediation Conference about your belief in Restorative Justice and Mediation for Resolution.
I even offered to be or find a mediator for you.
However, I note two in the committee just “want to move forward” as they pre-empt your response to re-establishing a partnership with QAHC will be negative. When I placed these issues on the agenda, I was informed that because of “collaboration with the Senior Director and on advice from the Minister’s office” the agenda has been devised and “your issues have not been added on this occasion”.
Yesterday I receive your clear decision not to revisit or fund QAHC and so I will not raise it any further with MAC. I have no agenda to waste MAC’s time. My only agenda was to preserve a cooperative, respectful working relationship to prevent HIV.
Our society uses an adversarial process in Parliament and in Justice but when it comes to an epidemic called HIV we can’t afford to do anything but be cooperative. We can’t let personality conflicts, differences of opinion or Party Politics rob us of HIV Prevention. I invite you to question whether your action to de-fund QAHC and not talk to them and then silence them in the future is democratic or efficient in HIV prevention.
I also invited MAC to address HIV transmission in Prison as a Health rather than a political decision. It has been transmitted once and there is a risk prisons can become incubators of HIV like they are for Hep C. Sadly, I think governments of all colours are only likely to act if sued rather than act to prevent disease and save life. NSW and Canada have condoms in prisons without the problems some guards may fear in their prejudice.
I also believe no child should leave school without the knowledge to protect themselves from HIV through Condoms or Trusting relationships. Currently the difference in age of consent for boys and girls interferes with HIV education for males between 16 and 18. Education should be a right.
I see Sex workers as being at risk of going underground with the current practice of Police entrapment and believe that HIV education and empowerment is vital if sex workers are to prevent HIV transmission. I am happy to discuss this further.
I was surprised that MAC had to prioritize the employment of a Statistician and the funding of the Seroconversion Study (which analyses how people got infected) as these had lost their previous funding.
I was surprised in the MAC meeting to learn that the Health Department didn’t have a Heterosexual HIV prevention programme despite that being their mandate. It is unfair to blame QAHC for all of the rise in HIV in Queensland.
I was shocked when Qld Positive People QPP was asked to conduct the Periodic Survey which looks at risks behaviour to target prevention but as they didn’t have staff, asked if they could subcontract to QAHC Staff that you said “No”. It was then I realized you had strong opinions against QAHC. I know that the survey is going ahead now and respect that a resolution has been found using an ex QAHC employee.
My commitment to MAC is to not waste a minute of time of the committee once your decision is clear after hearing our suggestion, hence my resignation is appropriate as I believe in collaborative, cooperative partnership approach with dialogue to process differences of opinions.
I am open to future communication if you so choose.
All the best.
Dr. Wendell J. Rosevear.
The document that Mr. Springborg tabled in Parliament to “Show that Healthy Communities QAHC had lost their HIV Focus” was actually a Pre-election survey given to both the ALP and LNP to canvas their commitment to LGBT Health and Community Development. QAHC cooperatively developed another separate document with all the Non-government HIV Prevention agencies outlining the HIV Prevention expectations of whatever new Government was elected. The one tabled was the LGBT Health and Community development document which was sent to Mr. Andrew Fraser, the Previous ALP Treasurer.
It would have been a more truthful picture and fairer to table both the ALP and LNP’s responses to that Questionaire, plus the Collective HIV Prevention expectation document, plus QAHC’s Freely available “Sexual Health Program Strategic Statement 2009-2014 which states as its first Goal : “REDUCE THE TRANSMISSION OF HIV,HEP C and STIs. He could have also tabled the detailed QAHC Contract with Queensland Health that outlines their HIV Prevention work and which is managed separately to all QAHCs other projects and reviewed every six months. There is only safety in the whole truth.