Article Title:NZAF clarifies its position following criticism
Author or Credit:NZAF
Published on:31st January 2003 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:60
Text:New Zealand AIDS Foundation director Kevin Hague addresses and rebuts comments made by editor Jay Bennie in an editorial column, expressing concern at the way matters relating to the NZAF were raised and addressing serious concerns about the column's content. A week ago [Jay Bennie] wrote and published on your website a column headed up "The NZAF: Rumblings of Discontent". From our point of view, it would also have been helpful to be able to present our perspective on the issues you raised and to correct some errors of fact. We believe this would have been fairer. Nonetheless, I hope that you will publish this letter on the website as at least a partial response to your column. I'd like to begin by noting that the New Zealand AIDS Foundation has a very strong identity as a gay community based organisation. The relationships we have with and with your other business, Lateshift, as well as with other gay community media and organisations are very important to us. We welcome feedback on our plans and on our performance - even if this is negative - and believe that it is important for the gay community to continue to be well informed on HIV/AIDS issues and collectively committed to both HIV prevention and support for people living with HIV. It is therefore with some puzzlement that I greet the news that "a number of informed and community-conscious people" have approached you about their concerns. Can I suggest to anyone who has done so that a more direct and efficient way of raising concerns, with a higher probability of having them well understood and acted upon, is to raise them with the Foundation? With the exception of the "real concern" expressed by Body Positive about changes to the way the NZAF Board of Trustees is made up (which, incidentally, you report as "outrage"), the only person to have raised any of the issues discussed in your column with me has been you personally. And given that one person or another from NZAF has discussed each of the issues you have raised in the column with you in detail at some point in the past year, sometimes with supporting written material, it is disappointing that nothing we have said to you is reflected in your column. We need to take on board the fact that we have obviously failed to communicate effectively with you, and need to find a way of doing so more effectively in the future. Your suggestions about what would work for you would be welcome. I don't want to respond in detail to everything in your column, but to make a brief response to your key points: 1. "Seeming lack of safe sex campaigns in recent years" This seems to be based on a once over lightly analysis of our paid advertising in Express, and a supposedly "random" sample of clients at your sex-on-site business, Lateshift. There also seems to be an underlying assumption that safe sex promotion is (or ought to be) the basis for our HIV prevention work. In fact, while a basic level of information about safe sex is obviously important, research indicates that lack of information is seldom the reason for unsafe sex. My confident expectation is that all of the 25 men you interviewed knew that anal sex without a condom is highly unsafe, and knew how to use a condom. What is much more significant are the impacts of public policy, social environment and gay community on self esteem and sense of belonging and identity. Much of our day to day work on HIV prevention is focussed on attempting to influence these factors. We do receive funding from the Ministry of Health to run two HIV prevention campaigns each year. These campaigns usually contain an element that reiterates the basic safe sex and condom use information, but more importantly focus on beliefs or assumptions that lead particular parts of the gay community to think that they don't need to practise safe sex. It would make our job easier if all men who have sex with men thought alike - the same campaigns would work for everyone. However, real life is that we have to target messages and campaigns at particular sub-cultures and it would be surprising if members of the community were aware of (or saw as relevant) all of the campaigns we ran. Of course it would be great to constantly have new resources or campaigns appearing, and to be able to support them through paid advertising in every issue of Express and Out! Magazine. It would be great to take out TV advertising. We do not receive enough funding to be able to do this. As you know - you have been consulted in the planning process - 2002 will see a resource for people new to sex-on-site venues, a Summer safe sex condom pack, a new version of the 'Nitty Gritties' campaign, a safe sex resource for Takataapui and some new resources for Pacific men who have sex with men, a gay community newsletter and some surprises. I hope that you agree that this is a satisfactory schedule for the year. 2. "the dropping of the mandated HIV positive person position on the Foundation's board" There has never been a "mandated" position on the NZAF Board for an HIV positive person. There has been a constitutional requirement to reserve two places on the Board for people who are HIV positive, but there has been no requirement or process for linking these individuals to the wider HIV positive community for any kind of mandate. There has also been no requirement that the Board takes any account of the views of HIV positive people. In fact these positions have been problematic: it has often been difficult to find individuals prepared to take them on, people in the positions have often struggled with the ambivalent and potentially conflicting responsibilities, and the people in the positions have not necessarily had the skills to take on the particular legal and organisational responsibilities of trustees - no help to anyone. There has also been the risk (it is probably more appropriate for others to reflect on whether or not this has been realised) that the Foundation could use the existence of these positions to establish the appearance of inclusion of HIV positive perspectives in decision making, while not necessarily actually doing so - tokenism. The Foundation is trying to focus on the outcomes we want the Board to achieve and is moving to a system of appointing trustees on the basis of the skills required to effectively carry out the responsibilities of the position. Effectively this switches the order in which desirable characteristics for trustees are 'sorted'. The previous system selected HIV positive status first, and the skills for the job second. The risk (sometimes realised) was that the Board would include people with HIV as trustees, without their having the skills to fulfil trustees' responsibilities. Under the new system, skills will be selected first and HIV positive status second. The risk will be that there will sometimes be situations where there are no people living with HIV on the Board, because there is no HIV positive person available who has the relevant skills. The Foundation intends to manage this risk in part by introducing for the first time a constitutional requirement (making the Foundation legally bound) to take into account the perspectives of HIV positive people in its decision-making. We are interested in hearing from people living with HIV about suggested mechanisms to ensure that this provision works well in practice. While we await with interest the submissions that Body Positive has indicated that they will make, we note in passing that most of the criticism so far expressed about the Foundation's intention has come from people who appear to misunderstand the role of the Foundation's Board and who have elected not to become members of the Foundation. Internally, however, at a time when the Foundation is perhaps stronger than it has ever been in HIV positive involvement at Board and staff levels and in its programmes, there is very strong acceptance that this is the most appropriate course for developing our structure. 3. "a spat with the Hero Trust after which the Foundation appears to have abandoned the high profile Hero event as a vehicle for safe sex promotion" I assume the "spat" you refer to was the situation that arose in 1999 when Hero took the money collected for HIV organisations during the Hero Parade, put it into its own bank account, spent it on the Party, and then didn't repay it. Angry though this made me, this was not the reason for the Foundation declining to pay for advertising in the Hero magazine or to pay to put a float into the Hero Parade in 2001. As I have previously told you, we did not budget to buy exposure from Hero, as the relationship had previously been reversed - the safe sex float in previous parades, for example, had been donated to NZAF. We did not choose to commit unbudgeted expenditure to these purposes because, in our view, the return that we would receive on this investment would not be as valuable as in the areas where we had already planned to spend money. However for NZAF (and I think for Hero, if you were to ask them) this is ancient history, and it seems curious that you bring it up in your column. Certainly we have made it as clear as we can that it is important to us that NZAF and Hero are seen as distinct organisations, with a clear and negotiated relationship. That said, however, we want the relationship to be a close and productive one, and I am happy to report that it is proceeding very well. NZAF is impressed by the Hero Society Executive and we are working well together. 4. "the singling out of a senior staff member for possible dismissal due to his determination to be involved with resurrecting and guiding New Zealand's biggest gay community event" I am surprised and, I have to say, angry that you feel comfortable to editorialise about an internal NZAF staffing matter on which I have already indicated to you that you do not have all the information, and on which you know full well the Foundation cannot possibly respond at this time. Let me say, however, that you have misunderstood the nature and reasons for the process the Foundation is engaged in with Mr. Otter, and have also completely misquoted the Foundation's Code of Ethical Conduct - surprising because I sent you a copy of it. The Foundation places no requirement on its staff and trustees that they do not join other community organisations. Rather it requires vigilance for situations that could pose a potential for conflict of interest, and sets out a procedure in such situations for seeking and following advice from a supervisor. I do thank you for your acknowledgment of the professionalism of NZAF staff and for your offer of the assistance of your website in improving the Foundation's communication with the gay community - we will take up the offer. Yours sincerely, Kevin Hague Executive Director NZAF - 31st January 2003    
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