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U of Tennessee Cowers to Conservative Politics and Cancels HIV/AIDS Conference

Posted by Sunny Bjerk , March 26, 2013

U of Tennessee Cowers to Conservative Politics and Cancels HIV/AIDS Conference

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Yesterday, news broke that the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has cowered to political pressure and will no longer host an HIV/AIDS conference for the community’s surrounding African-American LGBT community.

The four-day conference, titled “Saving Ourselves” and spearheaded by The Red Door Foundation, was scheduled to take place this June 6-9th and would focus on the treatment, prevention, and education of HIV/AIDS. The conference was organized in part to the rising HIV infections in the country’s south, as well as in Tennessee, whose communities of color are especially affected by the disease.

The cancellation is thought to be the chilling byproduct of the recent (right wing) uproar over the University of Tennessee’s “Sex Week” and its sex-positive goals. Organized by the University group Sexual Empowerment and Awareness Tennessee (SEAT), and scheduled to take in April, the event will feature panels, workshops, and discussions on everything from campus sexual assaults; religion; transgender sexuality; virginity; and even, “How to talk to your parents about sex” and “How to talk to your doctor about sex.” In addition, the event will also feature free HIV-testing.

Nonetheless, the event came under scrutiny by Republican State Senator Stacey Campfield, who campaigned to have the event immediately defunded. As a result of Campfield’s campaign, a reported $11,000 was withdrawn from the sex-positive event.

However, one of the event’s organizers reported that a number of private donations have rolled in to support the event and its cause, with donations being made on the event’s webpage. Organizers plan to hold “Sex Week” as originally planned, and the donations keep on coming.

Yet the fate of the HIV/AIDS conference “Saving Ourselves” remains uncertain. While Dustin James, board chair of the Executive Director of the MidSouth AIDS Fund, noted that while the conference was previously approved by UT last fall, the uproar over “Sex week” has had a “domino effect” for other sex-ed programs, workshops, and conferences across the state.

James is hopeful the event will be able to continue, even without the University’s approval (indeed, the group has been asked to remove all UT logos from their conference materials), but hopes the University will come to its senses.

Unsurprisingly, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center could not be reached for comment.

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