The Daily Pulse:

UT Now Kicking an AIDS Conference Off Campus

It's not just the University of Tennessee at Knoxville that's defunding events that revolve around sex. Today we bring you word that the UT Health Science Center in Memphis has kicked a planned AIDS conference off campus. Why? Well, because it was going to talk about, you know, sex. And gay people having sex. And gay people having sex and getting diseases from it.

The full press release is below, but according to Dustin James, the executive director of the Mid-South AIDS Fund, the university unceremoniously contacted the conference organizers last Thursday (the day after UTK pulled "state funds" from Sex Week) and told them that "[t]he UT system which is governed by the President's Office on the Knoxville campus is undergoing revision of policy and procedure regarding usage of campus facilities." James says he has no idea what procedures the conference, scheduled for early June, would have been violating. "We even asked if we could pay, but we haven't heard anything," James says.

James says organizing for the conference, which is targeted at a tri-state Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas audience, started last September, and they signed an agreement with UTHSC to use its facilities in mid-October. They decided on the location because it's easily accessible by bus, trolley, and car. "Everyone knows where it is," James adds. The campus buildings also allowed the organizers to schedule up to 12 concurrent sessions in neighboring classrooms. James isn't sure where they'll be able to find another location that's both accessible and has the space they need on such short notice.

But mostly, James says, he's worried about what's happening at UT. Since the abrupt notice on Thursday, he hasn't been able to get anyone to return his calls -- not at UTHSC, not at President Joe DiPietro's office, no one. "To have something like this derailed is scary," James says.

It certainly looks like, as one UT alum worried in Saturday's KNS, that caving in to state legislators and defunding Sex Week has set a dangerous precedent. If we ever hear back from UT with a statement, we'll update you, but we're not holding our breath.

Full press release follows:

African-American LGBTQ Group Unwelcome at the University of Tennessee
 
March 25, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
MEMPHIS, TN  - For the second time in one week, the University of Tennessee (UT) has reneged on support for sexual health education. On Thursday afternoon, the Office of Special Events &Community Affairs at UT Health Science Center (UTHSC) in Memphis informed conference organizers at the Red Door Foundation and the MidSouth AIDS Fund, both Memphis-based HIV/AIDS prevention, outreach, and advocacy organizations, that the upcoming Tri-State African-American Community Summit for the "Saving Ourselves" symposium can no longer be held on campus because:
 
"The UT system which is governed by the President's Office on the Knoxville campus is undergoing revision of policy and procedure regarding usage of campus facilities."
 
The "Saving Ourselves" symposium is a 4-day (June 6-9) health education conference focusing on the African-American LGBTQ community, health service providers, and clinicians in the tri-state area (Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi). The Community Summit portion of the symposium, scheduled for June 8, will cover a wide range of topics including: new clinical research, retention in care, the National HIV Strategy and the Affordable Care Act, and community strategies to address the HIV/STD epidemic among the African-American community.
 
The event organizers were also asked to remove the UT logo from all promotional material since the University has withdrawn support. This announcement came one day after UT President Joe DiPietro and Dr. Jimmy Cheek, Chancellor of the Knoxville campus, revoked $11,145 of previously committed funding for "Sex Week" events hosted by the student-run organization Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee.
 
In fall 2012, the UT Alumni Center was confirmed as the venue for the Tri-State African-American Community Summit, the main event of the symposium, which an estimated 500 people will attend to openly discuss issues related to social and structural determinants impacting HIV/AIDS among the African-American LGBTQ community. Registration for the symposium is free and open to the public; the UT facility was strategically chosen because it is located along public transportation lines which encourages and permits attendance by community members. The decision by UT administration to withdraw support for the symposium is very disappointing given the important educational service the event will provide to health service providers, clinicians, and communities with the highest risk of HIV infection.
 
According to Julia Hanebrink, a board member of the MidSouth AIDS Fund (and a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at UT):

• There are currently more than 7,500 reported cases of people living with 
HIV/AIDS in Memphis.
• Shelby County represents 40% of all new HIV cases in the state of Tennessee.
• 90% of these new HIV infections occur in the African-American community.
• Men who have sex with men represent more than 30% of new infections.
• Between 2007-2011, 504 people in Shelby Country died due to HIV/AIDS; nearly 90% were African Americans.

Sexual and reproductive health and advocacy organizations from across the state have joined together to challenge this regrettable decision by UT officials. CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health,  Healthy & Free Tennessee, MidSouth AIDS Fund,  Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, Planned Parenthood, The Red Door Foundation, SisterReach, and Tennessee Equality Project would like President DiPietro to either restore UT support for the  "Saving Ourselves" symposium or justify which policies and procedures have been violated by the event.
 
The MidSouth AIDS Fund sent a letter to President DiPietro, UTHSC Chancellor Steve Schwab, and other UT officials that requested a response by 10a.m. today as to whether and how UT will address the issue. At the time of this press release, a reply from UT has not been received. A copy of this letter is available at http://midsouthaidsfund.org/assets/files/UT%20Letter%20Final.pdf
 

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