Effort will pull in community leaders, researchers on three-month push for action strategy
The Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GHMC) will formally launch a task force in the next two weeks that will create a strategy to respond to crystal meth use and HIV among gay men.
“We’ve sent out about 16 invitations to various people, researchers, clinicians, members of the community,” said William S. Floyd, the co-chair of GMHC’s board of directors. “We haven’t gotten any formal responses yet though we have gotten a lot of encouraging responses.”
The task force will address a number of issues including crystal meth use, syphilis, and growing HIV rates among gay men. It is expected to complete its work by June and make proposals to GMHC’s board about how to respond.
“What the board is going to look for is a list of recommendations, some action items, to try and stem the tide of crystal abuse and increased HIV infection rates,” Floyd said. “We want the task force to move deliberatively, but we also want them to move quickly because we’re in the midst of a crisis.”
The first meeting of the task force is expected “in the next couple of weeks,” according to Floyd. To date, 13 people have agreed informally to join. They include Jay Laudato, executive director of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Richard Burns, executive director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, and Dennis deLeon, executive director of the Latino Commission on AIDS as well as researchers Dr. Alex Carballo-Dieguez and Dr. Perry Halkitis, a founder of the Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training (CHEST) and a psychology professor at New York University.
GMHC and other gay and AIDS groups have been the subject of pointed criticisms by activists who have organized or participated in a series of town meetings on HIV, crystal meth, and gay men. The groups are generally seen as failing to respond to the growing health crisis among gay men.
Peter Staley, a longtime AIDS activist and former crystal user, will sit on the GMHC task force. He has also been critical of community groups.
“It’s sounds like they are finally starting,” Staley said. “I guess it’s good. It depends on what comes out of it ultimately. I said yes to doing this because I still have great hope that GMHC will take a leadership position in this crisis.”
Staley, along with Vincent Gagliostro, funded anti-crystal ads that have been running on Chelsea phone booths since January. Those ads remain the most visible community response to crystal. The Community Center placed five similar ads in Chelsea on February 10.
While other commitments–– such as running some of the community’s most significant institutions––may limit the participation of some the GMHC task force members, Staley said the group was important.
“With large task forces with busy people on them, it is the staff that does the work, but having the heads of large AIDS groups come together to talk about crystal meth has to be a positive thing,” he said.
Dan Carlson who, with Bruce Kellerhouse, organized the two town meetings on gay men, HIV, and crystal that drew hundreds of people, have been asked to join the task force, but they have not yet decided if they will participate.
The two men, along with Staley, have also launched a six-member crystal meth working group that will create an anti-crystal campaign.
“We have our first meeting scheduled for tomorrow morning,” Carlson said in a February 25 interview. “We’ve been in touch with CHEST, we’ve been in touch with other researchers, about how to target a campaign for crystal users.”
The working group members have been told to come prepared with specific tasks. The group will also develop a strategy for following up on Staley’s ads. Carlson welcomed the GMHC effort.
“Anything is better than nothing and right now we all need to do something,” he said. “If the task force comes out with appropriate actions and they are able to execute that plan, that’s a good thing.”