Safety in Numbers

Chapter 5

Statutory sector work for gay men

Mass-media campaigns for the general population represented only one facet of the state response to AIDS which began in earnest in 1986. On a local level, state funds were allocated to District and Regional Health Authorities throughout Britain, to enable them to undertake tailored, community-based education and information initiatives for their local populations. Many gay men who had gained their knowledge and expertise in HIV prevention through paid or unpaid work in the voluntary sector or organisations such as Lesbian and Gay Switchboard now moved on to take up posts in the statutory sector.

In a sense, statutory organisations have not been de-gayed, but only because their health education strategies never focused on gay men in the first place. In part their agenda was defined by the specific directions emanating from the Department of Health; in addition, they established their priorities at the time when it was widely perceived that safer sex education for gay men had been successfully completed, and national advertising campaigns were pushing the message that 'Everyone is at risk'.

The first signs of the statutory sector's failure to address the ongoing needs of gay men were evident in early 1987, when the Surrey and South West London Gay Organisations (SAGO) network conducted a survey of prevention and care services provided by seven District Health Authorities in the South West Thames Region. (86) Five of the Districts stocked leaflets for local distribution; however "most were aimed at the general public... Only one leaflet was specifically designed for gay men". (87) Only one district had established contact with local gay groups, a fact described as "a serious gap in their strategic planning". (88) However, the true extent of the neglect was not revealed until the publication of the report HIV Prevention for Gay Men: A Survey of Initiatives in the UK in July 1992, which revealed that out of a sample of 226 agencies with a remit for HIV prevention, virtually all of which were in the statutory sector, only one-third had ever targeted gay men at all, and less than 4% had offered local gay men a substantial package of safer sex promotional activities. (89) This survey is described in more detail in Chapter 7.

Not only has the statutory sector failed to meet its responsibility to support the needs of gay men during the HIV epidemic; it has also contributed to the de-gaying of the voluntary sector. Many of the gay men who have taken paid employment in the statutory sector had previously been involved in safer sex education activities for gay men in the voluntary sector or gay groups; as they were commandeered to work to the heterosexualised agenda of the statutory sector, community-based groups faced a growing dearth of both enthusiasm and expertise in HIV prevention for those most at risk. Thus in 1991 Peter Scott described the "danger [in] the recruitment (or burnout) of an earlier generation of community development activists into institutional public health structures that threaten to isolate them from their original communities and to leave those communities without significant continuing community education". (90)