POZ Exclusives : Renewing the Denver Principles - by Sean Strub

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September 22, 2008

Renewing the Denver Principles

by Sean Strub

One model of empowerment is Housing Works, based in New York. Housing Works is legally constituted as a membership organization; every client, every volunteer and every staff member has voting rights, including for board positions. That is empowerment and very different from agencies whose boards are self-perpetuating.

Housing Works’s bylaws require that a third of their board be people with HIV and that people of color comprise more than 50 percent of their board. That is empowerment and a far cry from agencies with little diversity or that put one or two people with HIV on their board and then don’t provide those persons the training, skills and tools necessary to become effective board members.

Housing Works has more than 400 employees; about a third of them are former clients: people with HIV who were once homeless. That is empowerment and very different from many agencies whose proportion of HIV-positive employees has declined over the years.

Housing Works measures the performance of their caseworkers, in part, on how successful the caseworker is in getting a client registered to vote and involved in advocating for their rights. That is empowerment because participating in the political system is a necessary component to truly taking control of one’s life and health; the failure to encourage and promote such participation is, in my view, profoundly disempowering and shortsighted.

Housing Works is a huge agency with a budget this year of over $40 million. My point is not about Housing Works, but that this is not theoretical; genuine empowerment can be achieved in a large agency.

Housing Works is activist-oriented, often speaking first and most passionately about the rights of people with AIDS, demonstrating leadership, and fighting stigma and criminalization. That is not a coincidence; it is a result of its governance structure and putting into practice a commitment to the Denver Principles.

One aspect of the epidemic that I think has especially suffered from the diminished influence of HIV-positive voices is in regards to HIV prevention.

We have a prevention paradigm built on the illusion of “zero risk,” which contributes to stigmatization of people with HIV as vectors of disease and encourages HIV-negative people to have a false knowledge of the actual risks inherent in sexual contact.

We must work to expand the sexual safety zone for people with HIV—which I believe is critical to HIV prevention—through risk-reduction strategies like serosorting, seropositioning, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis and incorporating viral load and treatment status into risk assessment.

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Search: Sean Strub, Denver Principles, USCA, 2008 USCA, NMAC, National Minority AIDS Council, POZ Magazine, United States Conference on AIDS, Housing Works

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