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Saturday 19 April 2014


Editorial: Fronting up to the challenge

Posted in: Health & HIV, Features
By Jay Bennie - 11th December 2011

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The NZ AIDS Foundation and the community it most crucially serves are faced with a pivotal moment in the fight against HIV infection spreading amongst gay and bi men.

Let's not be coy, it is the youth and men of our communities who are the vast bulk of those at risk of, and too often contracting, HIV. On average, two more gay or bi men a week get the devastating news that they are going to spend the rest of their lives battling to stay alive against the onslaught of the voracious virus.

As with all staff changes, the resignation of the NZAF's current Director HIV Prevention and International, effective late January, presents the NZAF with a challenge and an opportunity. How it capitalises on the opportunity will define its ability to understand and carry out its job.

The appointment of a new head of the Foundation's prevention arm will be the most pivotal management decision the recently-appointed Executive Director will make.

In recent years the NZAF's focus on rigour and accountability down to the last micro-managed detail has led down a path of bureaucratic myopia and isolation from the real lives of at-risk men of all ages, lifestyles and experiences. It has too often appointed people with little natural feel for homo sex and an increasing number of straight or gay but disconnected staffers has meant it is now significantly lacking in the hands-on instincts which are an important part of the mix when credibly and effectively convincing men who have sex with men to bonk safely and get tested regularly.

The Executive Director himself is straight, though that is not necessarily a problem... it just means he must get this new head of HIV prevention job description and subsequent appointment absolutely right. Shaun Robinson has been in the top job just on a year now, hopefully it has been time to assess and understand what his role, as Executive Director must be in this instance, and what will be required of his most important and influential staffer. In his first eleven months he has calmed the organisation down and may have paved the way for a new future. Now everything that he has learned must kick in.

Regardless of the details of the job description, Robinson must find someone who revels in the feel of a dick up the bum or the joy of making love to another man. Or the yearning for one or both of the above. The appointee must understand what it is to be gay and bi and the problems and opportunities this presents.

The new appointee must be able to mix naturally and constructively with the at risk groups, so he understands the ups and downs of the job his prevention staff have to do.
He will have to be a creative and respected team leader.

He must be at one with the people and organisations of our communities, resources the NZAF has for too long turned its back on or even antagonised.

He must want, really want, to save his fellow gay and bi men from a life fighting HIV and must have the administrative and personal skills to tackle the job at a practical level.

He must be able to see through the bullshit, to gaze beyond the researched statistics (which he must none the less embrace) and to motivate those around him, within the NZAF, throughout our glbti communities and way out to those who do not emotionally or socially connect with their fellow gay and bi men.

He must be able to bridge the chasm which can develop between health bureaucrats and horny homos. And he must be able to weave his and the NZAF's way through the convoluted objectives, experiences, voices and demands of our communities.

As a highly competent and enlightened gay or bi male health professional, for that is what he must be or what he must become, he must understand the issues faced by the other at-risk groups so he can link his primary objectives with theirs when appropriate.

He must be the gay eyes and ears and brain of his boss, and
the heart and soul of the Foundation's prevention programmes targetted at his fellow men who have sex with men.

He will be the highest-placed homo in our daily fight against HIV infection and his approach to the job will define how the NZAF approaches its job. His success or failure will reflect on the Executive Director and his respective bosses up the food chain, the Foundation's Trust Board.

The NZAF must take its time, fine tune its prevention structure if necessary - what better time to do it - then take positive, creative, steps to find the right person, not merely content itself with finding a person and ensuring that if things don't work out it can retrospectively wash its hands of the matter because "due process was followed."

The men who step up to be considered may be whittled down to a person who has most but not all of this long and critical list of skills, attributes and experience. Therefore he may need to be supported into the role. That support will have to come from his boss, his fellow staff and those with the skills and availability to assist.


In all this there is a challenge and an opportunity for our communities.

We must help ensure this man steps forward. From amongst our extended networks of capable, qualified, passionate, insightful gay men we must help find the men who may be right for the job and urge them to apply.

There is no use just leaving it to the standard procedures of advertising and recruitment. No use passively or cynically waiting for the Foundation to appoint someone on our behalf. Then looking on with a coldly scrutinising eye.

The NZAF's role within our communities is far too important for the appointment of the new head of HIV prevention to be done by rote or remote control. We must become involved. It's ours, and the NZAF's, best chance in a decade and we mustn't blow it through inaction or indifference.

As we approach the holiday break let's put some time into getting the word out, thinking creatively and seeing if we can help the NZAF get it absolutely right.

Because the future of too many men is at stake for any of us to opt out of this appointment.

- Jay Bennie

Jay Bennie - 11th December 2011

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