Constructing and Evolving Communities: Responding to HIV/AIDS Research Needs in the Third Decade

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Community is the rhetorical structure most commonly employed to understand the lives of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender and intersex people (GLBTI). Current debates around the contemporary relevance of community, the ‘death of community’, and the transformation of community through globalisation require us to critically assess the nature and structure of these communities.
The paper will draw on three major nationwide studies to consider the changes in community identification, the construction of communities of interest or identification and the relationship of these to health, well being and social support. The HIV Futures studies were conducted every two years between 1997 and 2005, with a sample of between 900 and 1000 people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in each wave. The survey has documented significant changes in the relationships of PLWHA with HIV positive communities and with the institutions of the HIV sector. There has been a noticeable shift in the degree to which HIV status structures the identities of PLWHA. The Private Lives Survey was conducted in 2005 with a sample of 5,476 GLBTI. Relatively few participants reported extreme feelings of connection or disconnection from the gay and lesbian communities. In terms of sources of emotional support: GLBTI friends rated most highly for all groups; and higher in every case than their biological families. The TranzNation Survey was conducted in 2007 with a sample of 253 transgender people from Australian and New Zealand. Most participants had experienced at least one form of stigma or discrimination on the basis of gender. Social forms of stigma such as verbal abuse, social exclusion and being the subject of rumours were reported by half the participants. A third had been threatened with violence. Seeking recognition in the health system and finding ways to counterbalance the medicalisation of their lives were key themes in responses.

Keywords: Community, Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual, HIV/Aids
Stream: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Prof. Marian Pitts

Director, Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society, LaTrobe University
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Professor Marian Pitts is the Director of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University Melbourne, Australia. Marian has previously held appointments in Zimbabwe, the USA and the UK and has worked in the area of HIV/AIDS and STIs. She has published numerous articles in key journals in her field and is the author of The Psychology of Preventive Health (1996) and co-editor of The Psychology of Health (1998), and, with Anthony Smith, Researching the Margins (2007). As Director of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University, Professor Pitts has been responsible for building and directing a multi-disciplinary team of 40 staff with qualifications and expertise in psychology, anthropology, sociology, public health, health promotion, methodology, epidemiology, education, women’s health, consumer advocacy and health policy. In 2005 she was Appointed Member of the NHMRC Discipline Panel, and was more recently appointed to the Federal HIV/AIDS and STI Subcommittee of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS, Sexual Health and Hepatitis. Between 2001 and 2006 Professor Pitts was a Member of Ministerial Advisory Committees on Sexual Health at State and National Level, and in 2006 was appointed to the Australian Research Council College of Experts. She currently chairs the Social, Behavioural and Economic panel of the ARC.

Dr. Jeffrey W. Grierson

Senior Research Fellow, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, LaTrobe University
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Dr Jeffrey Grierson is the Senior Research Fellow, Living with HIV Program, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University. He is responsible for a suite of projects funded by the Australian Government addressing the psycho-social context of people living with HIV (PLWHA) in Australia. He is currently Principal Investigator on a number of projects with people living with HIV/AIDS, including the sixth Australian HIV Futures Survey. His research with HIV positive populations in Australia, India and Southern African acknowledges the importance of HIV positive voices in all aspects of the research process. Jeffrey also conducts research addressing issues of sexuality and community engagement in Southern Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific. In 2007 he was awarded the inaugural Charles La Trobe Fellowship for research into Male to Male Sexual Practices in the Asia Pacific Region. He is also the chair of the Victorian AIDS Council Research and Ethics Committee and a board member of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations.

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