The new name of the Global Forum on MSM & HIV is MPact: Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights. The name change also comes with a dynamic and colorful logo that is representative of diversity and the ongoing commitment to community partnership. The revised mission of MPact is to “ensure equitable access to sexual health services for all gay men and bisexual men, while promoting human rights worldwide.” We had the opportunity to speak with George Ayala, the Executive Director of MPact, to learn more about the name change, the future of the organization and the ongoing struggle for gay men’s health and rights.
MSMGF is a long-standing institution that has been deeply entrenched in the fight against HIV. What prompted the name change now?
A lot has changed since 2006 when we were founded. Back then, the global response to HIV only reluctantly acknowledged the devastating toll that HIV was taking on men who have sex with men. Policy makers ignored us and pretended that we didn’t exist. Although the HIV sector has become more willing to acknowledge our communities, incidence is still on the rise among gay and bisexual men in many places. This is because funding for community-led services is on the decline. Making matters worse are deteriorating human rights conditions for LGBT people worldwide. We believe that strategies for advocacy must constantly change to keep pace with the evolving needs of our communities. That is why, over a decade after our founding, we have expanded our mission and changed our name.
How did you decide on the new name and logo?
The process of changing our name wasn’t easy. We began by consulting our close partners, community networks, Steering Committee members, and Board of Directors. Their inputs made us realize that including “MSM & HIV” in our name restricted our mission and limited our vision. Public health language can sometimes have that effect. Our new name liberates us to more directly impact the intersectional issues of health and rights.
What do you hope the new name and logo with demonstrate to people about the organization?
Our focus on men who have sex with men has not changed. However, our strategies for addressing the unique issues of gay and bisexual men worldwide are evolving and becoming more nuanced. The new logo celebrates our rainbow of diversity and our commitment to working in close partnerships with other communities deeply affected by HIV – including sex workers, people who use drugs, and transgender women. The overlapping “M”s in the new insignia are made up of translucent squares, forming a quilted landscape that represents our multi-faceted approach to advocacy. Proudly, a lone red diamond remains prominently situated in our new logo, acknowledging that our movement was birthed from the blood, sweat, and tears of the HIV epidemic. The “M” in MPact acknowledges our history as an organization focused on men who have sex with men, and our “Pact” is to work with our community to address root causes of sexual health disparities and to unapologetically break silence about sex.
You are still squarely dedicated to gay men’s health and rights. That can often be a point of controversy. How do you respond to people who suggest you should be focusing on more than just gay men?
No one should mistake our focus on gay men for a lack of commitment to broader social change goals which we must all shoulder. As gay men, we must remain diligent in our work to combat class inequalities, racial injustice, and gender inequities. These are root causes of diseases like HIV that disproportionately affect socially marginalized groups. Keeping a focus on gay men also means keeping an equally passionate commitment to working in coalition with human rights movements.
Now that you have a new name and look what can people expect of the organization in the future?
As we begin leaning into our future, MPact’s very first action has been to increase our youth-focus. We are doing this by positioning young gay men into leadership roles within our governance structure. Young gay men (ages 29 and younger) now make up a 9 /14 majority of our international Steering Committee – our highest-level governance body. We have begun programs to mobilize new and progressive advocacy against barriers to sexual health services around the world; and we have committed to assisting in the development of new innovative solutions that respond directly to the unique needs of young gay and bisexual men. This new generation of advocates will help steward our organization’s future.
What do you see as some of the key issues facing gay men’s health around the globe?
There are still too many people living with HIV without access to treatment. Sexual health services like STI And HIV testing and prevention, including condoms, lube, PrEP and PEP remain out of reach for gay men and other men who have sex with men in too many places. LGBT-led community-based organizations struggle to keep the lights on and to keep their staff safe from harassment and regular raids. And same-sex sexual behavior is still illegal in 72 countries around the world. Gay men have the right to health, to sexual health. That includes a right to be self-determining and a right to body autonomy.