This article appeared in Xtra West on March 9, 1995.
by David Richardson
The Canadian Red Cross may not be interested in accepting blood from young gay men, but a team of researchers at UBC and St. Paul's Hospital is. These researchers also want candid answers to some often personal questions about the attitudes and activities that may or may not put young gay and bisexual men at risk for contracting HIV. The goal of this project is to find out exactly how and why young men who have sex with men are becoming infected with HIV, and the rate at which these infections are taking place.
The findings of this study are expected to erode a very dangerous myth: that HIV transmission is under control in the gay community. Empirical data is necessary to convince angry taxpayers and nervous governments that more attention and more money are needed to help young gay men avoid HIV infection.
In the absence of both cure and vaccine, education remains the only tool at our disposal. Education is also the government's only weapon in the war against the rising costs of providing health care to a growing number of HIV-positive people.
While science continues to shoot blanks in its search for the long-promised magic bullet, as a community and as individuals we are left with only our attitudes and our behaviours as protection against a deadly virus. Clearly, our education and awareness programs are no longer effective at convincing enough gay men to reduce the risks they take in the search for intimacy: increasing numbers of young gay men continue to turn up HIV-positive at local clinics.
A crucial first step in developing strategies for surviving the 90s, the Vanguard Project will likely save money and save lives.
Funded by Health Canada, this new study is being conducted by a team of researchers from UBC and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital, the same people behind the Vancouver Lymphadenopathy-AIDS Study (VLAS). Although not a prevention program in and of itself, the raw data generated by the project can be expected to influence policy and programming decisions which will directly affect the health of gay men for years to come.
In order to accurately reflect what goes on behind closed doors (and in back alleys) across the diverse contours of our community, the study must recruit 1,000 gay men from as broad a cross-section of our community as possible.
Participating in the study is easy. To be eligible, you must be between 18 and 30 years of age and live in the Lower Mainland. The study is not restricted only to men who self-identify as gay, but is open to all young men who have sex with men. All you have to do is visit a doctor or medical clinic for an annual blood test and a self-administered questionnaire. If you don't have a doctor that you are comfortable with, the project's coordinator can refer you to one of the doctors or clinics involved in the study. Whether you receive your own test results is entirely up to you. Once a year you will be contacted by the project's coordinator reminding you that it's time for your annual visit.
And that's all there is to it.
This is a confidential research project, designed to respect whatever degree of privacy you are comfortable with. You can participate without providing your real name or any other information about yourself, providing that there is some way of staying in contact with you from year to year.
A slick advertising campaign aimed at attracting the requisite recruits is scheduled to be launched early next month. I hope that I'm correct in my guess that many of these promotional materials will prove unnecessary because most young gay men are eager for a chance to do something to help end the AIDS crisis.
To find out more about the Vanguard Project, contact Project Coordinator Steve Martindale by phone (687-2469), fax (631-5464) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or drop by the outreach office at the Gay and Lesbian Centre (1170 Bute Street). Or watch out for details of how to become involved with the project. Think about participating. If you're not eligible, you probably know somebody who is. Take care, take pride, and take part.
For more information, contact:
Vanguard Project Coordinator
608 - 1081 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6Z 1Y6