’HIV-Negative Only Party’ Promoter Stirs Controversy Over Serosorting

by Ambrose Aban
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Nov 14, 2007

An HIV activist has gone off on a limb that has alienated him from AIDS researchers, activists and organizations by advocating "self-serosorting" by HIV-positive and--and this is the controversial part--HIV-negative gay men. Even if his methods are unconventional and his rhetoric off-putting to many, he's raising points that have been discussed for years. Just not in the open--until now.

Some 25 years into the AIDS epidemic, gay men are debating serosorting more than ever before. Part of that is due to an "unstoppable protagonist" as he has been called, Robert Brandon Sandor. Bolstered by reports that suggest serosorting brings either psychological relief or danger to gay men, Sandor has embarked on a crusade to keep "pozzies" and "neggies" out of each other's bedrooms.

Sandor doesn't exactly shy away from controversy. He calls HIV-negative men the future and invites them (and only them) to "HIV-UB2" parties via his new site, . HIV-positive men have been vocal in their complaints of "sero-apartheid." Sandor points to a study of gay men in San Francisco that reports serosorting resulted in a reduction of HIV infection among gay men there.

According to reports like that one, serosorting may be effective for positive and negative couples. For positive men, they don't have to worry about HIV transmission to somebody who is negative, although they still have to worry about other STDs. Serosorting brings psychological relief, for HIV negative men. But, experts say, serosorting cannot obviate the issue of trust as the foundation--and fundamental problem--of any effective serosorting. Why? Because HIV-negative gay men may assume their partners are also negative and STD-free.

"This is the reason why I have decided to start a series of sex parties exclusively for HIV-negative men so that HIV infection among them can be reduced, if not stopped totally, via a safer version of serosorting," Sandor says.

But serosorting does not necessarily protect anyone from HIV or other STDs. "As we all know, it is a very big mistake to trust anyone when it comes to their HIV status as most of them don't even know their own status," notes one HIV-negative man who is in a long term relationship with an HIV-positive partner in New York City. "Under such circumstances, serosorting becomes an indirect way of spreading the HIV virus among HIV-negative gay men because serosorting seems to say that it is ok to bareback based on a simple foundation: trust,"

While Sandor (who is himself self-declared as HIV-positive) agrees that condoms are still the way to go to reduce HIV infection regardless of who has sex with whom, he believes "serosorting is a trend we all should have considered long time ago to save HIV-negative men who are really our future if we want to reduce or stop HIV infection."

The issue came to a head recently when Sandor applied to New York's LGBT Center to organize series of activities exclusively for HIV-negative men there. Robert A. Woodworth wrote back via an email rejecting the application without explanation.

Center spokesperson David Henderson told EDGE that fostering health and wellness for LGBT people, including prevention of HIV transmission, has been a core component of the Center's mission since its founding in 1983. In the realm of HIV/AIDS prevention, serosorting is a controversial subject. As a community concern it warrants discussion. Sandor conducted seminars at the Center in September 2006 and April 2007 on the subject. The Center rejected the application for a social event, Henderson said, "because the Center shares widely held concerns about risks associated with serosorting."

Sandor branded email "hate mail" and made it public. He's never shied away from controversy.

Poz-on-Poz: How Risky?
For a decade, he's been actively expressing opposition or hostility toward established activists, including Brad Becker of the LGBT National Help Center, Ken Fornataro of The Network, and Dan O'Connell of the NYSDOH-AIDS Institute. None of these leaders have been willing to debate this controversial issue openly in public, Sandor says.

Ten years ago Brandon created a series of social and sexual parties for pozzies in various cities). He says many positive men thanked him for a sex party without any reservations. HIV advocacy groups, however, weren't so pleased. They questioned whether the participants were all telling the truth about their HIV status. Sandor did ask participants to use condoms.

The success of these parties led him into the uncharted waters of HIV-negative parties. Advocacy groups didn't think the message was clear enough and that Sandor had failed to note that HIV can be transmitted in other ways than sexually, and that there was the possibility of other nasty (if not fatal) STDs.

Ken Fornataro, executive director of The Network, says he supports people having safe sex with whomever they want (except for minors), but accuses Sandor of advocating safe or unsafe sex between two HIV seronegative gay men, tacitly at least "That's very unlikely to stop the spread of HIV or anything else, including selfish disrespect for others," Fornataro says.

Sandor maintains that "the general public is not aware of the resources available out there and some gay men don't even know what serosorting means," despite its possible benefits. Indeed, some experts have praised serosorting as a way to prevent the spread of HIV between partners who choose not to use condoms. But many others won't endorse any unprotected sex.

Next: Men May Be Already Serosorting



Comments

  • , 2009-01-04 18:08:59

    How widespread is the phenomenon?... and are the rates of new infections zero or nearly zero for sex partners taking part in the phenomenon?... of the strategy of "Let’s get tested TOGETHER BEFORE we have sex, for A VARIETY of STDs." Sexual health checkups reduce ambiguity/risks and can be like anything else POTENTIAL sex partners do together.


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