Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Dancing condom

Participants in an August 7, 2010, human rights rally at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City included a women's band and a giant condom.

I'm currently covering the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, especially the participation of the faith community. I've covered previous IACs in Bangkok, Mexico City, and Vienna. It's always a whirlwind of activity, with more than 20,000 researchers, care givers, people living with the virus, media, activists, pharma reps, and so on. It's exciting for a journalist because there are so many fascinating people to interview all in one place–if you can find them in the mob. By the end I'm brain dead. But there are also moments of fun, as people demonstrate how they creatively work with the disease. Some of the AIDS education stuff is downright brilliant. In this case, I photographed a dancing condom, accompanied by a women's band, at a human rights rally at the 2008 conference in Mexico City.

There are, quite literally, condoms all over the place here, including high fashion constructed from condoms. And this year there are more and more women's condoms (aka femidoms), featuring a new and improved design. But writing about the response of the religious community, particularly Catholics, gets one onto fragile ground. Most of the Catholics I know doing HIV work in the field have a fairly nuanced view of condoms. It's simply one tool in a range of resources for prevention. But people are so afraid of the church hierarchy these days that no one wants to talk about it on the record. They've got enough problems dealing with flatlined funding, with a resurgence of stigma and hate from conservative evangelical sectors, and with a disinterest in the software of AIDS response given the new fascination with a possible cure or rumored vaccine. On top of that they have to keep their heads down lest someone look down from on high and see something untoward, in which case out they go. Why is the church so messed up when it comes to sex?

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