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Saturday 11 April 2015

A few words before moving on: Jason Myers

Posted in: Community, Health & HIV
By Jacqui Stanford - 11th June 2014


Jason Myers is leaving the NZAF, where he has done everything from presenting its marriage equality submission to leading a gonorrhoea project. As he bids farewell, he muses on the concept of community, and issues a firm challenge.

Myers has innumerable highlights from his nearly four years with the Foundation, in a number of roles, most recently as its Manager of Social Marketing for Gay and Bisexual Men and as a Strategic Policy Advisor.

Among the moments which stand out are presenting the NZAF’s submission on marriage equality to the government select committee and being in the House for the first reading of the Bill.

“One of the most unique things about working at the NZAF is how our work is so much a part of who we are as people. Presenting a submission on the Bill was a deeply personal experience and I felt really privileged to stand up and take a stand on this issue,” he says.

He also got the chance to tell New Zealand’s story at a United Nations High Level Meeting on HIV and the Law in Bangkok, and says we have a world leading human rights legislation record and the story has so much to offer those in countries where people are not so lucky.

Myers lists managing the NZAF’s International Development Programme in the Pacific as another highlight. It’s aimed at improving the sexual health and human rights situation of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people in the Pacific. “I have so many fond memories of working up in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji with some awesome local advocates and organisations. There is nothing more rewarding than giving people the tools to fight for their own cause and seeing them flourish.”

His proudest achievement is a gonorrhoea project he led in 2013, when a strain of gonorrhoea was showing up in MSM that was showing antibiotic resistance. Thee NZAF led a cross-sector response with a little bit of extra funding from the Ministry of Health. “Leading that project was an awesome chance to work with lab specialists, sexual health physicians, researchers, epidemiologists and the community. We designed a really cool self-swab testing system that is now used as routine in the NZAF health centres.”

Myers says while it sounds a bit cliché, it feels like the right time to move on from the NZAF and tackle the next challenge – something which isn’t set in stone yet. “There are a few possibilities but I am looking really forward to a little break and taking some space to think about where to from here. I have been really lucky to have work that is so heart connected and I will take my time to make sure the next adventure is a similar fit.”

What is community?

When asked to reflect on what we could perhaps do better as a community, Myers explains that as a social scientist by training he’s “spent a lot of time problematizing this notion of community”.

“What is it? I actually think this is one of the biggest challenges facing the NZAF at the moment. In the early days there was a clear, cohesive and connected community. There had to be! These days, I almost think we are talking to an imagined community… they have in common a behaviour but arguably a shared identity beyond that is more fractured than ever.”

Myers says being in the business of public health and trying to achieve a prevention goal at a community/population level, this leaves the NZAF with all sorts of questions and challenges.

A crucial challenge:

All in all, he says we have come far but there remain many challenges for gay men. “I think we can’t be scared to shy away from the hard questions and work together to find answers and solutions. Why are we STILL massively over-represented in drug and alcohol abuse statistics, in mental health statistics, in suicide statistics?

“The bottom line is that gay men are still dying with no good reason and these experiences are often silenced. The questions that need to be asked here are difficult ones, both for individuals and for gay men as a collective. But we absolutely cannot shy away from them.

“Without wanting to sound patronising I would urge gay men to lean into the darker and more challenging parts of who they are. Reach out, talk, listen and connect. This takes bravery and courage but from personal experience it is when we ask these questions and try to find answers that we create space for some real magic to happen. Give it a go!”

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Jacqui Stanford - 11th June 2014