Bill Clinton’s closing address at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam this afternoon was interrupted by protesters. They demanded the decriminalization of sex workers and drug users, and to stop the AIDS 2020 conference going to San Francisco.
As the former President of the United States gave his address to the conference, several protesters walked down the center aisle of hall with red umbrellas. They then heckled him, before allowing the speech to continue.
One protester challenged him with: ‘When will you commit to decriminalizing sex workers and drug users in the USA?
‘When will you commit to ending AIDS 2020 [conference] in San Francisco?
‘It’s not safe for sex workers, it’s not safe for drug users. You know that migrants can’t get in.
‘Do not support AIDS 2020 San Francisco.’
They claim sex workers and drug users do not feel safe
Protestors include one who identified herself as a black trans woman who demanded respect. Others chanted ‘shame on you’ to Clinton.
After a couple of minutes, Clinton took his place again behind the microphone and addressed what happened.
‘First of all, I’d like to commend the conference on allowing people who come here with a grievance, a concern, the right to be heard. Not everyone can be scheduled on a program. I think it’s important.
‘I know San Francisco’s in the United States and I know that a lot of you disagree with our government on a thing or two,’ he deadpanned. ‘Put me down in that category.’
San Francisco is a sacred place
‘But, you should also know for those of us who care about this issue in the United States, it is a sacred place,’ he said.
‘Many people died and all the first battles were fought, and they died some more. And I’ll never forget, in 1984, when a distinguished American diplomat sneeringly referred to my party as the San Francisco Democrats because we wanted to stop the death. So I think when you get there, you’ll be glad they held the conference in San Francisco.’
This last statement met with a mixture of applause from the audience and some jeers from protestors. Some shouted ‘Shame!’ Clinton then continued with his speech, which largely addressed the ongoing global attempts to beat HIV and AIDS. He said most advances had come about through international partnerships.
However, after another couple of minutes, protestors again start chanting, ‘Answer the question! Answer the question!’
Clinton responded with, ‘I don’t know what the question is?’ before indicating that their demands – to end the criminalization of sex work worldwide – was out of his power.
A westernized viewpoint
Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of HIV information service Aidsmap, was in the hall and spoke to Gay Star News.
Hodson said the decriminalization of sex work has been a common theme at the conference as many believe it would aid efforts to tackle HIV.
He said a lot of people at the conference are concerned about the event moving to San Francisco in two years due to President Trump’s Muslim travel ban and rules prohibiting those with criminal records, such as drug users and sex workers, entering the US.
‘These are key populations in terms of HIV prevention and the HIV prevention response.’
Hodson said Clinton handled the protest, ‘As well as he could. It felt like he was sympathetic to the act of protest.
‘Many in the hall were sympathetic to the protestors’ concerns, but also wanted to hear what Clinton had to say.’
Hodson noted Clinton’s comments about San Francisco being a ‘sacred’ place, but said, ‘When you’re addressing a conference attended by many from sub-Saharan Africa and other regions devastated by AIDS, portraying San Francisco as the epicenter of AIDS is a very Westernized view.’
Watch the video of the speech below.