Gay men in Fort Lauderdale have a lot of activities at arms length to fill any given Saturday. But on at least one recent Saturday in January, 131 of them showed up to learn about health issues affecting their community.
The 2019 Men’s Health and Wellness Conference took place Jan. 26 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott North after being dormant since 2015. Despite the hiatus, the interest was still high four years later.
“Overall, the planning committee was delighted with the outcome of the conference,” said Mark A. Reyes, the senior director of community relations and administration at the Urban League of Broward County.
Changes the planners made included moving from a two-day format to one-day. But even with one fewer day the workshop sessions were made longer. There were three plenary sessions and nine workshops for attendees to participate in.
“We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees,” Reyes said. “Some of the comments provided on the written evaluations said it was well-planned, at a good location and had ‘a nice combination [and] overview of topics and some tangible nuggets [to] act on.’"
Reyes is also the community co-chair of the MSM (men who have sex with men) advisory group of the Broward County HIV Prevention Planning Council – the main organization that orchestrated the conference.
The advisory group brings together leaders and decision-makers to mobilize organizations and allies who serve the MSM community in Broward County. The group addresses the various factors that bring about HIV infection in the MSM community — widely agreed upon as an epidemic in South Florida.
Dr. Howard Grossman of the Midway Special Care Center opened the conference. He was joined by Dr. Sheetal Sharma of CAN Community Health.
The two talked about the top 10 things the MSM community should discuss with their doctor, and how to find a culturally competent gay/bi-friendly health care provider.
The first workshop included discussions of sexual health and screenings, youth and HIV, and access to health care through the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and other insurance.
The second workshop included a discussion of HIV and millennials, mental health, and intimate partner violence in the MSM community.
At lunch, Joshua Rodriguez from the Florida Department of Health in Broward County presented on strategies to eliminate HIV transmission, while Alejandro Acosta of Equality Florida discussed HIV criminalization and other legal issues for the MSM community.
Earl Benjamin-Robinson, a health equity strategist from New Orleans, closed out the conference with an inspirational message reminding attendees about how important it is to “walk fearlessly forward to freedom as best as we can.”
Reyes said organizers are considering hosting the free educational conference as a biannual event, but with a possible half-day summit or something similar in 2020.
“We definitely want to see more attendees in their 20s and 30s in attendance,” Reyes said.