1990: VI International Conference on AIDS

In June 1990 the VI International Conference on AIDS was to be held in San Francisco. This is the annual conference at which scientists, the pharmaceutical industry, policy makers and patient organizations come together. note 149 The latest research is discussed and new policies are announced. The government of the United States of America did not welcome people with AIDS as had become clear earlier when Hans Paul Verhoef, chair of the Rotterdam organization for people with AIDS note 150, was arrested in September 1989 when he wanted to enter the USA.

Verhoef had wanted to enter the USA because he wished to attend an earlier conference on AIDS in San Francisco. His arrest and his trial became international news, which was covered by major news networks like ABC, CBS and CNN and also by the Dutch national news. US Immigration wanted Verhoef to declare that he would not have sex in the USA. Verhoef refused to declare this but did declare that he would not do anything to risk ameliorating sex practices. In front of the judge Verhoef explained what safe sex entails, how he used the sex toys they found in his luggage and that scientific evidence has shown that having safe sex actually prevents the virus from spreading. The judge was convinced and set him free after which Washington tried to force an 'emergency appeal' to prevent him from entering the USA anyway. Because this was exercised after office hours, the judge did not accept this appeal and released him. Verhoef entered the country, explained his case and his vision to dozens of journalists, spoke to congressmen and people from the Senate and put the issue of travel restrictions for people with AIDS high on the political agenda (De Geef 1989).

The fact that the country that was supposed to host the VI International Conference on AIDS did not welcome people with HIV and AIDS, was considered to be highly inappropriate by many people all over the planet. In the spring of 1990 the World Health Organization announced that it would boycott the VI International Conference on AIDS in San Francisco because of the discriminatory immigration laws of the Unites States, which prevented people with HIV and AIDS attending the conference.

In April 1990 ACT UP Amsterdam, recently founded by Andre Bongers and Eric Hamwijk, organized a demonstration against the travel restrictions imposed by the USA in front of the American Consulate in Amsterdam. The situation in the Netherlands was different from the USA; gay culture was very much alive and integrated in Amsterdam; the medical, governmental and social organizations had collaborated since the beginning of the epidemic in the social democratic climate of the Netherlands and there was a public healthcare system, which covered the costs of medication in the Netherlands. Nevertheless this environment was also perceived as very institutionalised by some people. Once diagnosed with the virus, Andre and Eric were unpleasantly confronted with the institutionalised AIDS world in the Netherlands. Eric Hamwijk was interviewed by Ingrid Harms by the Dutch magazine 'Vrij Nederland': "It feels like the maffia, all those clubs. I was amazed to see how an alternative movement has become institutionalised. They are all busy with money and therapy X and therapy Y. Through HIV I was confronted with myself, with my life and that has nothing to do with HIV. There are plenty of possibilities, why a special AIDS care? With this special care system you never get rid of the stigma of being seropositive and having AIDS. Till now the white middle class gay determines the image, but this will change. Junkies, women and black people are not welcome at the different HIV and AIDS unions. How I had to fight for women to be admitted to the Union for people with HIV." (Harms 1990, 8).

The United States Government reacted to the international boycott by granting waivers to people with HIV and AIDS giving them the right to enter the country for 10 days. Discussions took place within governments, professional bodies and grass roots organizations around the world about whether to maintain the boycott or not travel because restrictions were still in place. In the Netherlands professionals in the medical field and the para-governmental National Commission on AIDS decided to go and protest by wearing buttons with "No entry restrictions". The HIV and AIDS union decided to boycott. At the time 35 countries had declared travel restrictions for people with HIV or AIDS.note 151 The Netherlands, however, had not.