fourteen years and more than 300,000 deaths ago, Peter Collier and I wrote a story for California magazine about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. At
the time the virus had not yet been isolated and there had been only 3,000
fatalities nationally. But it was already clear to the medical community that
the culprit was a retrovirus, that there might never be a cure, that AIDS cases
among gays were doubling every six months and that if the behavioral patterns of
gays and drug users did not change, there would be more than 300,000 people dead
In normal circumstances, the minimal public health response to an impending
epidemic would have been to identify the carriers of the disease by mandatory
testing of at-risk communities, closing off "hot zones" of the epidemic, such as gay bathhouses and drug "shooting galleries," contact-tracing of those who had been in touch with the already sick and honest public education about the dangers of promiscuous anal sex among gays and needle-sharing among drug addicts.
None of these
measures, Collier and I found, was acceptable to a powerful lobby of gay activists that labeled them as "discriminatory" and "homophobic" and made clear to any public health official who advocated them that they would be doing so at the risk of their careers.
As a result, none of the standard public health measures were consistently deployed.
Instead, a series of politically correct ideas and "community-approved"
policies became the only measures feasible for political leaders
to advocate, for the media to promote and for public health agencies to pursue.
They included a number of emotionally comfortable but medically
misleading myths: that AIDS is an "equal opportunity" virus as threatening to
heterosexuals as homosexuals; that government tightwads and homophobes who weren't throwing enough money at medical research were helping to spread the plague; that "safe sex" with condoms and government-promoted "needle-exchanges" were adequate preventive measures.
Such myths were endlessly regurgitated by an irresponsible press that
reported (falsely) on "explosions" of the virus in the heterosexual community and among teenagers and women. These reports were based on statistics
deceptively interpreted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, whose public health mission had been subverted early on by the AIDS lobbyists. It is true, for example, that from time to time the
percentage of heterosexuals and/or women contracting the virus has increased.
But this is because the gay population has been so saturated with the disease
that the percentage of new cases among gays relative to the total of new cases
has declined. Moreover, the heterosexuals who are infected are mostly the wives and
girlfriends (mostly black, Hispanic and poor) of drug users.
A new book written by gay journalist and activist Gabriel Rotello, "Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men" (Dutton), confirms the grim epidemiological knowledge learned over the past two decades. As Rotello's reporting makes clear, the authorized approach to AIDS was misguided to the point that it added to the problem. There is no heterosexual AIDS epidemic, nor is there any likelihood of one developing. And the "safe sex" campaign among gays has
not only failed to stem the tide of infection, but has encouraged a complacency that is resulting in a "second wave" of the epidemic among the younger gay population -- a generation fully aware of the epidemic's threat to its health and survival.
An equally disturbing conclusion from the data accumulated by Rotello
is that the epidemic will not be ended by new "drug cocktails" and other anti-viral
medical fixes. This is not only because of the nature of the AIDS retrovirus,
which has a greater power to mutate than any previously known microbe, but
because of the historical failure of drugs to wipe out sexually
transmitted diseases. The discovery of penicillin was once thought to herald the eradication of syphilis. But because it created a false sense of invulnerability, and its repeated use led to the emergence of drug-resistant strains, there are more deaths worldwide from syphilis than when no medical remedy existed.
While some drugs, or combination of them, appear to have had some success in slowing down the virus in some American victims of the disease, there is little prospect of a medical cure in the near future. At the same time, more powerful strains of the
HIV virus have already been identified in Thailand, raising the specter of an
even more virulent phase of the epidemic to come.
In these circumstances, the only way to arrest the AIDS epidemic is the remedy that has traditionally been thwarted by "leaders" of the gay community: Change the
behaviors that feed it, in particular promiscuous sex.
Epidemiological studies show the existence of "core groups" of aggressively
promiscuous gays has been the key to the epidemic's progress in the United States. But these core groups and their institutional support system -- public bathhouses and sex clubs -- have been defended from the start of the epidemic by gay activists and their political allies as a "civil right," and moves against them as an assault on gay "liberation." As one gay activist, quoted by Rotello, wrote: "Gay liberation means
sexual freedom. And sexual freedom means more sex, better sex, sex in the
bushes, in the toilets, in the baths, sex without love, sex without harassment,
sex at home and sex in the streets." It also means death.
To help stop the AIDS epidemic, all gay bathhouses should be closed immediately; so should gay sex clubs, with names like "Blow Buddies." Public health officials also need to institute mandatory testing and contact-tracing -- targeted at communities at greatest risk -- and they need to issue clear warnings about the dangers of promiscuous anal sex. Those officials who fail to carry out these duties are guilty of criminal neglect, and should be sued.