Friday, January 18, 2008

Gays Want Apology From UCSF on
Staph & 'General Population' Release

[Scroll down for updates.]

This was emailed this morning to the entire UCSF press office staff. I hope to receive a reply and apology before the day is over.

Wallace Ravven
Research Communication
UCSF Press Office
Phone: 415-502-1332
San Francisco, CA
Dear Mr. Ravven,
As two gay men in a longtime loving relationship, we'd like to know when exactly we no longer were part of the "general population."
We're two gays in San Francisco who rent an apartment in the Mission District, pay our taxes, consider ourselves dedicated voters in every election, have large circles of family and neighbors in our lives, and love foreign films.
Somehow something in our lives makes us "others" and not woven into the general population, according the logic of your recent alarming press release about staph infections and a new UCSF study.
You went out of your way to mention, four times, that gay men are not considered by UCSF to be members of the general population. Is there a UCSF study showing when and how gay men left the general population?
The scientists are concerned that it could also soon gain ground in the general population. [...]
"But because the bacteria can be spread by more casual contact, we are also very concerned about a potential spread of this strain into the general population." [...]
In a second part of the study based on patient medical charts, the scientists found that sexually active gay men in San Francisco are about 13 times more likely to be infected than the general population. [...]
"The potential widespread dissemination of multi-resistant form of USA300 into the general population is alarming," he adds. [...]
We are requesting an explanation from you as to why UCSF believes gays are removed from the general population and why you believe it necessary to four times stigmatize gays in using that phrase.
We find it deeply troubling that a top research institution such as UCSF, in America's gay Mecca, is blatantly ignorant about how stigmatizing and emotionally-charged it is when the institution's public relations staff pronounce that gays are not fully integrated into the general population.
By the way, after a few days of mass media confusion and misperceptions about gays, created to a large degree by UCSF, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was forced to issue a press advisory about the study. Thankfully, the CDC, unlike UCSF, used non-inflammatory language to educate everyone about staph infection and antibiotics. "General population" was excluded in the federal release.
An apology for this homophobic and linguistic transgression on the part of UCSF is also formally requested by us.
A prompt reply would be most appreciated.
Best regards,
Mike Merrigan
Michael Petrelis


This excerpt is from Clinton Fein, the political artist, and his blog at the SF Chronicle's web site.
Fein's entry is part of a growing backlash against the hysteria that was whipped up against gay men this week, and I'm proud that he, and all the others who are questioning how the staph story has played out, have raised their voices.

I get lonely sometimes being the sole activist saying deep skepticism is needed when UCSF/DPH and the SF Chronicle are screaming alarming things about gays and infections, and I'm pleased as punch that so many others are upset about this latest sex panic against us.
As soon as the UCSF press office sends their promised explanation and apology, I'll post it here.
It’s difficult to express the ire I felt encountering the San Francisco Chronicle’s headline and accompanying article on Tuesday morning written by Sabin Russell, Chronicle Medical Writer, about a supposedly new staph infection epidemic at which San Francisco’s gay community is at the epicenter.

Along with the sensational headline, S
.F. gay community an epicenter for new strain of virulent staph, a graphic, looking conveniently like a quarantine blueprint, colored San Francisco’s Castro district red. [...]

While it was instantly predictable that activists like Michael Petrelis would be justifiably outraged, similar responses in the blogosphere were as swift and as damning. And while the Chronicle wasn’t the only publication to pump out the sensationalist tripe extrapolated from UCSF’s press release, it should be ashamed of its inability to consider the implications of its irresponsibility.

For anyone who thinks the response to this is an overreaction, or questions the usefulness of Michael Petrelis' advocacy, I just learned of a written apology issued to Petrelis by the author of the UCSF press release, Wallace Ravven, in which he agrees to a public apology in a more satisfying context to be issued soon.

It was just as instantly predicable that the rabid homophobia of organizations like Concerned Women for America (who once labeled me a pornographer in a press release) would latch on to this coverage and use it as a pretext to instill fear, hate and division among their already confused constituents. As illustrated by their statements in a panic-inducing press release,

[Update number two]

In a message dated 1/18/2008 4:27:03 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Mr. Petrelis --

First, let me apologize for unintentionally offending many people. I do think there were statements in the news release that were open to misinterpretation, as our official statement below acknowledges. The distinction that the release appeared to make between the gay population and the general population stems from epidemiological language, which includes everyone -- gays, straights, etc. -- in the "general population." But this clearly was not the context in which it appeared, which was unclear and unfortunate.

I hope you found useful the main purpose of the news release, which was to highlight an issue of potentially very serious public health concern.

Our news unit strives for accuracy and sensitivity, and I again I apologize for any unintended offense.

With respect,

Wallace Ravven

Manager, Research Communications, UCSF


The following statement is posted on the UCSF new site:


We regret that our recent news report (1-14-08) about an important population-based study on MRSA USA300 with public health implications contained some information that could be interpreted as misleading. We deplore negative targeting of specific populations in association with MRSA infections or other public health concerns, and we will be working to ensure that accurate information about the research is disseminated to the health community and the general public.

Manager - Research Communications
UCSF News Services

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

..."and love foreign films" (?) Are you a comedy writer or just an everyday, anti-american gay male intellectual? Why don't you blame Bush for the MRSA outbreak in the Castro. Why not? You blame Bush for everything else!