Thursday, July 17, 2008

Staley: Sullivan, Petrelis Not Outraged
Over CDC Gay HIV stats

My queer activist HIV poz brother Peter Staley has started a blog over at the site, and one of his entries concerns new HIV figures from the CDC in June, that didn't spark outrage. Let's look at some of his points, which I'll respond to:

I kept looking for a response, from anyone. How about an editorial in a major newspaper? How about an editorial in the gay press? How about the blogosphere?

Never mind a major newspaper or a gay publication getting outraged, both of which have seen their reach and influence diminish in recent years, or a response from the blogosphere. Peter should be asking the billion-dollar plus HIV prevention mafia members to make a response. But even outrage from AIDS Inc may not mobilize gay men in the way Peter wants. I don't know why he wants or thinks an outraged response will do anything to avert new HIV infections.

Andrew Sullivan and Michael Petrelis, two of my favorite gay bloggers, didn’t say a thing about the new stats. They usually post long entries whenever they find a one year “trend” pointing to possible good news on HIV infections in gay men. I guess the latest news has them so stunned they don’t know what to say about it. Michael actually wrote an entry about the CDC’s press release, but didn’t list a single statistic from it. Instead, he thought it was much more important to know if the epidemiologist announcing the news was gay or not.

Peter contradicts himself by first saying I have not weighed in on the stats, but later mentions I did write something, but didn't delve into the CDC stats. That contradiction aside, he should give me some credit for at least being one activist who still does pay attention to such numbers.

I'm not stunned by the CDC latest lame effort to capture the attention of the general American population and the parTying gay community in the days before massive pride parades. The feds have lousy timing to blame for the lack of outraged, or coordinated response from AIDS groups.

As dependable as a Philip Glass composition, the CDC keeps claiming higher rates of new HIV infections, which may be true, but putting out the stats at the worst time of the gay calendar, guarantees a yawn.

Peter might be better off lobbying the CDC to release their annual scary gay HIV stats in January or February, when the community's attention is more sober and receptive to bad news.

Oh wait, I found something on – an eighteen word bullet in a long list of Andy Towle’s daily dish. It was ten bullets below the lead about “American Gladiators' first-ever gay contestant.” (To be fair, all these bloggers write extensively about AIDS issues – I’m just trying to push them a little to tackle the “gays behaving badly” headlines as well).

Good for Peter for pushing bloggers who confront AIDS issues, but he's missing the much bigger targets who should be outraged -- AIDS service organizations and the CDC, the biggest funder of prevention campaigns and ads in the country, not to mention gay political organizations.

I looked at the sites for AmFAR, SF AIDS Foundation, Stop AIDS Project, SF DPH, and didn't see any statements of outrage from the HIV nonprofit world, except in the newspaper.

I guess the executives of the groups were also out having a good time during pride week. We wouldn't want the six-figure salaried folks breaking into a sweat over the new stats, right? Heck, even if they did say something of substance, it would probably entail asking for more federal money for their failing programs.

So what’s the big news? On June 27th, the CDC released stats showing that the number of young gay men being newly diagnosed with HIV infection is rising by 12 percent a year. The news was big enough for front section articles in both the Washington Post and New York Times. But I guess most readers, including many gay men, just read it and turned the page.

I've lived through too many surges, second-waves, third second-waves, spikes of HIV stats, etc., to get upset over just another alarmist CDC report about supposed rising infections amongst gays.

What did Peter want gay WaPo and NYT readers to do after reading the articles? Plan a march on the CDC in Atlanta? Demand their HIV prevention groups finally mount and maintain a long-term social marketing campaign promoting the anal condom for male-on-male butt sex, a campaign that also respects the rectum? Write a letter to the editor or a member of congress?

Ever since the early years of the AIDS crisis, our government has basically told the gay community “sorry, you’re on your own.” Homophobes in power, like Reagan and Helms and a complicit Congress, made sure that the CDC could never fund effective HIV prevention campaigns targeting gay men (a version of Helms’ “No Promo Homo” amendment is still ensconced in the CDC’s HIV Content Guidelines).

Bravo for Peter for reminding me about that awful amendment, but the fact that it's still dictating CDC' s HIV programs brings me back to a central point. What have the well-funded AIDS and gay rights groups done, with their Democratic Party and moderate GOP political allies, to undo that Helms amendment's lingering stench?

I'm not unpacking anymore of Peter's blog entry, because I think I've made my basic points and I want to move on to something that will hopefully outrage him, and other AIDS advocates.

I propose we accept that HIV prevention is continuing to be a huge failure, despite millions and millions of public dollars thrown at the problem, and instead of wasting those funds on prevention that ain't working, move the dollars into treatment for HIV poz people.

It may be more prudent and effective at stopping new HIV infections, if we put more poz people on AIDS cocktails and into continuous health care, with lots of monitoring blood tests, bring their HIV viral loads down to undetectable, and very unlikely to transmit the virus to uninfected sexual partners. And let's not overlook the HIV poz community on its own, without any funding or assistance from AIDS Inc or the CDC, brought down HIV infections in San Francisco through sero-sorting.

HIV is here to stay and I'm not joining Peter's chorus demanding outrage and a steady crisis mentality deciding HIV prevention issues, when annual CDC stats come out. Treatment will probably so much more to control and prevent new infections in the USA than any loud outrage from gay bloggers.

But in the end, I'm grateful Peter has raised the issues he did on his new blog.

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