Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hetero TB Patient Quarantined, Media Ignore Straight Angle, Speaker Photos at Mock Trial

(Andrew Speaker, a straight man with TB under federal quarantine, is the man on the right in both the top and bottom photos.)

It's said among gay political and media types that there's usually a gay angle to every major news story of the day, and I think that rule applies to growing coverage of Andrew Speaker and his dangerous infection.
I wish to point out a few things about the now-quarantined Atlanta lawyer infected with a strain of drug-resistant TB, starting with the fact he's heterosexual.
Many news accounts report that he traveled far and wide because of his wedding to a woman and their honeymoon itinerary, but no story or health expert has yet directly addressed the heterosexual aspects of this unfolding tale.
You can bet the house that if Speaker were gay or bisexual, the headlines would be screaming, "Homosexual With TB Quarantined," and much fear and alarm would be integral to the public discussion about the man and his case.
When gay men are infected with drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea, staph infections, or super HIV like the man in NYC in February 2005, health officials sound loud alarms, relayed in the mainstream media, and the subtext of it all is one of gays spreading diseases, not diseases being transmitted by people who happen to be gay.
But the Speaker case is notably absent any discussion about his sexual orientation, other than that he got married to a woman. If he were gay, I think at this point in the investigation, health experts and reporters would be very publicly questioning if he had other sex partners recently, and a larger discussion about his entire sexual history and that of other gay men.
Can we have a little equal treatment of the Speaker quarantine and ask that the media broach the subject of if and how the man's sexual orientation may have been a contributing factor to acquiring TB?
It's not that I think any (hetero)-hysteria should be whipped up, like we see when homosexuals are the subject of intense medical and media scrutiny over the transmission of rare strains of deadly and injurious infections, but the unexplored sexual transmission routes of TB have not factored in to any coverage I've seen.
Final few points. I found these photos of Speaker from the 13th American Bar Association's Annual National Criminal Justice Trial Advocacy Competition, where his team won first place in the mock trial. Those skills might come in handy if Speaker faces any sort of criminal charges related to his infection, travel abroad and then re-entry into the United States.


Anonymous said...

I am a physician who happens to specialize in infectious diseases, with tuberculosis being my focus. I am also gay.

Your argument is interesting, but wholly uninformed. A minimum of research on the age-old disease of tuberculosis (about which there is a vast, vast literature) would have informed you that the disease is NOT sexually transmitted. Congenital infection has been reported rarely, but this is vertical transmission, not (sexual) horizontal transmission. For you to suggest that the possibility of sexual transmission of TB is "unexplored" is physiologically unfeasible and frankly irresponsible.

The reason no news outlet has commented on your angle of this argument (and, I suspect, why noone else has left any comments), is that it is a completely absurd one. Not everything has to do with us gay people. This is about XDR TB, and the predicament in which poorly managed TB treatment programs have left us, namely, with resistant organisms. It is about the fight against diseases that kill all of us, gay or straight. The issue of sexuality does not come up when we speak of the 2 million people a year who die of TB. It does not come up with the XDR TB patients in Russia, Asia and Africa. The issue is more important, more dire, more desperate than sexuality. The fact that TB is not even transmitted by sexual contact smacks of a desperate attempt to link homophobia with something, anything, to promote your argument.

Please - you are entitled to your opinions about your proposed link between this patient's sexuality and his disease. This is America, after all, and stranger claims have been professed. But the medical profession, and our subsequent duty to our patients, cannot function on insinuations and innuendo. Evidence is what we advance upon. And there is no peer-reviewed evidence for your astounding claims about the transmission of tuberculosis.

T. Kasambira, MD, MPH

Anonymous said...

When this story unfolded, I was praying the guy wasn't gay with HIV. Prayers answered. And you make a very good point about the silence (or different slant) from the media because he is het vs gay.


Mike said...

Hmmm... A man on a plane with a very communicable disease (which he was aware he had).

Wasn't "Patient Zero" in the HIV epidemic a man on a plane?

So how did Speaker get this disease? Is he a democrat? Is this a republican-proof strain of TB?

Anonymous said...

For crying out loud, T. Kasambira, get your head out of your medical books (or ass) and learn how to read satire! Petrelis' very relevant point was to criticize the media for fixating on the sexual orientation and sexual histories of gay men every time one gay man turns up with a drug-resistant infection.

Anonymous said...

I am not a physician, but the physicians at the World Health Organization are, and they have made clear that there is indeed a high correlation between HIV infection and TB infection. See

This does not mean that TB is a sexually-transmitted disease, but it does mean that HIV infection is disproportionately a cofactor in TB infection; and in the United States, homosexual orientation is disproportionately a cofactor for HIV infection.

If patient Andrew Speaker were indeed gay, media all over the world would be demanding to know his HIV status. The inference would be that of course he's just another plague-bearing homosexual vermin endangering the rest of "us" with his diseases.

Because of the nature of the TB strain that the heterosexual Mr. Speaker has contracted and its correlation to HIV infection, one wonders why the media are not asking about his HIV status anyway.

The Chicago Tribune is one outlet that has seen fit to raise the specter of HIV in Mr. Speaker's case; but they do so by way of referring to malicious virus spreaders, rather than by way of asking about Mr. Speaker's HIV status. In an editorial this morning at,1,1536225.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed , they write:

"What he did was reckless, selfish and unconscionable. If someone who has HIV knowingly exposes another person, he or she can be charged with a felony in many states, including Illinois. How is that much different from ignoring a direct warning from medical authorities and potentially infecting someone else with a particularly dangerous strain of TB?"

If there is a way to tar gays with this episode, trust the mainstream media to figure out a way to do it.

calugg said...

WHile it was clear the idiot with TB was non-queer, I was SURE, even before he was identified, he was white. There is NO WAY he would have made it through US Customs on the Canadian border if he had been a person of color.

I've had the distinct displeasure of negotiating entry when traveling with colleagues. In Fall 2006, in a van full of academics traveling South to the US from Toronto, we were pulled out since only 2 of the 9 passengers were Anglo. Everyone else was a person of color. So, off to the processing center we went (which was VERY TENSE--Border goons dressed in black with automatic weapons). Except for the driver of the van and me (and I was the only US citizen), everyone in the waiting room was a person of color.

It took about an hour, but we were cut loose after I paid the "landing fees" for one of the Indian students studying in Canada (female, smart and innocous). THank god I had an extra US $20 in my wallet. But it was a mortifying experience, particularly because it was my fellow citizens acting like goons and terrifying my colleagues.

That a priviledged non-queer white guy with a DEADLY form of TB got a pass on the border doesn't surprise me at all. He's not a threat.


Anonymous said...

Thanks to yet another episode of ineptitude by Bush's Department of Homeland Insecurity, Osama has finally figured out how to get the suitcase bomb into the U.S.

Visit Manhattan this summer while it's still there.

Anonymous said...

Oh Come On! This guy is as gay as day!

Sarah, RN