A cautious world of AIDS and gays

From the Sydney Morning Herald, 28 June 1983, page 1 and page 5:

“Everybody is talking about it. It’s such a frightening thing, so frightening that people are almost joking about it.”

Mr Stephen Allkins, a young homosexual from Elizabeth Bay, was sitting in the Flinders Hotel in Darlinghurst yesterday, talking about the AIDS scare and the Sydney gay community’s response to it.

“Personally, it hasn’t stopped me. There is no use in sitting at home and worrying about it. You could have sex with only one person and still get it,” he said.

Around the corner, at the Oxford Hotel in Taylor Square, another popular gay bar, barman Mr Ken Bryan was a little more concerned, not just about AIDS, but about the publicity. Mr Bryan has a steady relationship with another man who, he says, is a suspected AIDS case.

“It has scared us to death and is talked about by everyone,” he said. Their concern had not been helped by the type of publicity given to the syndrome. “I think it stinks. The disease has been publicised as all-gay but it is heterosexuals who are affected too,” he said.

He produced a photocopied article from Lancet, the American medical Journal, which looked at 14 AIDS victims, of whom only three were homosexuals.

Mr Bryan said there was a feeling that AIDS was a “gay plague” about to be inflicted on the heterosexual world.

This attitude had been reflected recently in Darlinghurst when some gay shopkeepers were abused by “skinheads” who accuse them of spreading disease.

The June 11 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia carried a dramatic front page with a newspaper reference calling AIDS “the black plague of the eighties” and another which commented: “Perhaps we’ve needed a situation like this to show us what we have known all along — depravity kills.”

It is this type of publicity which has most upset the gay community.

The disease, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, destroys a person’s ability to fight infection and leads to tumours, skin cancer and often death.

A spokesman for the recently established AIDS Action Committee, Mr Lex Watson, yesterday accused some doctors of being irresponsible in their reporting of what were only suspected AIDS cases.

“The community is more aware of the risk of casual sexual encounters. People are starting to confine their sexual encounters to a small group of people,” he said.

But he said this message should go out to the whole community.

“It seems that promiscuity is more the danger point that whether people are straight or gay. It is very much the same as other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and herpes. “The disease just happened to crop up in the gay community,” he said.

Until the syndrome was understood more fully, he said, homosexuals and heterosexuals alike needed to think carefully about casual sexual encounters.

Mr Watson said Government health authorities should counter “misinformation” about the syndrome, including the suggestion by the Rev. Fred Nile last week that all homosexual teachers be moved from teaching to administrative positions to prevent the disease spreading.

He said Mr Nile’s call yesterday, for the NSW Health Minister, Mr Brereton, to take immediate steps to declare AIDS a notifiable disease, was largely irrelevant. “Unlike various other sexually transmitted diseases you don’t get a GP’s diagnosis for AIDS, legal notification is probably counter-productive,” he said.

Mr Michael Glynn, editor of the Sydney Star gay newspaper, said the AIDS scare had led to considerable thought in the gay community about sexual practices. Mr Glynn said he had been living with a man for three years and they had allowed each other to have sexual encounters outside their relationship. But now they had to restrict those encounters.

Another viewpoint came from Mr Paul Dexter, head of the Gay Army, an organisation he claims represents the gay community more than others. He says the issue has been well publicised.

He blamed “left-wing elements” for the outcry against AIDS publicity.

Mr Dexter said he had noticed a significant decline in the patronage of gay bars and venues in Sydney since AIDS was publicised.

“Every night I go to every gay venue and make a note of how many people are there. There has definitely been an enormous slowing down (in sexual activity) by responsible gays,” he said.

“My estimate is that 80 percent of the community has slowed down.”

He said he was particularly concerned that an AIDS prevention program be set up in jails to prevent the disease being picked up there and transmitted to the community when prisoners were released.

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