AIDS: ‘secrecy suicidal’

From The Herald (Melbourne), 16 Jul 1983:

THE fear and loathing that surrounds AIDS are prompting doctors to suggest patients store their own blood at “a pint a week.”

Some clubs are storing blood from their members to be used if one of them needs a transfusion.

The American Red Cross, under increasing pressure from people frightened of AIDS, has agreed to let people receive transfusions of their own blood and is asking people from high-risk AIDS groups not to donate blood.

This means that hospitals do not want blood from practising homosexuals, making up more than 90 per cent of AIDS cases on the American West Coast.

And while hysteria about AIDS is spreading, so is the knowledge that there are many more cases of AIDS than at first thought — particularly in San Francisco.

That city has an almost bewildering number of gay rights clubs, each with powerful political lobbies. There is what is called the “Gay Seat” on the city council.

It has now been shown that an incredible one-in-333 (or a total of 600) gay males in the inner San Francisco area has AIDS and perhaps thousands more of the city’s gay population of perhaps 200,000 could have the disease in its incubation stage.

The one-in-333 figure was discovered by Andrew Moss and Michael Gorman, researchers at the University of California in San Francisco.

For several weeks. Moss and Gorman met with representatives of the Kaposi Sarcoma AIDS Foundation, the Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights, Gay Democratic clubs and public health officials, to discuss releasing their findings.

However, many gay officials did not want them made public because they feared the figures would be taken out of context.

A statement on AIDS, made at the recent gay parade which drew a crowd of 200,000 in San Francisco, left out the figures.

The information was then leaked to a journalist on the San Francisco Chronicle who covered the gay beat.

The journalist, Randy Shilts, said: “The people in the Castro (the main gay area in San Francisco) had a right to know. If they’re tricking (picking up gay partners) in the bars, they’ve got a real good chance of tricking with somebody who has the disease.”

Shilts said he was telephoned by Pat Norman of the Coalition for Human Rights, the umbrella organisation of San Francisco’s Gay Democratic clubs and the co-chairman, Randy Stallings, of the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic

He said: “In eight years as a journalist. I’ve never been under such pressure to suppress a story. People kept telling me it would hurt business in the Castro, hurt the Gay Rights Bill In Sacramento (the California state capital).”

Catherine Cusic, a lesbian who leads the gay/lesbian health services of the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club’s AIDS task force, says gay leaders trying to cover up the extent of AIDS are dangerously wrong.

“It is a pattern that goes back to the first appearance of AIDS,” she says. “There are leaders in this community who don’t want people to know the truth.

“Hundreds, perhaps thousands are going to die because of this attitude. The whole thing borders on the homicidal.”

Catherine Cusic is a respiratory’ therapist at San Francisco General Hospital and she says: “You see these young people come In and die so quickly and in such agony. Their families come in and watch.

“In some sense what I witness is political for me.

“I say to myself: ‘We’re queers. They don’t care about us. They’re glad we’re dying.’

“But it’s also personal. I watch these young men die. Their mothers start to cry.

“Their lovers have been sitting in the room, smiling and smiling and then I see them at the elevator, just standing and sobbing. It’s horrible and it’s a horrible death.

“I have to admit that some of those responsible are gay leaders. In my mind, they’re criminally negligent. They’ve betrayed their own community.”

The economic impact of the AIDS epidemic has not been lost on San Francisco’s Mayor, Dianne Feinstein.

She is worried that the Democratic Party might take next year’s national convention away from San Francisco, that the party and its presidential candidate (to be chosen in San Francisco) will be linked with gays and AIDS.

At the convention gays are certain to have marches and picket lines. Gays have already been successful in persuading the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (through gay supervisor Harry Britt, supported by Mayor Feinstein) to give $4 million this year for AIDS research.

And the United States Health and Sen-ices Department has made a cure for AIDS its No. 1 health priority.

The United States Congress is moving to give another $12 million towards AIDS research, making a total of $26 million in Federal Government funds.

But some gay leaders say the money is a cynical example of non-gay fears that AIDS will spill over into the general community. (Although there are cases of AIDS affecting heterosexuals, researchers say the victims have had relationships with AIDS sufferers).

Still, some gay organisations seem intent on convincing the general community that it is as much at risk from AIDS as the gay community.

This just doesn’t appear to be true, although there is the slight chance of contracting the disease through a blood transfusion, as has happened to haemophiliacs.

The Harvey Milk Club voted 80-1 to issue a pamphlet warning of the disease. They asked owners of gay bathhouses to post warnings that oral and anal sex greatly increased the danger of contracting the disease.

The owners refused and their secretiveness was criticised as being suicidal. Then the Bay Area Reporter printed a protest letter from concerned gay leaders.

It read: “What a peculiar perversion it is of gay liberation to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence, to
keep quiet, to deny the obvious — when the lives of gay men are at stake.

“What a strange concept of our gay movement it is to care more about what they may do to us than about the need to spread the news about this disease to our people so that we can protect each other…”

San Francisco gay supervisor Harry Britt took a stand and notices have now been posted in bathhouses by the city’s Public Health Service.

The bathhouses of San Francisco and Los Angeles are a symbol of gay liberation and, simultaneously, the means by which the disease is often passed on.

A gay doctor saw three of his AIDS patients In a San Francisco bathhouse and ordered them out. They refused and threatened to sue him for a breach of confidentiality.

The Liberty Baths in Post St., San Francisco, were visited by two freelance journalists who reported that there were dozens of cubicles in the basement from which they heard the sounds of gay lovemaking.

They reported a conversation between two men in the bathhouse restaurant:

“I could get back into the closet right now and still get it in a year of so. So. what would I have achieved? Celibacy.”

The other man nodded and said: “I know. We’re just little time bombs, aren’t we?

“Weil. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to have some fun while I tick…”

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