In the 1980s and ’90s, more than 300,000 homosexual men died from AIDS. Many, if not most, of their lives could have been saved by the use of widely accepted, time-tested public-health practices that had proven successful in combating previous epidemic diseases. But a campaign of political pressure tactics applied by the radical gay Left made this impossible.
The first cases of what would later become known as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) were reported in the United States in June of 1981. Over the next two decades, several hundred thousand homosexual men—who, according to the Centers for Disease Control, constituted just 2% of the U.S. male population—accounted for at least half of all HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths. Many, perhaps most, of these deaths could have been avoided, if only public-health agencies had been able to carry out the same types of effective, common-sense practices that had proven successful in combating epidemic diseases in the past—namely, testing for the disease, reporting known carriers to public-health authorities, and contact tracing (i.e., identifying and diagnosing all those who may have had sexual contact with an infected person). But radical gay activists fought, tooth and nail, to prevent such practices from being used to deal with AIDS.
These activists were acting on the political principles of the “Gay Liberation” movement which was born in the Stonewall Demonstrations of 1969. At that time, the movement’s leading theorists emphasized the symbolic importance of promiscuous anal sex as a behavioral repudiation of America’s allegedly repressive, “sex-negative” culture and its “heteronormativity” (i.e., the heterosexual and monogamous norm).
Gay activists championed “liberation” in the form of defiant promiscuity, the overthrow of “bourgeois morals” regarding sexual restraint, and, by logical extension, the rejection of “bourgeois” standards of public hygiene. As the Gay Liberation Front’s 1970 manifesto proclaimed: “We are a revolutionary homosexual group of men and women formed with the realization that complete liberation of all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished. We reject society’s attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature.”
The effect of this radical commitment was both immediate and profound. Between 1967 and 1970—when the sexual revolution came into full bloom—the incidence of amoebiasis, a parasitic sexually transmitted disease, increased fifty-fold in San Francisco because of promiscuous oral-anal sex among homosexuals. Both before and after the onset of AIDS, gay activists described the public “bathhouses” where such sexual activities took place as homosexual “liberated zones” and regarded any efforts to close them as a “threat” to gay “liberation.”
As still-treatable infections multiplied in the “liberated” culture, gay radicals only increased their defiance—as evidenced by their transformation of overloaded VD clinics into trysting places. In his authoritative history of the AIDS epidemic, author Randy Shilts describes the atmosphere on the eve of its outbreak: “Gay men were being washed by tide after tide of increasingly serious infections. First it was syphilis and gonorrhea…. Easy treatment had imbued them with such a cavalier attitude toward venereal diseases that many gay men saved their waiting-line numbers, like little tokens of desirability, and the clinic was considered an easy place to pick up both a shot and a date.”
Far from causing radical activists to re-think their agenda, the burgeoning epidemics prompted them to cling to that agenda ever-more tenaciously. When Dr. Dan William, a homosexual medical doctor, warned of the danger of continued promiscuity, the gay press denounced him as a “monogamist.” When playwright Larry Kramer issued a similar warning, the New York Nativeaccused him of “gay homophobia and anti-eroticism.” At a public meeting in the year preceding the first AIDS cases, Edmund White, co-author of The Joy of Gay Sex, proposed that “gay men should wear their sexually transmitted diseases like red badges of courage in a war against a sex-negative society.” And gay activist Michael Callen, boasting that he had already had 3,000 sexual partners, stated, with what he would later describe as “the best of revolutionary intentions”: “Every time I get the clap [gonorrhea] I’m striking a blow for the sexual revolution.”
The enteric diseases—amoebiasis, Gay Bowel Syndrome, giardiasis and shigellosis—were followed by an epidemic of hepatitis B, which had transformed itself, via anal intercourse, from a blood-borne scourge into a venereal disease that was particularly common among people with HIV. But even as these epidemics grew, public-health officials stayed passively on the proverbial sidelines. Don Francis, a Centers for Disease Control official in charge of fighting the spread of hepatitis B, acknowledged that the only effective way to combat an epidemic was to identify the carriers of the infection and separate them from those in their path. But he explained: “We didn’t intervene because we felt that it would be interfering with an alternative lifestyle.”
Why did the gay Left strive (with great success) to prevent testing, reporting, and contact tracing as means of dealing with AIDS? Because it believed that the information learned from such measures would not be kept confidential, and that AIDS carriers would thus be ostracized and persecuted. Gay activists persuaded government officials to focus instead on “education” campaigns portraying AIDS as an “equal-opportunity” disease that was as likely to affect heterosexuals as homosexuals. But these campaigns were ineffective because—out of considerations of political correctness—they did not specify anal sex as the primary sexual transmission route and were addressed not to those who were specifically at risk, but to “everyone,” and thus in effect to no one.
In the first five years of the epidemic, when sexually transmitted AIDS was largely confined to the white gay communities of three metropolitan areas—New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco—aggressive public-health practices could have prevented the epidemic’s outward spread. But all efforts to take normal precautionary measures were thwarted by the political juggernaut that the gay liberation movement had managed to create. Under intense pressure from gay activists, for example, San Francisco’s director of public health refused to close his city’s bathhouses where the HIV virus was primarily spread.
Not only were measures to prevent the geographical spread of AIDS derailed by radical politics, but efforts to prevent its spread to other demographics were obstructed as well. For instance, when officials tried to institute screening procedures for the nation’s blood banks and asked the gay community not to make donations while the epidemic persisted, gay political leaders opposed the precautions as infringements on the “right” of homosexuals to give blood. The San Francisco Coordinating Committee of Gay & Lesbian Services issued a policy paper asserting that donor screening was “reminiscent of miscegenation blood laws that divided black blood from white,” and “similar in concept to the World War II rounding up of Japanese-Americans in the western half of the country to minimize the possibility of espionage.”
Ultimately, the gay Left’s unwavering opposition to testing, reporting, and contact tracing facilitated the spread of AIDS not only among homosexuals, but also to segments of the population that initially had not been affected by the disease. These included, most notably, hemophiliacs, drug-using heterosexuals, and nonwhite minorities. Indeed, blacks and Hispanics eventually came to account for more than 60% of all known AIDS cases.
This essay is adapted from: “A Radical Holocaust,” by David Horowitz (1998); “Unnecessary Deaths from AIDS,” by David Horowitz (August 21, 2001); “Silent Slaughter,” by David Horowitz (June 10, 2003); and “The 20th Anniversary of an American Killing Fields,” by David Horowitz (June 11, 2001).
A Radical Holocaust
By David Horowitz
By David Horowitz
June 10, 2003
The 20th Anniversary of an American Killing Fields
By David Horowitz
June 11, 2001