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December 2008 Archives

Prominent AIDS Denialist Dies

| 126 Comments

What should we call it? A suicide? What should we call it when a woman dies because she refuses to believe she has a treatable illness?

And what should we call it when a woman lets her baby daughter die because she refuses to believe the baby has a treatable illness? A murder?

Christine Maggiore, one of America's most prominent AIDS denialists -- someone who believes HIV is not the cause of AIDS -- just died at the age of 52, three years after her daughter's death, according to the L.A. Times:

Christine Maggiore and her daugherMaggiore, 52, was founder of Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, a nonprofit that challenges "common assumptions" about AIDS. Her group's website and toll-free hotline cater to expectant HIV-positive mothers who shun AIDS medications, want to breast-feed their babies and seek to meet others of like mind. She also had written a book on the subject, titled "What if Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?"

In 2006, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office decided not to file criminal charges against Maggiore, whose daughter died the year before in what the county coroner ruled was AIDS-related pneumonia.

Los Angeles police had been investigating whether Maggiore and her husband, Robin Scovill, were negligent in not testing or treating Eliza Jane Scovill for the human immunodeficiency virus before her May 2005 death.

Maggiore had said that she did not take antiviral medications during her pregnancy and that she did not have her daughter tested for the virus after birth.

AIDS denialism has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths in South Africa (see my previous post explaining why), and now two more here in the U.S.

Any other idiots want to kill themselves or their children today? Anyone else out there with an HIV diagnosis want to just believe it's a harmless virus?


Edited to add: While I have been allowing denialists to vent in the comments section of this posting, I won't allow them to link to or promote any of their propaganda, which I consider lethal. I have edited some comments below to remove some links, and have deleted at least one post that was purely promotional. I consider AIDS denialism to be similar to a deadly virus, and won't let it infect this blog.

Join The Impact Responds

| 2 Comments

After my post last week offering a (hopefully helpful) critique of Join The Impact's anti-Prop 8 actions thus far, Dan Savage posted his own critique, saying "I want to get Peter Staley's back." In response, Rex Wockner countered that "Stonewall 2.0 isn't fizzling."

Probably missed by most during the holiday diversions, JTI's co-founder, Amy Balliett, posted a comment in Dan's blog (comment #15) responding to our critiques:

I keep hearing this statement that JTI is "patting themselves on the back" and not writing honest postmortems. To begin with, JTI has very often patted its volunteers on the back, not itself. Second, JTI only wrote a postmortem on Light Up the Night and on the November 15th rally only. As mentioned above, Day Without a Gay was something that JTI helped with, but it was not ours. Hence, no postmortem. Light Up the Night had a very clear goal that JTI accomplished: Reach 1 Million People With the Message of Equality. With over 1 million "5 rights fliers" handed out, a spike in membership over the next few days, and a great deal of coverage across the country - I'd say that goal was met.

While everyone continues to debate this, we keep losing sight of the big picture:

Those who oppose same-sex marriage are unified under faith. Even if they are independent thinkers in many respects, they let their faith guide them for issues like civil marriage - this means that they will always be a unified movement. On the flip side of the coin, we are all out and proud because we are independent thinkers in all respects. The problem with this is that many of our leaders spend more time questioning one another rather than working together for the greater good. If we don't unite, then we will not win any of the many basic human rights that we deserve. We instead run the risk of dividing our community from the inside out while our opponents divide us from the outside in.

November 15th was about uniting and becoming visible.
December 20th was about outreach and education.
January 10th DOMA protest (This is at the city and not the state capitol level) - Has a clear goal: 1 Million Plus Signatures on the Open Letter to Barack Obama (written in response to his Open Letter to the Gay Community). This letter will be in his hand on day one, showing him that we expect him to stick to his promises.

Each event is one step in the movement, not a solve all. When it comes down to it, if we allow our visibility to deter, then we become a community easily ignored. Dan, you are an outspoken gay man who I have always loved to listen to and read. JTI does not have to be the only organization calling for visibility (and it is not). We are teaming up with MEUSA on various events, for instance. The Courage Campaign has done a great deal as well. What JTI does provide is the platform for ideas. This gives everyone in this movement the opportunity to have a loud voice. Why don't you put out an idea for visibility, outreach, etc?

Oh and in response to getting all of us in a room together, if someone wants to donate about $10K to the cause, then we'll have a means to do this. Until then, JTI is comprised of an all volunteer group of young activists who are working some long hours and span across the country.

Well put. And I understand the sentiment behind her statement that "many of our leaders spend more time questioning one another rather than working together for the greater good." In my defense, I've promoted JTI events on this blog, marched at a JTI action in New York, and offered suggestions for future actions. But I'm stumped as to how we do constructive postmortems with no physical place to gather and hash things out.

JTI is the new Web-based activism, and as such, the postmortems are happening online, for better or worse. Amy mentions that JTI has done its own postmortems, but besides glowing day-after blog postings, I haven't found any serious what-we-did-right-and-what-we-did-wrong analysis on their website.

I'm open to other ideas of how us bloggers can support JTI while voicing our opinions on past and future actions, and to find a way for those opinions to be seen as helping rather than hindering JTI's progress.

Join the (Diminishing) Impact

| 8 Comments

Join The ImpactMomentum is a bitch. It’s probably the hardest thing to maintain in any activist movement. Join The Impact, the new web-based group that organized the remarkable nationwide anti-Prop 8 rallies on November 15th, is learning this hard truth pretty quickly. Their three actions since then – a postcard campaign, “Day Without A Gay”, and Saturday night’s nationwide “Light Up The Night” demos – failed to live up to this group’s early promise, or its justifiably glowing press coverage (see their New York Times profile).

This is not meant to be a dig. I’m in love with this group’s energy, youthfulness, and commitment. I haven’t felt this inspired by gay activism since the days of ACT UP. But I’m also a big believer in learning as you go, and doing honest postmortems. Any movement that only pats itself on the back after each action it takes is doomed to failure. So at the risk of having my head bitten off, I’d like to humbly offer the following advice.

Momentum matters. The best way to maintain it is to set and achieve attainable goals (or mini-victories that push the ball forward towards a larger victory). Thus far, Join The Impact only seems to be playing variations on a theme, attempting to recreate new versions of their clear victory on November 15th.

As amazing as that day was, it should be kept in perspective. It was a highly emotional response to a singular event, the passing of Prop 8. As a community, we were stunned, hurt and angry. As with most emotional responses, they will tend to diminish as you get further and further away from the initial event. November 15th was a singular moment, and attempting to recreate it will be as futile as attempting to recreate the Stonewall Riots.

Join The Impact doesn’t have ACT UP’s secret weapon – the monthly funerals that continually refueled our anger – so it needs to adjust to its post-November reality. They can’t keep banking on the initial emotions we all felt immediately after the Prop 8 vote. That probably means they should drop nationwide, broad-focus events for now, and start finding specific targets with potential mini-victories to push the ball forward.

One can think of dozens of targets. We could hit Rick Warren with various actions and specific demands, like an apology for comparing us to pedophiles and a commitment to stop the ex-gay ministry programs at his church. For a good action against him, try dozens of wedding-attired gay couples walking down his church’s aisle during one of his Sunday sermons. They could eventually crowd in front of the pews, quietly whispering their vows and exchanging rings and kisses, while never officially disturbing the sermon (one of ACT UP’s greatest mistakes).

The targets and potential mini-victories are as numbered as our enemies. Focus on the states where gay marriage is an attainable goal in the next few years: California, New York, and New Jersey. There are specific people and institutions in each that are standing in our way. If creatively targeted, any of them could become the focus of unwanted news coverage.

But here’s my worry. How will you do effective postmortems and strategize future actions? The Web is a great tool for getting out the word, but it’s a lousy place for brainstorming (sorry, discussion forums are useless for this). There’s simply no digital replacement for a room full of people hashing it out, where everyone’s eyes light up once someone hits on a good idea. Join The Impact doesn’t have ACT UP’s notorious Monday night meetings to debate future actions. Its next step should be picking a city, and finding a big room.

Please Show Up

| 1 Comment

Stonewall 2.0 (the post-Prop 8 movement) continues this Saturday night with candlelight vigils at commercial centers in various cities around the country (find your local demo here).

I feel like a putz, but I'll be out of town this weekend, so I'll miss NYC's vigil. It's actually a march, starting outside Macy's at Herald Square at 6pm, and ending with a 7pm rally in Times Square (kudos to the planners for picking this very smart, high-profile route).

Here's a teaser...

Some Good News on Meth

| 4 Comments

I had to dig to find this bit of good news, and sadly, it's gone unreported anywhere else. On December 5th, SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, released its annual report on drug-related visits to hospital emergency departments (EDs) in the U.S.

While the report provides an overall conclusion that "no significant changes in ED visits from 2004 to 2006, or from 2005 to 2006, were detected for any of the major illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and stimulants) or for alcohol," they set a very high bar (>40%) for classifying any changes as "significant."

The good news is that meth-related ED visits dropped 39.7 percent between 2004 and 2006 (see the table below), and it's been a steady drop over the three year period.

Meth ED Visits

This jibes well with previously released data by Quest Diagnostics showing a huge decline in positive tests for meth in workplace drug screenings. After increasing 73 percent from 2002 to 2004, positive tests for meth in workplace drug screenings dropped more than 50 percent between 2005 and 2007:

Workplace Meth declines

All great news, but the gay community shouldn't celebrate yet. Meth use among gay men has always represented a small proportion of overall meth use in the U.S.. The bulk of its use occurs among low-income white heterosexuals. There's obviously been a decline in use nationwide, but we don't know yet if that means gay men are using less.

I get the sense that they are, but we still don't have the data to prove that.

HRC, Defend The Mob

| 4 Comments

No Mob Veto adOn Friday, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty ran a full page ad in The New York Times accusing those who protested against the Prop 8 result -- gay and lesbian Americans -- of mob violence. Both HRC and GLAAD issued press releases asking us to respond by sending letters to the Times. Yawn.

I've got a better idea. HRC has been taking a beating lately in the gay press and blogoshere for ineffectively fighting prop 8, and for staring at its toes while the gay masses rallied like never before after our temporary election day defeat. They remind me of that scene in MILK, where the gay bigwigs (the owner of The Advocate and his boyfriend) try to join the post-Prop 6 celebration in Milk's Castro Street shop, and no one lets them in -- a very "sorry guys, we don't need you anymore" moment.

Well, here's an easy way for HRC to buy its way into our party. Why not run a counter-ad? Let's face it, very few groups have the bucks to talk for us in the Times. HRC does.

The very fact that the Mormon leadership and their new-found friends (Catholic and evangelical leaders) felt the need to respond so publicly to our remarkable outpouring this past month is a huge victory for us. They helped keep this story alive. We should respond in kind.

HRC, defend us.



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