Monday, August 14, 2006

Gay community tired of AIDS?

And so are we all. Sick of it. Bored with it. Depressed by it. Don't want to talk about it, think about it, see it.

And yet it doesn't seem to go away. Jose Antonio Vargas writes for the Washington Post about DC Young Gay Positives, a social and support organization for HIV-positive young gay men in Washington, DC. The story profiles Josh, a recently diagnosed young man who is having trouble adjusting to his HIV status, and Henderson, an older gay man, still comparatively recently diagnosed, who is active in the organization and trying to help others. While the thrust of the story is the apparent social divide between gay men who are positive and those who are not and the apparent AIDS fatigue that explains the divide, the description of the lives of these two men and the social context in which they live is enlightening.

While the focus of the story is on the DC gay community, it may as well be on US society at large: the denial of HIV as a health risk, the social divide between those who are positive and those who are not, the stigma at work and elsewhere, the increasing risk for young people while effective prevention messages are contradicted by media and social institutions.

Appalling journalism: when hacks write tabloid crap

It is possible that some of the coverage of the International AIDS Conference will take a neutral point of view. It is even possible that some of it, although probably a smaller percentage, will describe the research being presented at the conference in clear and scientifically accurate terms. It is, however, absolutely certain that much of the coverage of the conference will present garbled information, sensationalized to sell the story and, far too often, emphasize the storyline that AIDS is controversial and the people who have it are immoral.

Case in point: Time's "Giving AIDS Drugs to Prevent Infection," by Christine Gorman. She begins her article in a manner sure to get attention:
You think giving condoms to high school kids is controversial? How about giving anti-AIDS drugs to folks who aren’t HIV-positive so that they can continue working as prostitutes or engaging in sex without having to worry about their partner's HIV status?

Note the parallelism of the word "giving." In the one case, the reference is to handing out an item for free. In the second case, the reference may be the same, but it may also be to the act of prescribing something that an individual would then purchase. There is no indication in the article that there may be any distinction between the two acts of "giving." There is also no indication of who might be doing the giving or how the gift is paid for. Yet the comment section following the article shows just exactly the reaction this introduction was intended to elicit: "I'm tired of spending my tax dollars . . ."

Gorman's story, despite its benign title, is all about controversy. This includes the fact that some branches of the research trial testing PrEP have been shut down, that there are moral concerns about the prevention strategy being studied, that there may be medical issues related to long term exposure to the drugs used in PrEP. There is little about the prevention context of this research; nothing that would help a reader understand its importance to women or discordant couples. Her emphasis leads the reader directly to mental images of orgy and irresponsible welfare leeches.

I don't often react this strongly to a news story. It could be blood sugar issue. And I'm no great personal fan of PrEP. However, I think it's time to give this sort of journalism a label ("tabloid crap") and this sort of journalist a title ("hack"). Time Magazine has done a better job of covering AIDS issues in the past; someone should have a little chat with the editor who allowed this garbage to get through. As for Ms. Gorman, she should just cross her legs. Then she'll never have to worry about PrEP. I don't know what it would take to get her to stop writing, but maybe she'll take an interest in fashion or celebrity home decor. That might be more suited to her style.