Correspondence

ATTACKS ON "AIDS, PUBLIC MORALITY, AND PUBLIC HEALTH"

To the Editors:

I read [John Adams Wettergreen's] article in The Claremont Review of Books, Volume IV, No. 3, titled "AIDS, Public Morality, and Public Health" with a great deal of disgust.

The second paragraph contains a blatant and unsupportable lie from which I assume further distortions and half-truths follow. I am the Shirley L. Fannin, M.D., referred to in the para­graph. Contrary to the statements, my unit has exhaustively studied all of our transfusion-related cases and have found high-risk donors in every donor group. These studies with others around the country led to the actions taken in March of 1983 by blood banks asking high-risk persons to refrain from donating blood. I did not ever make a statement to any member of the press that could have led to the insinuation that I did not wish to "disrupt" the lifestyle of high-risk groups.

I assume that Mr. Wettergreen has mastered the techniques of the propagandist well, but I do not appreciate his misrepresentation of fact as they apply to me and wish for an immediate retraction. I have documented proof of my assertions, can Mr. Wettergreen say the same?

– Shirley L Fannin, M.D.
Associate Deputy Director
Communicable Disease Control Programs
County of Los Angeles
Department of Public Health Services

 

Dr. Fannin sent a copy of the letter to the Academic Ethics Committee of San Jose State University, where Dr. Wettergreen teaches.

 

To the Editors:

. . . If [Wettergreen's] article limited his personal opinion against homosexuality, that would have been taken for what it was-his opinion. To combine this opinion with a discussion of AIDS is to add misinformation and anti-gay sentiments to this serious health concern.

In order to meet the tragedy and challenge of the HTL virus, and treatment of people with AIDS, accurate information and education will be a public service. Until a treatment against the virus or a vaccine is available, education and accurate information is what responsible indi­viduals and health providers have to offer. I hope he will take this responsibility more seriously in future articles.

– Stefhen C. Aron, M.D.
Director, Student Health Service
Claremont University Center

To the Editors:

I am writing to express my outrage at [Wettergreen's article]. Mr. Wettergreen makes his prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes towards homosexuals patently clear. He is, in effect championing a righteous, judgmental, and insensitive attitude towards other human beings. Under the guise of a rational concern for public health, Mr. Wettergreen's discussion of AIDS is merely a cover story for expressing homosexist and homophobic feelings. Because of this, the public is further misinformed, by this article, about AIDS and about what's needed to deal with the dreaded disease itself and to educate the public about the disease.

Your decision to publish this article has, unfortunately, contributed to the problem of intolerance and discrimination towards people because of their sexual orientation. Further, it has failed to provide a forum for a meaningful discussion of the public health concerns caused by the AIDS epidemic, presumably the goal of pub­lishing such an article. That you chose to publish the article is appalling.

– Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Ph.D.
Director, the Monsour Counseling Center
The Claremont Colleges

– Kevin P. Austin, Ph.D.
Staff Psychologist, The Monsour Counseling Center

To the Editors:

I find it hard to believe that any editor of a publication which presents itself as an "academic" voice due the respect and confidence common people have been taught educators deserve would print undocumented and "out of context" asser­tions contained in [Wettergreen's] homophobic diatribe. . . .

Tear sheets containing the article were sent to me by a professor in one of the Claremont Colleges with this comment: "I find it inaccurate, disgusting, and exceeding the boundaries of good journalism."

My assessment is that the professor was really trying to be nice to you. I suspect that you are using the name "Claremont Review of Books" to give the impression of being a product of the highly regarded Claremont Colleges. My hope is that the effect on whatever readership you may have among students at Claremont Colleges is to be recognized as an example of irresponsible journalism and vicious political activism.

Most conscientious editors, upon being pressured to circulate such bigotry and undocumented statements as "all homosexual AIDS victims have had Hepatitis B, as well as at least one other venereal disease," would require some evidence of the truth of the statement. Throughout the article the author makes bold statements which, no matter how much he may wish them factual, are clearly assumptions used to make his personal fears appear to be genuine sociological and bio­logical facts.

Propaganda under the disguise of academia may recruit a few followers to the squadron of would be rulers who expect to enjoy the power of enforcing the restrictions advocated by the author, who says, "The problems of AIDS can be solved instantly and efficiently by restricting homosexuality." Hitler had the same idea about another segment of human beings.

The insidious attempt to label Democrats as homosexuals is ludicrous and it reveals the des­peration behind the writer's efforts to convince himself that this world should be run according to his standards (?). Would he also like to "restrict" Blacks, Indians, Chinese, and Latinos?

Since you made no editorial comment or disclaimer, I must presume you are a willing party to the deceptions and errors contained in the piece. On that basis, it seems I could legitimately request the Claremont Colleges to "restrict" circulation of your propaganda publication on their campuses. My preference, however, is to point out to the students the hazards of trying to manipulate facts to support a pre-drawn con­clusion. Also, to show how easily one can invite ridicule and refutation.

It is obvious, of course, that my understanding of "morality" differs from that of the author but I'll bet if he were in my shoes his evident fears would be based on other grounds than the ones he states.

If you ever get around to publishing authentic research material or challenging intellectual explorations I'll be happy to receive your Claremont Review of Books. Otherwise, don't put me on your list, there's too much crap coming in the mail as it is.

When there's so much need for honesty and understanding, why waste energy and material in advocating hatred and selfishness?

– Galen M. Moon
Executive Officer for The Board of Directors Pomona-San Gabriel Valley Gay/ Lesbian Coalition

Mr. Moon's statements are his personal reactions and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person or officer of his organization.

To the Editors:

Like many of your readers, I am deeply concerned by the AIDS epidemic in our midst. Such a disease, with its unrelenting destruction of human life frightens and confuses the layman. There is a great need for responsible commentary to increase our awareness of this important issue.

To discover a self-proclaimed scholarly journal such as yours publishing a piece of malicious, judgmental diatribe by John Adams Wettergreen is not only disappointing to your readers, but damning of your integrity.

Jon D. Bailey
Professor of Music
Pomona College

To the Editor:

. . . The article contains many incorrect state­ments. Publishing such an article amounts to irresponsible journalism. In order to regain any credibility The Claremont Review has enjoyed in the past, you should publish another article in your next issue which corrects these gross inaccuracies.

– Jill S. Grigsby
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Pomona College

To the Editors:

We are writing to express our amazement that your publication, which purports to be a responsi­ble, scholarly journal, would print (Wettergreen's) article . . .

Wettergreen believes that male homosexual practices ought to be censured and prohibited because they are not part of the natural order, and he claims that AIDS is the terrible retribution for the violation of that order-for the evil way our society "permits" homosexuality. The claim is absurd, but the article attempts to establish it anyway with an emotional and inaccurate account of recent research on how AIDS is transmitted. But no amount of information on this topic-even accurate information-can link evil and homosexuality. Did the editors of The Claremont Review not detect that Wettergreen's misleading discussion of this research was a mask for his extreme and unreasonable homophobia? Must we conclude that the editors do not know how to distinguish thoughtful and responsible studies from inflammatory diatribes? Or are we forced to conclude that the editors knowingly publish the latter?

Sexual bonds are the fundamental building blocks of human society. The fact that the AIDS virus can be transmitted sexually compounds tragically the problems we face as we try to build our world. How does Wettergreen's airing of his anti-homosexual prejudices in The Claremont Review help us confront these problems in any meaningful way?

– Betsy K. Emerick
Assistant to the Dean of Faculty and Dean of Students
Pitzer College

– Judson J. Emirick
Associate Professor of Art History
Pomona College

To the Editors:

I was rather surprised to find that The Claremont Review of Books would publish an article which is not a book review and which is so silly and inaccurate. It is a good example, however, of how "flexible" the rational mind can be when it comes to justifying emotional responses of one kind or another.

– Robert Cable
Professor of Psychology
The Claremont Graduate School

To the Editors:

I would like to stand up and be counted among the many (I am sure) sensitive readers who were put off by the homophobic treatment of gay people in the article. . . . There is a serious public health concern aroused by the increasing incidents of AIDS, but this is no excuse to launch a witch hunt against gays. I found this article offensive.

– Kathy Pezdek
Associate Professor of Psychology 
The Claremont Graduate School

To the Editors:

The article . . . was riddled with factual error and gross misrepresentation. I am appalled that you allowed the article to be published.

– Richard Tsujimoto
Professor of Psychology
Pitzer College

To the Editors:

I am writing as a relatively regular reader of the Review who, although often in disagreement with your writers, enjoys the range of opinions expressed by them. I am writing, however, as I've been troubled greatly by what clearly is a case of opinion represented as fact. . . . [Wettergreen's] article disturbs me in several ways. First is the writer's apparent assumption that we will treat his undocumented assertions as statements of fact and proceed from there to agree with his rather sweeping conclusions. As galling as this argument by assertion is, even worse is the presentation of totally mistaken information about the nature of AIDS and its characteristics as an epidemic. The range of asserted truths, e.g., that it is almost purely a homosexual phe­nomenon and that it is primarily linked with anal intercourse, and the conclusions drawn from these assertions are not warranted by the epidemiological information available on AIDS in central Africa, where it afflicts heterosexuals primarily. A somewhat more open-minded reading of the technical literature-and of some of its more popular renditions in the press-would have convinced Professor Wettergreen of the greater complexity and danger of AIDS than those he presents. It is also clear that Professor Wettergreen misreads both San Francisco and national politics considerably in his argument that gays control either politicians or bureaucrats to any appreciable extent.

As it stands, Professor Wettergreen's article is both dangerous and ill-informed; it is an insult to those heterosexual and homosexual individuals who have died from AIDS and to the intelligence and ethical sense of the rest of us, whether gay or straight. I am surprised that you published it-better get back to the books.

– Donald Brenneis
Professor of Anthropology
Pitzer College

To the Editors:

It is unbelievable that an academic and scholarly publication would print John Adams Wettergreen's article on AIDS. His article serves not to educate or inform, but to inflame and distort. His view­point is not to argue a potentially fascinating issue of public health and individual rights, but to present opinion disguised as fact and influenced by homophobia. His is not an attack on AIDS, but an attack on homosexuals. His article is tasteless, inaccurate, and unethical. It exceeds the boundaries of good journalism and academic scholarship.

Let me elaborate on this by illustrating the numerous errors of logic and egregious errors of fact contained in his piece. First let's agree that the number one issue is how to contain the spread of AIDS and how to find a cure. Wettergreen, however, proceeds from there using the following assumptions: most homosexuals are promiscuous, sex among homosexuals is riskier than that among heterosexuals, and homosexual sex is completely different from heterosexual sex (or to use his words, perverse and unnatural). These assumptions cannot be supported. I challenge Wettergreen to defend his position with citations and data!

His position, therefore, is that AIDS can be halted "instantly and efficiently by restricting homosexuality." How this is to be done, Wettergreen luckily does not suggest. Hitler had a similar idea when he put homosexuals in the concentration camps, tagged with pink triangles. Short of that, restricting homosexuality cannot be anything less than Sisyphean. One need go no further than Yale historian John Boswell's award-winning book Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality(University of Chicago Press, 1980) to understand that homosexuality has always existed and always will.

Wettergreen also fails to see that his linking homosexuality with AIDS is illogical. Viruses do not have sexual preferences. I ask him therefore, why don't most homosexuals have AIDS? Just because the majority of AIDS patients are gay doesn't mean the majority of gays have AIDS. Even using a very conservative 5 percent estimate of homosexuals in the U.S. population, out of about 10 million homosexuals (and one could argue many more have engaged in homosexual behavior on occasion but do not identify as gay), about 10,000 have AIDS. That's around 1 per­cent. Restricting homosexuality couldn't possibly be the answer. Other more relevant factors must exist which are shared by those gay people who have AIDS.

Furthermore, Wettergreen's viewpoint takes an ethnocentric perspective, overlooking the fact that, in central Africa, AIDS is predominantly a heterosexual disease with equal numbers of men and women having it. Notice that nowhere in his article does he mention this fact; it would not fit into his homophobic tirade. Other factors beside homosexual sex must be involved. What these are is suggested by several studies. Recent evidence (reported in the Los Angeles Times in mid-October) from a Harvard epidemiological study traces AIDS in America to intravenous drug use, not to homosexuality. Another analysis of existing data on AIDS patients demonstrates that the common variable is drug abuse, not homo­sexuality. At least 79 percent of AIDS patients, gay and non-gay, have abused drugs. To quote from the Wall Street Journal (October 24, 1985), "It appears that AIDS patients have not been healthy people who got AIDS simply because they had sex with the wrong person. Rather, they seem to have been people who already were sick in the sense of having a damaged immune system."

I challenge Wettergreen to scientifically demonstrate with comparable data, and not with personal prejudice, that homosexuality is the common factor, not drug abuse. Since homo­sexual sexual practices have existed for centuries and since excessive immunologically damaging drug abuse has existed primarily from the late 1960s, it follows that drug abuse is a more likely co-factor. Otherwise, why hadn't AIDS appeared earlier? Wettergreen's analysis is too simplistic. Logically, if Wettergreen is concerned about end­ing AIDS, he should be proposing restricting drug abuse not homosexuality. But if the intent is to attack homosexuals, then such an alternative does not even enter into a system of rational thought and scholarship. Wettergreen does state that "male homosexuality is not the immediate cause of AIDS," but the key word is "immediate." The implication here and throughout the article is that homosexuality is related to AIDS, and to solve the problem you restrict it.

Wettergreen often confuses correlation with causation. In fact, the silliest example is his assertion that "every city which has a serious AIDS problem also has a (Democratic) local politi­cal leadership which is heavily dependent upon politically organized homosexuality." The implication is absurd and demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of big city politics, an astound­ing revelation for a political scientist.

What comes across most clearly, therefore, is Wettergreen's outright homophobia. He con­sistently demonstrates an absence of research and a lack of knowledge about the gay community and the nature of homosexuality. First of all, he discusses homosexuality as if it were restricted to men. If homosexuality is the evil source of AIDS, why don't lesbians have AIDS? In fact, heterosexuals have greater incidence of AIDS than lesbians, yet he doesn't blame heterosexuality for it. One answer, of course, is in the type of sexual practices, particularly passive anal inter­course. Wettergreen says this, but then fails to make the distinction between anal intercourse and homosexuality. A minority of homosexuals engage in passive anal intercourse (see Bell and Weinberg's Homosexualities, the 1978 book from the Kinsey Institute, published by Simon and Schuster) and some passive anal intercourse is engaged in by heterosexuals. This practice may be a source of transmission of the virus, but not the cause. Even then, AIDS depends on the quality of the person's immunological system, not his or her sexual preference.

Other examples of his lack of research on gay people abound. On page 3, he asserts (without sources or supporting evidence, as is customary with him throughout the paper) that AIDS is "apparently far advanced in the Soviet Union," First of all, what does it mean "apparently"? Given the lack of information coming out of the Soviet Union, what is his source of information? Later, on page 6, he writes that "AIDS thrives, not where homosexuals are persecuted, but where at least they are tolerated." Homosexuality is forbidden in the Soviet Union and certainly does not receive any degree of tolerance. How can Wettergreen have it both ways? I challenge Wettergreen to support both these statements with references and facts.

Numerous other errors of logic and fact dominate his paper. On page 3, he writes "bath­houses are the fundamental institution-indeed the only institution-of the 'gay lifestyle.'" This statement is absolutely incredible. Even before the closing of many baths, gay bars have been the dominant institution among gay people. That Wettergreen can make such a statement illustrates his homophobia and his lack of understanding about gay people. I challenge him to support this statement. One need only look at any gay news­paper or guide book to see that bars are much more prevalent than baths and that, in most cities, other organizations (such as gay churches, politi­cal organizations, sports clubs, and even gay AA meetings) far outnumber baths. I recommend historian John D'Emilio's book on the history of the gay movement, SexualPoliticsSexual Communities (University of Chicago Press, 1983), for an informative analysis of the role of bars and social/political organizations in the formation of the gay movement between 1940 and 1970. It is shocking that a political scientist does not have a sense of history and has not researched his subject.

There are so many other errors that I can only list some of them here. For each of them, I challenge Wettergreen to supply a citation backing up his assertion and "facts."

(1) "all homosexual AIDS patients have had Hepatitis B, as well as at least one other venereal disease"-my calls to AIDS experts could not uncover any support of this. What are his references?

(2) "San Francisco, which has the greatest number of AIDS victims per capita"-not true. Belle Glade, Florida, has the highest per capita, mostly heterosexual by the way. Even if you limit it to large cities, the borough of Manhattan has the highest per-capita rate, not San Francisco.

(3) "all those who have caught AIDS by blood contact . . . have had that contact with male homo­sexuals"-all? This overlooks the documented information that drug users often donate blood to raise money for their drugs. Please cite refer­ences to support this statement.

(4) "women cannot give [AIDS] to men"-not supported by studies demonstrating prosti­tutes transmitting it, by mothers giving it to their newborn children, or by data from central Africa,

(5) "the medical literature suggests the partici­pation of AIDS patients in various forms of bestiality"-all AIDS patients? Is "suggests" a scientific finding?

(6) "'poppers'. . . are said to be the drug-of-choice of AIDS patients"-said by whom? Studies of gay lifestyles indicate that alcohol is the drug of choice (see Alcoholism and Homosexuality, Haworth Press, 1982). A less sensationalistic statement would explore the role of other drugs as well.

(7) "scientists at first missed the obvious con­nection between AIDS and poppers"-not true. The earliest theories focused on amyl nitrites and butyl nitrites (see recent issues of New York Native for the history of poppers and their role in AIDS).

(8) "AIDS spreads to heterosexuals only through the transfusion of blood and blood products"-absolutely false. Intercourse with other heterosexual and bisexual AIDS patients is a very typical route of transmission.

(9) "the chief beneficiaries of AIDS have been the vast variety of homosexual organizations"-not true at all. AIDS Project L.A. is the largest AIDS-related organization in the U.S. and it is not a gay organization, nor is the National Institute of Health or Centers for Disease Control. What does Wettergreen mean by this statement? Besides, this and the following statements on page 4 asserting that homosexuals are not primar­ily concerned with arresting the spread of AIDS are tasteless statements to make and go against all published and observational evidence. In fact, it was the gay community which first responded in any organized way to the crisis.

(10) "San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York have elaborate legal and administrative codes of 'gay rights'"-what does "elaborate" mean? Please document your assertions. By the way, New York has repeatedly failed to pass a gay rights bill for the past 15 years, so I'm not sure what Wettergreen means. Again, I challenge him to support his hyperbole with data.

(11) "the news media has [sic] helped to spread misinformation about the disease"-Wettergreen means by this that the media are emphasizing non-homosexual transmission. This is not mis­information; it is spreading among heterosexuals, and in fact began among heterosexuals in Africa. The number of heterosexuals with AIDS is now about the same as the number of homosexuals who had AIDS when it was first widely identified in 1981. But I would like to see which media Wettergreen is referring to, since most of what I have seen consistently discusses the fact that most epidemics are first concentrated within small segments of the population and then spread outward to other groups. The news media which spread misinformation are the poorly written and documented articles such as Wettergreen's which emphasize homophobia and overlook the relevant scientific literature on co-factors.

(12) "AIDS thrives . . . where [homosexuals] enjoy superior legal rights to heterosexuals"-please document this. Nowhere do homosexuals have rights superior to heterosexuals. At best, they have rights that are equal to heterosexuals, i.e. human rights as defined by the Constitution. Furthermore, AIDS is thriving in New York City, where there is no gay rights bill, and in Belle Glade, Florida, Central Africa, Brazil, etc.

(13) "In those few cities where (AIDS) is prevalent, the number of those diagnosed has doubled every six months since the disease first appeared among New York City's homosexuals in 1979." First of all, AIDS was first identified in Los Angeles in 1981, although retrospective evidence suggests it may have begun earlier in New York. More importantly, though is his erroneous information of it doubling. According to the Wall Street Journal, "the rate of increase has declined. It was 449 percent between 1980 and 1981, 283 percent between 1981 and 174 percent between 1982 and 1983, and 94 per­cent between 1983 and 1984." The rate of increase for the first half of 1985 compared with the first half of 1984 is only 50 percent.

The list could go on, but I think the point has been made that Wettergreen's expertise and credibility to discuss AIDS, homosexuality, and human rights can be justifiably questioned. If these factual errors aren't enough to demonstrate his homophobia, here are a few examples of his inflammatory and hyperbolic language which blatantly illustrate his homophobia:

(1) "protecting the 'lifestyle' of homosexuals to protecting the lives of innocents"-the old blaming-the-victim argument.

(2) "the perversity and sickness of the gay lifestyle"-associating gay lifestyle solely with sexual practices such as sodomy, thereby over­looking non-sexual aspects and the fact that sodomy laws also apply to heterosexual behavior.

(3) "the homosexuals who typically contract AIDS are the dregs of the 'gay community'"- tasteless and inaccurate, especially for those of us who have known electrical engineers, doctors, actors, clergymen, and lawyers, to name a few 'dregs' who have died from AIDS.

All this is in the context of Wettergreen's closing homage to Harry Jaffa: "all men are created equal," "living together justly," and "no human may rightly treat another human the way any human may rightly treat a dog, i.e., rule him without his consent." Doesn't Wettergreen see the irony in his closing statements? He blatantly contradicts throughout his article everything Jaffa is espousing. Wettergreen wants to treat Homosexuals as if they were created unequal, or at least to make them unequal in the eyes of the law. He wants to treat other human beings the way dogs are treated (restricting, controlling). He wants to rule homosexuals without their consent.

Ultimately the question is, why does Wettergreen want to blame and punish? The goal is to seek a cure for AIDS and to prevent more cases. Education and information are the key methods to achieve these ends. His article is the antithesis of these goals. There is not one constructive statement in his piece. There is not one positive educational suggestion in his article. In a news­paper purportedly reviewing books, the least Wettergreen could have done was review several of the readily available books on the subject of AIDS. This would have been educational for the reader and, as the above shows, for Wettergreen himself. Any attempt he made to raise a provoca­tive question of civil rights and public health has been lost because of erroneous information, his hyperbolic language, his tasteless and specious arguments, and finally because of his homophobia.

An apology is due from Wettergreen and from the editor (for failing to edit erroneous informa­tion, poor writing, and bad journalism) to all AIDS patients, to gay people, to academics who normally research their subject, and to all human beings who believe we must unite to fight this disease rather than to divide and blame.

Unlike Wettergreen, I do not have an aversion to citing articles and data to support my state­ments. In fact, I will cite his article to support the opinion Wettergreen feels is deluded, namely his assertion on page 5: "The opinion that hatred and fear of homosexuals contributes to AIDS is deluded, of course." Of course.

– Peter M. Nardi, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Sociology
Pitzer College