AHF's Weinstein wrongon 'Truvada whore'
by Adam Zeboski
There were 50,000 new HIV infections in the United States last year. If condoms-only messaging could prevent new HIV infections, then how can we account for these new infections?
As an HIV test counselor, I know that condoms are not being used regularly. And that's totally okay. It's a reality of the world gay men live in today. The antiquated one-size-fits-all message about condoms is not meeting the needs of our community. It's important to have options and for individuals to be able to choose what is right for them. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2012, Truvada for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a new and effective HIV prevention strategy that we can add to our prevention toolkit. Analysis from the iPrEx PrEP study reveals that daily Truvada adherence yields HIV protection estimated at more than 99 percent. PrEP works best when you take one pill every day, as it is prescribed. Go to http://www.PrEPfacts.org to see if PrEP is right for you.
Back on November 9, 2013, Michael Weinstein, the president and CEO of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the nation's largest community HIV/AIDS health care organization, said, "if a person takes Truvada (as PrEP) when they are supposed to, and they take it every day, then their chance of becoming infected with HIV is close to zero." This is a nonjudgmental and scientifically sound argument for PrEP.
But on April 6, in a nationally circulated Associated Press article by David Crary, Weinstein claimed, "If something comes along that's better than condoms, I'm all for it, but Truvada is not that. Let's be honest: It's a party drug." Ouch. Putting Truvada in the same category as crystal meth, GHB, and ketamine is a damaging blow to the PrEP movement. Instead of empowering individuals to make informed choices to protect themselves, Weinstein is stigmatizing them using shame-based rhetoric eerily similar to the oral contraception movement 50 years ago. It's funny how history repeats itself. Welcome to 2014!
Calling Truvada a party drug reinforces the stigma and slut-shaming that many people who utilize PrEP encounter during interactions with doctors, sex partners, and friends. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, medical director of the ambulatory HIV program at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, finds "that opposition irresponsible. If some men don't want to use condoms, they won't. You have to deal with it by acknowledging that sometimes unprotected sex happens, and you can still prevent HIV infections." In a very predictable fashion, opponents of PrEP claim that PrEPsters "irresponsibly" forgo condoms and attend countless drug-fueled sex parties. Dr. Robert Grant, PrEP pioneer at Gladstone Institutes and UCSF, noted that people who chose to use PrEP didn't ignite "a wildfire of promiscuity. In fact, we saw the opposite. People tended to be safer." PrEPsters are called "Truvada Whores" simply for using this highly effective and FDA-approved HIV prevention strategy. Weinstein is reinforcing the social stigma associated with PrEP, creating yet another barrier against those who may most benefit from it.
In a BuzzFeed interview on April 17, Weinstein said that most of the backlash from his "party drug" comment is coming from the "bareback porn industry." He said, "They're all associated with bareback porn, which kind of makes my point that it's a party drug." Michael Lucas of Lucas Entertainment finds his statements irresponsible, believing that Weinstein is very good at painting gay men "in the most unattractive light" and should be removed from his position of power.
Is it just me, or does Weinstein seem to be overly preoccupied with condomless porn and party drugs?
Mr. LA Leather 2014, Eric Paul Leue, is the current face of AHF's LGBTQ community outreach campaign, "Test Your Limits." But Weinstein's recent "party drug" comments and refusal to apologize pushed Leue to question his involvement with AHF. He recently started an online petition asking AHF to remove Weinstein from his position. To get involved, please search http://www.change.org for "Remove Weinstein" or search the hashtag #RemoveWeinstein.
If anything positive has come from Weinstein's recent comments, it has been his ability to bring people and communities together while indirectly promoting awareness of the efficacy of PrEP. As gay men, do we really want someone representing us who employs outdated stigma tactics, likens us to substance users, tells us we can't adhere to our prescriptions, and generally reduces us to infants? Or do we want someone who can provide us with unbiased, scientifically sound information so that we can make informed decisions concerning our own sexual and health needs? The bottom line facts are that Truvada works and it should be available to everyone at low cost. Sounds simple and self-evident doesn't it? As Paul Morris from Treasure Island Media put it, "When you're dealing with billions of dollars and the medical and social infantilization of the gay masses, nothing is all that simple."
This is just the beginning. The #TruvadaWhore T-shirts I'm selling to reach my AIDS/LifeCycle 2014 fundraising goal are helping to spark a national conversation and combat stigma. By reclaiming the term "Truvada Whore," we are taking the power away from those that use it against us. #TruvadaWhore also builds a sense of community, raises awareness about PrEP, and allows us to share information easier through social media. Check out TruvadaWhore.com and follow me on Twitter @pupbones. Be proud #TruvadaWhore, don't let stigma stop you from doing what you know is best for you.
In closing, let me say, I'm not doing this for work and Gilead is not giving me money for this. I'm an advocate for PrEP and a proud #TruvadaWhore.
Adam Zeboski is an HIV test counselor/recruiter at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The views expressed in this column are Mr. Zeboski's only and not those of the foundation. The AIDS/LifeCycle ride benefits SFAF and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center.