Alex Blaze

AIDS is over, according to Andrew Sullivan, again

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 28, 2007 11:35 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Andrew Sullivan, anti-retroviral drugs, HIV/AIDS, libertarianism, pride, The Stranger

You know, I'm falling so far behind in the things that I want to post about that Andrew Sullivan could say that he was right eleven years ago when he said that AIDS is over and I wouldn't even have time to post on it.

Oh wait, that did happen.

In The Stranger's little parade of mostly white, male queers telling the history of gay rights through the years, Mr. 1996 writes about his infamous article for the NY Times, "When Plagues End", where he declared the end of AIDS. He revisits that article by complaining about the "weirdness of the PC mantra" that is responsible for him being "flayed alive."

I suppose that he's now blaming PC for the fact that, in a study last year by the University of Pittsburgh:

In 2001, HIV affected about one in 12 20-year-old MSM in these countries [US, Canada, and Europe]. The projected rate of infection could be one in four by the time they are in their 30s, researchers estimated. By age 60, 58 percent could be infected.
Or maybe PC is responsible for the fact that 988,376 Americans were seropositive in 2005.

Or maybe what really is political correctness's fault is that 29,000,000 people have the virus in sub-Saharan Africa and 40 million do worldwide.

But what's very puzzling is that he says, "I do not miss AIDS." Does it make me a bad person to point out the fact that he is HIV-positive at this point? I'm not stigmatizing people who are seropositive, but it seems rather strange to me that someone would say that they don't miss a disease that they in fact have. Like, of course you don't, it hasn't left.

Sullivan's main point is that since he has the money to afford protease inhibitors developed in 1996 (even though, according to the UN, only .0001% of the global population with AIDS has access to anti-retroviral drugs) that no one in the world is allowed to try to impress upon people that getting the virus is not something that they want to do. I seriously think it would be great if he flew to Kenya or South Africa to make similar pronouncements about the end of AIDS. While we don't have to live in absolute fear of the virus, and we definitely shouldn't live in fear ot the people who have it, if we're going to beat it we have to know where it is and we need to make sure people know why it's important to take basic precautions against it.

Gabriel Rotello responded to Sullivan's claims over at the Huffington Post, and Sullivan responded on his blog. His three basic defenses were that:

  1. one can only talk about anti-retroviral drugs or prevention, not both;
  2. anti-retroviral drugs have made the distinction between having HIV and not moot;
  3. and telling people about the disease, how to prevent transmission, and the current infection rate will curtail "freedom".
On general principle, I don't respond to blogs, and I think that just pointing out his main points speaks for itself.

So, the real question is, why? Why does he feel the need to say that AIDS is over when it's so clearly not? Well, my theory is that it's always a lot easier to ignore a problem than to try and solve it as long as it isn't making your own life inconvenient. You see that from every corner, whether it be health care (our Representatives and Senators have great health coverage), racial discrimination (if you're white), or the global warming. In fact, I'd say that's half of what modern conservatism, and 90% of libertarianism/paleo-conservatism, is based on, a willful ignorance of all problems affecting anyone else but the person with those political beliefs. So for all the queers who see "liberation" (as Sullivan puts it) in libertarianism, don't be surprised when people of that political stripe ignore any problems that come from queers that might require, you know, money to solve.

But nothing's going to stop him from making erroneous claims. But I do have to wonder why The Stranger chose to publish Sullivan's essay instead of one from a more responsible source on the development of anti-retroviral drugs. Or maybe they could have published an essay on Romer v. Evans, a lawsuit we won that helped prevent many city, county, and municipal anti-discrimination laws from being overturned by state law. Just a thought.

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beergoggles | June 28, 2007 4:38 PM

It really annoys me when I have to defend, of all people, Andrew Sullivan. So I'll just stop by saying that either your reading comprehension needs work or you're being willfully ignorant. Neither one of those should be taken as a complement.

Lynn David | June 29, 2007 1:32 AM

On a personal note an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, recently chose to go off of his retroviral drugs. The sickness they caused him wasn't making his life livable. So he chose his death by AIDS.

Anyone who thinks retroviral drugs are the be-all, end-all for extending your life is out of his mind. Sullivan is completely wrong about this:

"Rotello's much-predicted second wave of deadly HIV has yet to materialize."

There have been increases in the infection rate among us and there have been at times a supervirus created when men of different HIV strains had sex. Such were not readily treatable via the retrovirals.


During 2006, some 4.3 million people became infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

The year also saw 2.9 million deaths from AIDS - a high global total, despite antiretroviral (ARV) therapy, which reduced AIDS-related deaths among those who received it.

Deaths among those already infected will continue to increase for some years even if prevention programmes manage to cut the number of new infections to zero. However, with the HIV-positive population still expanding the annual number of AIDS deaths can be expected to increase for many years, unless access to ARV medication is greatly improved.

And from that same page, more to the point with against Sullivan:

High-income countries
The total number of people living with HIV continues to rise in high-income countries, largely due to widespread access to ARV therapy, which prolongs the lives of HIV+ people. This increases the pool of HIV+ people who are able to transmit the virus onwards. It is estimated that 1.4 million people are living with HIV in North America and 740,000 in Western and Central Europe.

In these two regions, AIDS claimed approximately 30,000 lives in 2006. The rate of AIDS-related deaths has been cut substantially through use of ARV medicines. There is mounting evidence that prevention activities in several high-income countries are not keeping pace with the spread of HIV and that in some places they are falling behind. Such shortcomings are most evident where HIV is found mainly among marginalized groups of the population, such as drug users, immigrants and refugees.

Thanks for the research, Lynn. I could have gone on and on citing studies that show infection rates are increasing, both at home and abroad, but that really didn't even seem to be the point. The point is that Sullivan doesn't see the problem in front of him anymore, and therefore he's bothered that anyone reminds him that it exists.

No, wait, that's not the point, the point is that people are paying him to express his silliness and factlessness.

No, wait, that's not even the point. The point is: what are we going to do about this?

Don Sherfick | June 29, 2007 7:28 AM

I happen to generally be a great fan of Andrew Sullivan, for his stance against torture, his missives against the Religious Right, his championship of marriage equality and the like, although I have problems with his stands of affirmative action. Again, as with the item of the Log Cabin Republicans, which you have subsequently provided a link so that what they had to say could be judged in in context, please see if you can provide us with the text of what Andrew has actually said both in 1996 and recently about the AIDS plague. That's only fair.

A. J. Lopp | June 30, 2007 9:07 PM

Thursday night on PBS, the Democratic presidential candidates were interrogated about issues of concern to the African-American community, moderated by Indiana native Tavis Smiley.

One of the questions was about the scourge of HIV/AIDS that is burning through the Black communities of America. Among the candidate responses, Hillary Clinton said [my paraphrase], "If the Number One cause of death among white American women of child-bearing age was HIV/AIDS, there would be a tremendous outcry!" ... and without an ounce of intended anti-gay sentiment, she went on courageously to say: "What we need is the same type of attention that was given to this disease when it was killing gay men!"

The crowd responded with thunderous applause ... and, Hillary, so do I!

I dare Andrew Sullivan to stand in front of any educated Black audience in America and make the statement that "AIDS is over" ... and when he does so, I hope he escapes the auditorium without serious physical harm. But to be honest, I doubt that I would put my money on him that he could. The disservice that such talk does to the HIV-affected African-American and Latino communities is shameful.

I really like Andrew Sullivan as an individual. As Don amply pointed out, Sullivan has some laudable positions on other issues. On this one, though, I think his love of barebacking is causing him to think with his penis. If he hasn't already, Sullivan needs to discover the female condom --- not only does it not feel like a condom during sex, it also will fit over Andrew's head the next time he decides to deny the existence of an obvious problem by sticking his head up his own ass.

A. J. Lopp | June 30, 2007 10:48 PM

Footnote: My attempt at paraphrasing Hillary Clinton above is considerably less than perfect. Here are Hillary Clinton's exact words:

"If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four, there would be an outraged outcry in this country. ... But if we [people of color and their elected officials] don't begin to take it seriously and address it the way we did back in the 90s when it was primarily a gay men's disease, we will never get the services and the public education that we need."

Here is the entire transcript to the June 28th All-American Presidential Forum on PBS.