The September 12 meeting of the governor's AIDS advisory panel in Manhattan was livelier than usual when 20 members of the homosexual activist group ACT-UP appeared brandishing BIGOTRY MUST BE STOPPED! placards. After 30 minutes of whistle-blowing and screaming, "Resign!" and "Hodes: pig! Shame!"—one protester handcuffed himself to the panelists' table. But even after the police arrived and the protesters shuffled off, the theme remained the same: one panel member circulated a letter in absentia demanding Dr. David Hodes's removal from the panel for his "bias, prejudice, and ignorance" as well as for his "outrageous proposals for ending the epidemic." Three of the 13 panelists in attendance also pushed Hodes to resign. He refused.
What's the fuss over Hodes, the chief of the infectious diseases division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine? On July 2 he had the temerity to suggest to the state's AIDS advisory panel that since "what needs to be prevented is transmission between the infected person and the uninfected person, . . . people who are infected should have sex only with other people who are infected." The governor's office and the state Health Department fell over themselves in a rush to condemn Dr. Hodes.
But encouraging those with AIDS to take some responsibility for not spreading the disease makes sense to most folks. In Sweden, where those with HIV are obliged by law not "to have sexual relations with anyone who is unaware that you are infected," the incidence of AIDS is two per 100,000, as compared with the U.S.'s 30 per 100,000 incidence.
Thanks to activists, New York State has the dubious distinction of being the only place in the world where HIV is not officially recognized as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In the late eighties, the state's medical society asked the public health department to perform partner notification for HIV (since New York law, as in standard public health practice everywhere, requires this for all STDs). Under extreme pressure from activists, the public health department said no, deeming AIDS to be a blood-borne disease and not an STD.
Dr. Hodes is right to say that only dealing with the epidemic in a more honest manner will end the suffering caused by HIV. Promiscuity spreads this epidemic, yet we never hear activists say, "Have only one lifetime partner." We must treat the ill with compassion; but that doesn't mean turning a blind eye when they behave in an irresponsible and reckless way that harms others.