An openly homosexual writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and the nation’ s first full-time AIDS reporter, Shilts names names, slams reputations, and yet poignantly testifies to those few who fought desperately to get the band’s attention and those who died horribly while it continued to play.
Introducing the members of the band:
“Fast lane” homosexuals. Some homosexuals racked up as many as a mind-boggling 20,000 sexual partners, Sengaging in high-risk (receptive anal) acts long after it became apparent that a fatal illness was spreading through the homosexual populations of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Scoffing at advice to limit partners and avoid such activity, many homosexuals continued going to bathhouses, readily infecting themselves with the AIDS virus and passing it on to others.
Homosexual leaders such as Konstantin Berlandt, a columnist for the Bay Area Reporter, shed new light on the debate over whether homosexuality is genetic or acquired by stating, “I didn’t bccome a homosexual so I could use condoms.” Later Berlandt wrote: “Advice on safe sex, while perhaps well-meaning, is actually collaboration with the death regime that delights in blaming ourselves and would pin the blame onus.” Berlandt also used his column to make a pitch for “rimming,” known in other circles as oral-anal contact and then considered to be a high-risk activity for contracting AIDS. According to Berlandt, the practice could be “spiritually uplifting.”
Other homosexuals saw profit in the epidemic, as did the San Mateo doctor who promised to cure AIDS with massive doses of — you guessed it — Vitamin C. Still others made desperate efforts to pretend that the syndrome was not sexually transmitted, such as the homosexual psychologist who wrote a series of articles maintaining that AIDS victims all had suffered an “emotional emergency” as children that was now manifesting itself as fatal immune suppression.
The bathhouse owners. Even before AIDS, notes Shilts, “the bathhouses were a horrible breeding ground for disease… A Seattle study of gay men suffering from shigellosis [a parasitic disease most efficiently transmitted by ingestion of feces], for example, discovered 69 percent culled, their sexual partners from bathhouses. A Denver study found that an average bathhouse patron having his typical 2.7 sexual contacts risked a 33 percent chance of walking out of the tubs with syphilis or gonorrhea. . . .” All of which prompted one doctor in 1980 to remark, “If something- new gets loose here, we’re going to have hell to pay.” Yet even after hell broke loose, bathhouse owners refused to close up shop or even display safe-sex posters. Instead, they treated the AIDS epidemic in the way Amity businessmen treated news of the shark in the movie Jaws the less said, the better. As one callous owner explained to Dr. Paul Volberding, “We’re both in it for the same thing. Money. We make money at one end when they come to the baths. You make money from them on the other end when they come out.” (…)
Shilts can’t resist a parting shot at President Reagan. “Already,” writes Shilts, “some said Ronald Reagan would be remembered in history books for one thing beyond all else: He was the man who had let AIDS rage through America, the leader of the government that when challenged to action had placed politics above the health of the American people.” That may be how some homosexuals will view Reagan’s presidency, but most historians, with the help of Shilts’s book, will conclude that, although many share the blame for the AIDS epidemic, those primarily responsible were its prime victims, the homosexuals themselves.