Gary Leigh has had good, although as he might claim, belated, coverage lately for a survey into HIV prevention conducted at September’s Soho Live that he himself commissioned. We had some questions so we put them to him and his answers are below...
In an analysis of the survey, he questions existing HIV strategies and makes some interesting points. He claims that the safer sex mitigation campaigns for PEP etc. have backfired and encouraged more unsafe sex. More broadly, he claims that younger generations are worse at HIV prevention because of HIV prevention strategies a) misleading them and b) not telling the straight facts. According to professionals in the field, HIV/AIDS is a “manageable” condition that, with the right treatment, people can live a long and relatively normal life with. Based on another recent survey however it is a debilitating disease that’ll kill you 20 years earlier than expected with many horrible side effects along the way. He also implies that much of this misinformation is because more HIV-positive people are what the HIV charities want to keep them going.
His shortened article has been on the Pink Paper and Homovision. You can read the full article here.
Those are just a few simplified points that he's made a all very strong stuff that has raised many questions from our readers. We thought we’d ask Gary if our summation was about right and put some questions to him. Read on for the interview.
Q. Do you really think the HIV mafia want more HIV people and are complicit with the drug companies?
A. When people in extreme positions of responsibility insist on churning out the same ineffective and forgettable HIV campaigns year after year; remain silent about the rampant proliferation of bareback sex clubs and bareback porn; actively resist warning gay men about health threats correlated to HIV infection; routinely deceive and obfuscate; never apologise for their mistakes and so on, how can any open-minded person not ask why is this happening?
Q. Would you ban consensual barebacking between two positive men - whether for porn or in private?
A. Porn for public entertainment, yes, consensual barebacking in private, no. But it is the intrinsic role of sexual health charities to be promoting safe sex and the potential consequences of unsafe sex in the first place, including the realities of living with HIV, thereby ensuring gay men are equipped to make fully informed choices about the kind of sex they have. If that knowledge were to be properly disseminated yet some still chose to engage in reckless behaviour, that would be their personal choice. The important thing is they do not make those choices in ignorance, as so many are now doing.
Q. Why do you think so many gay men are in ignorance about safe sex and HIV?
A. Because the HIV sector has long been withholding key facts about the serious implications of HIV infection which has led over a third of under-25s to regard HIV as being no more serious than any other STI, and is perpetuating all kinds of myths and fallacies to avoid running the kind of direct, in-your-face campaigns that people would take notice of. Bareback porn is a convenient scapegoat for the HIV sector right now, which is perhaps why they won’t condemn it. People are increasingly blaming bareback porn for the HIV crisis and demanding it be banned when it is the HIV charities' policies and inaction that have actively encouraged and fomented the environment in which this form of “entertainment” has thrived. Had they not done so it would not be necessary to ban anything. Bareback porn and bareback sex clubs are merely symptoms of their failures and negligence.
Q. Do you think one study that says positive men will die 20 years younger is suitable for basing a claim on?
A. The study was conducted over many years with 40,000+ participants. [Read more here]. I would say that is fairly conclusive. Only this week a new American study confirms the immense harm antiretrovirals cause to the brain and immune system over time – by age 50 you too can have the body and mind of an 88-year-old… Again, we’re forced to ask why have the charities deceived us that these medicines will provide a “normal, healthy lifespan”, and in so doing persuaded so many to abandon safe sex?
Q. Given that drugs are so prevalent in clubs and major contributors to HIV infection rates, what would you suggest we do about clubs?
A. Ten years ago our clubs were largely self-policing, but this decade’s new wave of drugs has made intrusive surveillance inevitable. In their understandable quest to stamp out messy G “overdosers”, most club promoters have overlooked the exceptional problems the crystal meth poses for many users in terms of its unparalleled addictiveness and unique correlation with HIV infection. All drugs are not created equal, and certainly more awareness is needed around crystal meth. As the HIV/health charities have evaded their responsibility to do it properly then the buck passes to the club promoters whose customers are being introduced to it.
Q. Do you have views on sex clubs and what should be done about them?
A. A. This will put me on a collision course with Suzie Krueger, but such clubs do encourage and perpetuate the kind of reckless, health-endangering behaviours that would otherwise be restricted to people’s homes and virtually unheard of. The charities should certainly be pushing for such venues to ban fucking, protected or otherwise, as they do in America to reduce the spread of pathogens. Clubs where gay men meet for casual sex are not the problem per se, we have all been there, but unless they begin to conform to strict codes of safe conduct then the way things are heading we risk again hearing those immortal words: “You brought it on yourselves!”
Q: But shouldn’t we have the personal freedom to decide what types of club we want to attend?
A: With personal freedom comes personal responsibility, and when we step over a line and stop respecting ourselves and each other to the point where we are, quite literally, physical abusing and debasing one another then we have to ask what have we become when we condone such behaviour through our silence? These clubs, in which some barely conscious men in slings act as “sperm banks”, also attract curious and vulnerable “floating” punters of all ages who discover them in QX, and who otherwise would not be pulled down that path.
Q. What about the argument that if you shut them down men intent on extreme sex will find other ways to meet?
A. If the impetus for such behaviour was removed most would simply move on while some would continue such practices in the privacy of their own homes, but at least then there would be smaller, controlled numbers coming and going, with“floaters” virtually eliminated from the equation. We have surely reached a precipice when THT, via Hardcell.org.uk, and GMFA, via its fundraising links with club nights like Filth and Central Station, are effectively endorsing and promoting environments and behaviours that are recreating the same conditions that existed in the bath houses and sex dens of New York and San Francisco in the early 1980s while simultaneously neglecting the needs of under-25s who are barebacking in ignorance.
Q. What do you think we need to do now to stem the rise of HIV?
A. The conflict of interests that clearly exist, whereby charities that thrive offering financially lucrative support services to those with HIV while also being tasked to prevent the spread of the same virus, can only be remedied by splitting into mutually exclusive entities, with no overlap or crossover between the two. Those working to prevent HIV would then be focused entirely on the task at hand while not also obsessing about service user targets, mail order STI kits, counseling 10 year old kids, and so forth. The two operations, clearly, are not compatible.
Q. Do you think the current HIV mentoring in bars and clubs will get results?
A. Gay men do not go to bars and clubs to be mentored about anything, let alone HIV! How about thinking big instead, such as a series of widely publicised open forums where people can openly debate the failures of HIV prevention, draw a line under the last 15 years and map out where we go from here in terms of effective, direct campaigns? And why not invite older gay men who lived through the early years of the epidemic to volunteer to mentor confused youngsters about the implications of contracting HIV? Certainly, the last people these youngsters should be being consulted by about their sexual health are those who created the mess we now find ourselves in.
Q. You've been prolific in campaigning on meth and HIV. What drives you?
A. Having witnessed close-up the horror crystal meth is capable of wreaking on gay communities across the US, and literally being told where to go by THT and GMFA, I resolved to use whatever tools and abilities at my disposal to get the message out before it reached our shores en masse, as I foresaw it doing, though I do not claim my intervention prevented a UK meth epidemic. This obviously led to my campaigning for harder-hitting and effective HIV prevention. I have never been a “meth head”, by the way, and neither am I HIV-positive, so it was not a personal crusade as has often been claimed! In fact, I am living proof that those early HIV campaigns worked because it has never occurred to me not to use condoms.
Gary’s personal account of his journey can be found at: http://lifeormeth.com/#/aids-inc-uncovered/4520785349