Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Memo To Michael Weinstein: You Wrote The Check...Now Let's See If Your Ass Can Back It Up This Time. The PrEP Controversy That Could Finally Nail His Coffin

[Updated below: scroll to bottom.]

It seems that Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation decided to shoot off his mouth again, and now he's about to swallow it with his foot. Except, he might want to protect his ass from the feet of others wanting to bust it and the rest of his body.

It's more than enough that his condom mandate campaign against the LA porn industry has alienated him with plenty of people..but now, he's gone and done something that only a professional asshole can do: he's pissed off his own damn base of support.

Some background here: the diaspora of the gay male community in San Francisco and beyond is raving about the latest treatments now being offered for those infected with HIV, as well as those active gay men who want to avoid getting infected with HIV to begin with. One of the most recent and most promising treatments involves the drug Truvada, which acts as what is called a Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) in that it acts to block the HIV virus from infecting a person who uses it. Understand that Truvada is NOT a vaccine that totally prevents HIV transmission forever; it simply works to temporarily prevent infection. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004 as an HIV treatment; and in 2012, the pharmaceutial Gilead Science won approval to market and sell it to the public.

Proponents of Truvada and other PrEP treatments say that they can be an alternative to the more traditional forms of barrier protection, such as condoms, that have been advocated as HIV protection for the gay male community ever since the height of the AIDS pandemic during the 1980's. Detractors, on the other hand, have questioned the effectiveness of Truvada, as well as defending the reliance on condoms as a form of protection along with conservative behavior modification for those most vulnerable to infection.

Of course, "conservative behavior modification" is exactly what Michael Weinstein is all about, and what has allowed AHF to elevate both their outreach and their financial vaults to become the world's largest non-govermental service provider for HIV/AIDS.

And, he's not too shy to point that out, either: in 2007, he and AHF essentially shook down Pfizer, the manufacturers of the popular erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, claiming that their ads back then for the drug promoted "sexual promiscuity" and "unsafe sex". And, of course, I don't even need to reset Weinstein's motivation for pushing condoms on porn performers.

So, naturally, Weinstein and AHF have been one of, if not THE, loudest critics of Truvada and PrEF treatments as a basic threat to his "condoms only" empire: and in an interview with the Associated Press last week, he went after proponents in his own typical fashion.

Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, recently described Truvada as a “party drug” in an interview with the Associated Press. (Weinstein’s full quote was: “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.”)
The "party drug" smack is a thinly-veiled allusion to the alleged abuse of GHB (aka, the "date rape" drug) and crystal meth among young gay men; but mostly, it's Weinstein's preferred means of citiing "out of control" sexuality as a justification for his campaigns to reign in the "excesses" of gay men (and porn performers) through condoms as a means of throttling sexual activity.

But, it seems, that Weinstein has bitten off just a bit too much of that apple...because there are plenty of other gay male health activists and gay men who are not at all pleased with his messianic need to control their sexuality. And, his statement against Truvada seems to be the final straw.

One of such men is Michael Lucas, the director of the gay male porn production shop Lucas Entertainment (and also, naturally, an opponent of Weinstein's condom mandate campaigns); he posted an Op-Ed to Out Magazine's website calling out Weinstein's "dangerous" rhetoric...and then calling for something else: his resignation from AHF. Some snippage:

Mr. Weinstein knows how to portray PrEP, along with gay men, in the most unattractive light. This month he told the Associated Press, ”Let’s be honest: It’s [Truvada] a party drug.” In Mr. Weinsteing’s eyes, PrEP isn’t about public health. It’s just a highly expensive way for those horny, irresponsible gays to go back to their barebacking-gone-wild.

It would be one thing if this were a talking point of a crackpot on The 700 Club. Hell, Mr. Weinstein’s words could be adapted nicely for a poster for the Westboro Baptist Church. But this man, who earns, according the LA Times, around $390,000 per year, leads an organization that’s the largest provider of HIV/AIDS services in the United States. Yet his views are so out of line with scientific reality that, before approving PrEP, the head of the Centers for Disease Control refused to even meet with him.


In this man’s prurient imagination, gays are too busy enjoying their bareback orgies to be trusted with taking a once-daily pill. In his view, gay men using PrEP will stir up a frothy new drug-resistant strain of the virus. What evidence exists that this is a valid scientific concern? None. He has not even credited the fact that this form of prevention might and is being used by responsible gay men regardless of the sexual activity they are engaged in. Mr. Weisnstein’s anti-PrEP position is an extension of his long-standing anti-promiscuity crusade and more importantly his continuation of harmful shame tactics.

It’s now time to for our community to fight back against his shame-on-us rhetoric. It’s time for us to fight back and say, “shame on him.”

As the issue of cost of PrEP, and whether it should be deployed to prevent young people from becoming infected, becomes an important national issue, we need to take Mr. Weinstein and his radical rhetoric out of the national conversation.

He needs to be removed from his post at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Immediately.
 And some others are taking that last sentence of Lucas literally.  Eric Leue, described as "Mr. Los Angeles Leather 2014" in his bio; went so far as to launch a signing petition at calling for AHF to remove Weinstein from their directorship.  The petition has reached 1,500 signatures as of right now, reflecting the blowback from a sizable portion of the gay community to Weinstein's tactics and sex-shaming. More snippage from the petition:

This petition is not about how Weinstein or we personally feel about HIV PrEP. This petition is about whether we, the people, should be allowed access to accurate information, free of stigma and discrimination. Since 1980, HIV and its prevention has been framed in moral terms, and the people carrying the virus blamed. The head of our largest AIDS service organization should know that HIV prevention is not “a party.”
With our signatures to remove Michael Weinstein as CEO and President of the AHF, we encourage the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to reconnect with the public to be able to continue their important work hand in hand with the communities they serve.
The petition is also being endorsed and signed by many in the mainstream porn community who are just as fed up with the same sex-shaming and authoritarianism. (See the Twitter hashtag #RemoveWeinstein.)

Whether removing Weinstein from AHF will force a change in their policy is probably unclear, but the point is that he has become his own worst enemy, by driving AHF away from its core philosophy of healthcare service, and into his own myopic drive for personal power and money.

We at BPPA strongly recommend and heartily endorse this petition, and hope that you go and sign it as well.

(Note by Anthony: I already have.)

Link to Petition for Michael Weinstein's removal from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (

UPDATE (4-18-14):  Well, anyone who thought that Michael Weinstein would bow down to public opinion would be surely disappointed by his reaction to the turmoil. In an interview with BuzzFeed, he doubled and quadrupled down on his anti-Truvada "party drug" smack, even going as far as associating his critics with "the bareback porn industry".

Some brief snippage from BuzzFeed:
“I’ve had debates on this subject, but these people are jumping to character assassination and I’m not going to respond to it,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest HIV/AIDS medical care provider in the U.S. “My record and the record of AHF speaks for itself.”


Weinstein, who has long been a critic of the blue pill, has no intentions of stepping aside or quieting down and blames much of the backlash he’s received on what he said is the “bareback porn industry.” Michael Lucas, creator of one of the largest gay porn companies, Lucas Entertainment, also called for Weinstein to leave his job in an op-ed published by Out magazine.

“In the last few days in terms of the people who have been yelling the loudest about this, they’ve all been associated with bareback porn,” he said. “They’re all associated with bareback porn, which kind of makes my point that it’s a party drug.”
The BuzzFeed article also gauges reaction from many AIDS prevention activists not at all pleased with Weinstein's position.
“Comments like that of Michael Weinstein really devalue and diminish decades of research and the opinions of experts the world over that would very much disagree with his characterization,” said Jim Pickett, director of Prevention Advocacy and Gay Men’s Health at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “The idea that [Truvada] is simply some party drug on par with crystal meth or ecstasy is really ridiculous and insulting.”

The point of conflict seems to be questions about the effectiveness of Truvada as opposed to condoms and whether or not those using it as PrEP will adhere to its prescriptions.

Proponents of the drug point to studies showing massive reductions in HIV transmissions in cases where the drug was taken daily. But Weinstein, and other Truvada critics, question the drug’s ability to be effective because patients are unlikely to adhere to the daily regimen. A factor in this could be the drug’s high cost — about $13,000 per year — although many insurance plans and Medicaid cover prescriptions.

Additionally, Truvada, unlike condoms, will also do nothing to protect people from other sexually-transmitted diseases such as syphilis, herpes, and gonorrhea, Weinstein said.

Of course, that ignores the fact that condoms cannot prevent infection where sores are exposed and barrier protection can't reach.

“The primary issue with Truvada is that in the perfect world if people took it every day they would be protected, but that is not the case,” he said. “I read over and over again articles talking about how it’s more than 90% effective and they don’t even mention the adherence issue. PrEP is just not 90%-plus effective in the real world. It’s just not ready for prime time as a public health strategy.”

Translation: It really screws up his "condoms rule the world" profit streams. Yes, AHF does in fact market and brand condoms under their label. Ask Michael Whiteacre and his wife Christina Parriera.
Or, just ask the Las Vegas chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), who just decided to sign a marketing agreement with AHF to promote their condoms in exchange for "publicity".
Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, medical director of the ambulatory HIV program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said he is a prescriber of Truvada, telling BuzzFeed, “I don’t see it as a party drug at all.” Daskalakis also sits on the board of Gay Mens Health Crisis, one of the nation’s top HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy organizations. He was also part of the FDA panel that approved Truvada for PrEP.

“The guys I’m giving Truvada to and some women, have a lot of good reasons to take it,” Daskalakis told BuzzFeed. “If being in a sexual relationship with someone who is HIV-positive is a party, then Truvada is a party drug.”

Daskalakis and Pickett are among critics of Weinstein’s comments who think likening Truvada to a “party drug” is judgmental of behavior and detracts from what HIV/AIDS advocates aim to do: prevent HIV, Daskalakis said. Pickett said it equates to “shaming” and “the paternalism and the infantilization of gay men.”
Essentially, that is the heart of the issue: imposing a sexually conservative agenda in the name of "protection", while denying gay men (or, in the case of the porn condom mandate, porn performers) the right of choice on how they can best protect themselves.

Obviously, this debate won't be resolved any time soon. We'll just have to see if Weinstein pays the cost for his mouth shooting off.

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