THE SAN FRANCISCO Department of Public Health reported new HIV infections among MSM citywide were 20% lower in 2006 than in 2001, due to the city's graphic, upfront campaigning. During the same five-year period, new HIV cases in London - which shuns such campaigns - soared by 58%.
Indeed, so effective have hardhitting campaigns been at reducing HIV infections among gay men in San Francisco that the epidemic has been demoted to endemic status by the city's leading health officials. Likewise, the number of HIV- men in the city who used crystal meth between 2003 and 2006 halved.
“Truth itself is very stigmatising. Some people call that wagging your finger, but it’s just gay men looking out for each other.”
~ Peter Staley [AIDS/crystal meth activist]
Our groups' singling out of crystal when it is AID$ Inc. policy to maintain that all drugs are equally potentially dangerous, period - even though meth possesses unique chemical properties that sets it far apart from "recreational" drugs - has been another convenient excuse for them to look the other way and do nothing. Afterall, if crystal meth really is no different than any other drug, then why are there upwards of thirty Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) meetings a week in New York City alone, yet no similar meetings centred around Ecstasy or "Special K"?
Where less harmful drugs are concerned, scare campaigns fail because the message does not equate with the experience of most users. Harder drugs demand a hard-line approach because a far higher proportion of users do identify with their downside. The famous UK campaign that centred on the death of teenager Leah Betts - who drowned drinking too much water while experimenting with ecstasy - backfired spectacularly because most young people know that a few ecstasy tablets won't kill you or inflict severe damage. By contrast, a 22-minute video depicting the transformation of Rachel Whitear - from a bright teenager to a 21-year-old ravaged by heroin addiction and circulated to schools three years after her death - caused shockwaves that reverberate to this day.
In December 2006 I alerted Gaydar - the UK's leading cruise website - that some profiles were blatantly soliciting others to "meth-up", "fuck raw" and to attend weekend long meth-fuelled sex parties. I suggested it consider implementing banners pointing members to graphic information specifically about crystal and the potential risks from which to make informed choices should they come into contact with meth from users they meet online, as Manhunt.net has long done.
Gaydar then consulted the self-appointed "experts" of gay men's sexual health in London, The Terrence Higgins Trust and GMFA, who said in one voice that the problem was overstated and no action was necessary. A central London frontline STI clinician then informed Gaydar that, contrary to the deception being spun by the so-called gay men's sexual health charities, worrying numbers of seroconverting MSM were citing meth as a prime factor. A meeting was hastily arranged at Gaydar HQ and I was invited to argue the case for the site to run a high-profile meth awareness campaign.
At the meeting, on 9 February 2007, I found myself up against an onslaught of denial and resistance from an alliance of sexual health charity staffers, including THT spin doctor Will Nutland and GMFA's Matthew Hodson, who attempted to jeopardise my case at every turn citing out-of-date statistics and jargon, all the while obfuscating wildly in a seemingly desperate bid to prove no meth threat existed among MSM in London.
There is something richly disdainful, even chilling, about the ferocious amount of energy that drone-like HIV sector personnel are willing to expend suppressing and dismissing any criticism of their callously dishonest approach to safeguarding human life. If their way is so effective and their case so strong, why the need to try so fervently to extinguish all criticism and aggressively smear, bully, discredit and intimidate all opposing viewpoints into submission?
Nevertheless the argument was won and Gaydar agreed to a crystal meth banner campaign with LIFE OR METH's involvement, but it was a hollow victory. Its corporate obligation to refer only to government-funded public information channels meant that its members' sole source of meth information would be contained within a generic A-Z drugs website touted at the meeting by THT and GMFA to be launched the following summer, which Gaydar's meth banners would, in theory, click through to. Surely, I argued, such vital information risked being obscured and trivialised if sandwiched between less addictive and harmful drugs, and that meth deserved singling out as a drug like no other? It was an argument that fell on deaf ears.
Although THT's “Drugfucked” was commissioned with public funding for a summer 2007 launch date, it didn't materialise until May 2008 by which time I had given up waiting, which is just as well because given how Drugfucked has subsequently been criticised for glamorising and incentivising hard drug use, there is no way I would have consented for any meth banner with my input to click through to something so crass and half-hearted Thus Gaydar's pledge to display crystal meth banners of any shape or form never materialised...
Such disregard to its social duty is all the more staggering when, in a perverse twist of fate one day after the meeting, Gaydar’s chairman/co- founder Gary Frisch killed himself somersaulting off the balcony of his London penthouse while intoxicated from a week-long drugs binge...
15 months earlier, in November 2005, the UKC (UK Coalition of People Living with HIV and AIDS) had received thousands of pounds of public money to establish a "benchmark" on meth use in London's gay community - funds the charity were later discovered to have largely diverted elsewhere - around the same time that its project co-ordinator, Jack Summerside, told The Scottish Herald: "Some of the claims about [meth] are straight out of the 18th century and what people were saying about drinking gin. Every drug that comes out is claimed to be more addictive, uniquely more harmful and presenting more uniform social dangers than all drugs it follows." No matter how illogical or downright absurd and dangerous their hymn-sheet theories may be, the UK HIV sector's PC line must, it seems, be obediently pandered to at all costs.
"Mind manipulation techniques like neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP, are employed in language to engineer consensus. NLP is a technique of using words to reprogram the [mind] to accept another perception of reality (i.e. the consensus agreed by the manipulators); a prefabricated, “politically correct” blanket “pop”, “opinion”, “view” or “take” upon a particular issue of general interest which is designed to preclude further consideration, analysis or investigation of the issue in question. In other words, a collectivised mental position which is never to be questioned."
~ H. Hoffman [Manufacturing Orwellian Consent]
Designed ostensibly to suppress diverse opinion and freedom of expression, political correctness is used by large, often powerful bodies for their own ends to spin, twist and reverse truth to bolster counter-productive agendas and antisocial policies using smears, lies, intimidation and bullying tactics to drag dissenters into line. Political correctness's most notable characteristic is its total intolerance for any viewpoint but its own.
"Political correctness is first and foremost an attack on free speech, clear thinking and discussion...perpetrated by the left in politics as a cover for their flawed ideology - a sort of cultural Marxism. By cloaking their strange ideas under the cover of not wishing to offend anyone, they try to bypass debate and give a 'received wisdom' which mustn't be questioned. And anyone who disagrees with this 'received wisdom' must therefore be a really nasty person and deserves to be ostracised..."
As far as AID$ Inc. is concerned, speaking honestly and openly about the state of, and threats to, public sexual health is an Orwellian thought crime, and being frank and realistic about the dangers of HIV and/or crystal meth is condemned as moralising and fear-mongering.
Political correctness demands that HIV must not be stigmatised nor HIVers' feelings hurt, even where human wellbeing and even life is clearly at risk. So the HIV lobby demonises truth itself to cover up their failings, incompetence and indifference. Those who do stigmatise public health threats are instantly vilified, shouted down and labeled judgmental and their deglamorising, realistic campaigns dismissed as scare tactics even though they are proven, time and again, to be the most effective forms of prevention.
"There's an acute difference between being judgmental and being truthful, and if the AIDS lobby can't grasp that simple concept in order to save lives then, frankly, they shouldn't be in receipt of public funds."
~ Anon [Former GMHC worker]
TV ads for speeding and drink driving are designed to shock with maximum impact to make people pause, think and take stock of the carnage their recklessness behind the wheel is capable of causing. There would be uproar if such campaigns sought to legitimise reckless drivers on the pretext that stigmatisation would only, to parrot the PC lynch mob, "drive them underground". So, why shouldn't impressionable MSM be entitled to reflect on the potentially devastating consequences of using hard drugs like meth via co-ordinated and hard-hitting campaigns instead of reflexively and obliviously ingesting the most dangerous letter in the drug alphabet amid a climate of thinly-veiled acceptance that is encouraged by the PC prevention lobby's failure to take decisive action?
Following the success of its last hardhitting anti-smoking campaign, which resulted in 60,000 people kicking their deadly habit, in 2008 the UK government announced that a series of 15 "gruesome" images highlighting the harmful effects of smoking would appear on cigarette packets, each accompanying text warnings about smoking-related diseases. The charity, Cancer Research UK, estimated the images could help an additional 10,000 smokers in England to quit, but - in much the same way that HIV charities claim that HIVers are stigmatised by graphic HIV prevention campaigns - the tobacco industry's lobby group, Forest, insanely countered that smokers would be "victimised" by the life-saving messages.
In Australia, graphic health warnings on cigarette packs and aggresive campaigns that demonised tobacco resulted in calls to its national Quitline doubling in 2006.
"There hasn't been a decent HIV campaign [in the UK] for years and the 1980s adverts with tombstones still stick in people's minds... I'm sure anyone with HIV would say there should be more negative campaigns. Some of my patients would say: 'I wish there was more warning as I'd have thought about things more.'... Perhaps if images such as the tombstone had been in the back of their minds they'd have used a condom."
~ Dr. Christian Jessen [Television medical expert and GP with an MSc in sexual health and HIV]
"I don't think that evidence bears out that hardhitting adverts work alone, right down to the government's multi-million pound smoking advert with the fishhooks in mouths. And showing tombstones and people dying of AIDS doesn't make people stop barebacking."
~ Mark Thompson [THT spin doctor]
In light of a successful anti-meth campaign across the US state of Montana - whose confronting approach (above, left) slashed usage rates by 35% among teens and a massive 75% in adults, changed perceptions among teenagers (87% said peers who tried meth would face disapproval) and cut meth-related crime by around 53% - plans in Australia to spend $30 million of a $150m budget allocated to tackling hard drugs on a "terrifying" meth awareness campaign culminated in 2007 in a graphic TV commercial outlining the potentially dire consequences of dallying with meth. [View here]
The ad emulates the no-holds approach of Australia's 1987 Grim Reaper campaign (above, right), which was widely criticised at the time as being melodramatic and alarmist but, like the UK's tombstone/iceberg campaigns, proved resoundingly successful at curbing the spread of AIDS. "Ice destroys lives, it tears families apart," proclaimed the ad, which realistically depicted an office worker unable to sleep after smoking meth; a man flying into a psychotic rage in a hospital; a young woman compulsively picking at her skin; and a young man fighting with his mother. The Australian National Council on Drugs advised the Federal Government on the campaign. Its chairman, John Herron, maintains that while the ads are graphic, the information is based on fact, not on hype. "I think you've got to take the gloves off," he said.
"We now have a perverse situation where the NSW Government is paying ACON (The AIDS Council of NSW) over $10 million a year to talk down meth with a modality of 'don't stigmatise/demonise the drug and alienate users', while the Feds [have spent] $30m to scare everyone's pants off!"
~ Shayne Chester [CAAMA]
In the UK, political correctness runs amok within an HIV sector that has actively resisted raising the alarm about the potential dangers associated with using meth and its correlation with HIV infection while being vocal in its criticism of those who do take a stand.
"In the UK, the absence of much discourse on crystal meth has seen scare approaches being used by the creators of LIFE OR METH - a website that uses extreme accounts of the impact of crystal meth - an approach that Nancy Reagan with her "just say no" mantra would be likely to support."
~ Terrence Higgins Trust [New Prevention Technologies]
Based on its own atrotious track record, it far behooves Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) to do what it accuses LIFE OR METH of doing by passing judgment on the efforts of those who are working for zero financial renumeration to raise awareness about threats to public health that it downplays or ignores entirely. THT conveniently forgets that all HIV campaigns were hardhitting and "extreme" in the 1980s, and instilled in many the need to play safe at all times. HIV was simply not an option and the messages embedded deep into that generation's collective psyche and served to keep many, myself included, HIV- to this day, ultimately resulting in the lowest HIV infection rates on record by the mid-1990s.
Indeed, it was the the co-discoverer of AIDS himself, American scientist Dr. Robert Gallo, who singled out the 1980s UK AIDS campaigns as "a model for other countries, including my own, of aggressive public education."
How many of my peers, I wonder, have subsequently seroconverted in the wake of HIV campaigns wrapped in cotton wool that have sought to downplay those stark messages of old and served instead to legitimise and sexualise the virus and barebacking by encouraging a risk minimisation/"safer sex" approach? Had I been a sexually active teenager these last few years I have no doubt whatsoever that in the enticingly HIV-friendly environment that now exists I would have been exposed to HIV many times over...
The UK Conservative party leader, David Cameron, invoked the memory of the UK's 1985 AIDS tombstone ad in 2007 to highlight how the dearth of effective campaigns that "scared us all to death" have contributed to soaring rates of public health epidemics, ranging from sexual diseases to obesity. In July 2008 he went even further, stating that obese people, alcoholics and drug addicts should take responsibility for their conditions. "We talk about people being at risk of obesity instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise," he said, citing this approach as a symptom of an overly politically correct society in which people are afraid of "appearing judgmental" on social issues. By the same rationale, HIV charities should stop referring to gay men as being victims or "at risk of HIV" and talk instead about gay men who are willfully reckless or inadequately informed about the risks they are taking with their health.
In January 2008, gay men themselves made their voices heard loud and clear when 82% of the UK Pink Paper’s readers voted in an online survey for harder-hitting HIV campaigns.
The majority of gay men who want to see harder-hitting HIV campaigns are not, as AID$ Inc. claim, demanding the return of tombstones or icebergs in an age where HIV is not an automatic death sentence, even though it remains an incurable, terminal condition. Instead they want honest, truthful messages that convey the many pitfalls of living with the condition and an endless regime of toxic meds; that reinforce the message that a life without HIV is a life best lived; and, in spite of how such messages may or may not be perceived by HIVers themselves, want HIVers to take responsibility for their actions that led to them contracting the HIV virus instead of being portrayed in such campaigns as helpless victims.
Surely the desire to prevent just one more MSM sero-converting must override the risk of hurting an HIVer's feelings? There are ways to conjure up such messages without invoking the fear of death or offending the sensibilities of HIVers, but such a radical new approach requires imagination, creativity, determination of will and strength of spirit; human qualities that political correctness by its very nature seeks to destroy as it injects its insidious doctrine of soulless, bland conformity into everything it touches and curses...
"So long as a campaign is directed at those genuinely at high risk of infection, there's nothing wrong with employing harder-hitting tactics to induce a bit of fright. If that protects health and saves lives, then frankly, the end justifies the means, and we shouldn't shy away from it."
~ Peter Gill [Body Count: How they turned AIDS into a Catastrophe]
Nowhere, of course, does LIFE OR METH advocate a proselytising "Just say no" approach, wag a judgmental finger or seek to demonise meth users; a fallacy often perpetuated by patronising, science/theory/logic-driven, out of touch critics of our work whose robot-like minds are incapable of comprehending the spiritually decimating impact of crystal on our world and so fail to grasp the reasoning for, nor meaning of, the empowering, holistic approach needed to penetrate and unravel the heart of the problem. One which this site embraces.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
~ Albert Einstein
"Neurologists have identified part of the brain that defines us as human and allows emotion and intuition to work in tandem with logic to solve moral dilemmas...
This component is one among several that contribute to our wisdom and humanity, [indicating] that purely rational accounts of moral judgments do not describe all the possible conditions humans face."
~ Lewis Smith [The Times, London, March 22, 2007]
Emotion and intuition are qualities frowned upon within bureaucratised HIV agencies mandated to safeguard public health, which is why they remain obstinate and righteous even in the face of great suffering. Treatment of a habitual meth user necessitates thinking outside of the box and applying an empowering approach to encourage him towards self-respecting behaviours and, ideally, abstinence - which requires providing the hard, non-sugar-coated facts of the consequences of his addiction and encouraging him to explore the underlying issues that define his compulsive behaviour. But, in their scramble for a scientific/rational solution (i.e. one devoid of emotion or intuition), the autocratic, knee-jerk response of academic-led AIDS agencies has instead conspired to promote a victim mentality that maintains the user in his addiction in the defeatist guise of "harm reduction". [See Dereliction of Duty].
"Harm reduction is totally inappropriate to a drug of meth's pharmacological uniqueness. It is a modality designed by academics who seek to advocate on behalf of those that they can only understand theoretically. And it is costing lives."
~ Shayne Chester
"In the gay community, we censor ourselves. We have to start being responsible, by telling the truth, and it's not pretty. We've got to wake up."
~ Jay Corcoran [Director, Rock Bottom]
Even when such organisations do act, time and again they will glamorise and even "sex up" the problem, such is their aversion to stigmatising it and telling the simple truth. For example:
• THT's token contribution to crystal awareness in the UK - a flier/booklet depicting two muscled action men figures in an explicit, penetrative embrace (above, centre), accompanied by a long list of the enticing reasons why MSM are seduced into using alongside only a few of the less serious side effects - promotes meth more as a 'wonder sex drug' as opposed to one that should be avoided. Indeed, a participant in a bench-mark study into meth use in London commented: "My interest [in meth]'s been raised by the gay press. They put out their warning and I'm afraid it has the opposite effect: it makes me curious. They put this [meth flier] on the cover of QX [magazine] - it told you all about how to take it! That was one of the factors. That's why I decided to inject it, cos I hadn't thought of that before."
• Another THT effort - a booklet targeted at HIVers titled Your Feelings - purports to provide sound advice to enhance emotional wellbeing. Yet, instead of advising against using drugs like meth to self-medicate depressive feelings - as 20% of HIV+ men in London do at extreme risk to their already compromised immune systems - it merely states that using "too much can sometimes cause problems with our emotional wellbeing", and then likens meth to the "similar but milder" effects of energy drinks like Red Bull!
"The first casualty in any war is truth, closely followed by common sense..."
~ Hiram Johnson [American Senator]