Death of an AIDS Dissident
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN, Editor
Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
“If you’re an HIV-positive dissident, you’re not allowed to die of anything else other than AIDS,” said David Crowe of Rethinking AIDS and the Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society when I interviewed him on June 14 for this issue’s cover story. He could have been writing the obituary for my friend Gerard “Jerry” Colinard, who actually had three weeks to live when David and I did the interview. In fact, in addition to recording my conversation with David, I also videotaped it, hoping it could be used on the “AIDS Lie” public-access cable telecast which Jerry produced for our alternative AIDS group, H.E.A.L. [Health, Education, AIDS Liaison]-San Diego. I heard of Jerry’s death, in fact, when I called his number to invite him to the H.E.A.L. meeting at which I showed the video, and got a return message from his friend John Himebaugh telling me he had died on the morning of the Fourth of July, three days before that meeting.
I’ve been an active member of the so-called “AIDS dissident” movement — sneeringly called “HIV denialist” by our adversaries, who want to compare us to the people who still think the Nazis didn’t mass-murder Jews, Queers, Gypsies, Communists, people with disabilities and others during World War II — since 1993. That year, Elliot Fox, the late Robert Bruckner and I founded the Association to Re-Evaluate AIDS (ATRA), which three years later became part of the international network of H.E.A.L. organizations. I’ve been involved ever since because I believe there are a great many unanswered questions about AIDS, and I find the AIDS theories of alternative scientists like Peter Duesberg, David Rasnick, the Perth Group in Australia and others (who often don’t agree with each other) that AIDS is a long-term toxic breakdown of the human immune system far more logical, persuasive and better supported by evidence than the mainstream view that it’s all caused by HIV.
I met Jerry Colinard in 1989 when he showed up at a meeting of Gay Grads of San Diego, an educational and social organization for college-educated Gay and Bisexual men (we didn’t bar women from participating but it was mostly a male group) with which I was involved. He kept turning up in my life thereafter and often surprised me with his transformations, never more so than when he started attending H.E.A.L. meetings, acknowledging not only his “HIV-positive” status but his horrible history with anti-HIV medications. Jerry told our group that he’d taken AZT for four years in the late 1980’s and had ended up near death, whereupon he’d stopped them and had recovered his health. Naturally, this made him highly skeptical of the claims that later generations of anti-HIV meds were “life-saving” and had led to “deathbed recoveries.” For Jerry — at least as he told the story — it was stopping AZT that got him off his deathbed and allowed him to live 20 years longer than he would have otherwise.
Not that Jerry was doctrinaire about it — he tried the meds again when he had a health crisis later on and they seemed, when used temporarily and judiciously, to help him — but he always maintained a high and justified level of skepticism about the mainstream view of AIDS. What’s more, he put his energy and his money where his mouth was. He compiled packets of alternative AIDS information and made them available, at his own expense, to his friends and to anyone else who requested them. He took over producing the “AIDS Lie” TV show after the previous producer died of non-AIDS causes, and often offered to give his friends private showings of “AIDS Lie” episodes and other documentaries on alternative views of AIDS.
Most of his friends ignored these offers and refused even to read or watch alternative sources of information about AIDS. Jerry would frequently come to H.E.A.L. meetings and unburden himself of his frustration with the unwillingness of people he cared about to concede that there might be another point of view about AIDS than the mainstream. I’d usually respond by pointing out that “HIV/AIDS” had long since ceased to be about science or health; instead, it was — and is — a self-perpetuating religion, a shamanistic explanation of the inexplicable (why do people die, and in particular why did a large group of Gay men start being diagnosed with then-uncommon diseases in the early 1980’s?) that survives not by winning a free and open debate in the scientific community, but by a government-proclaimed and media-enforced monopoly on AIDS discourse that prevents people either from being exposed to alternative views or taking them seriously when they do gain access to them.
The latest proof of that came in the July 23, 2009 Gay & Lesbian Times, which carried an obituary for Jerry clearly written by an HIV believer. It praised him for his past work with mainstream AIDS organizations like Being Alive (of which I am also a former member and activist, by the way) but said that “by 2001 … he had rejected traditional Western drug-centered HIV medicine. He referred to himself as an ‘AIDS dissident’ thereafter.” The same issue featured a letter to the editor by Dr. Adrienne M. Schlang, responding to a two-page ad in the July 16 Pride issue of the publication giving some alternative perspectives on HIV and AIDS. Dr. Schlang quoted two of the claims made in this ad — that HIV antibody “test results are open to interpretation” and that AIDS medicines (she put a “sic” after that terminology for reasons that baffle me) “themselves cause the symptoms of AIDS” — but, rather than challenge those statements on factual grounds, she called their publication “the height of irresponsibility” and said they had made her “apoplectic.”
In fact, both those claims are amply supported in the scientific literature. ELISA and IFA HIV antibody tests come out as colored dots on paper and need the input of a reader to determine whether a particular color counts as positive (“reactive”) or negative (“non-reactive”). The Western Blot, the so-called “confirmatory” test, comes out as a series of strips that respond to the presence or absence of the nine proteins supposed to make up HIV, and there are at least 11 different standards worldwide for determining which pattern of bands on the test strip counts as “positive” and which “negative.” What’s more, when test results are “indeterminate” — when the readers can’t make up their minds whether they’re reactive or not — they frequently refer to the background information on the patient to determine how to read it, so a Gay man or a member of another acknowledged AIDS “risk group” is more likely to be told he’s positive on the basis of an in-between test result than anybody else.
The claim that anti-HIV drugs themselves cause the symptoms of AIDS is based on a number of sources, including the warnings published with the drugs themselves — which frequently mention bone-marrow depletion, anemia, weight loss and other AIDS-like symptoms as possible side effects — and also on studies like the one presented at the 2004 international AIDS conference in Barcelona, which showed that the number one cause of death among HIV-positive people in the U.S. was liver failure from the toxicities of anti-HIV medications. Instead of citing facts, however, Dr. Schlang made clear that her agenda was to get the Gay & Lesbian Times to stop publishing statements challenging the mainstream view of HIV and AIDS and keep their pages closed to legitimate debate.
The fact that the HIV/AIDS mainstream is promoting religion, not science, never comes out as clearly as it does when a prominent person in the alternative AIDS community dies, especially if they’re diagnosed “HIV-positive” and die relatively young. When Christine Maggiore, who founded the Los Angeles-based Alive and Well organization and worked closely with me and other leaders of H.E.A.L., died in December 2008, Connie Howard wrote in VUE Magazine in Edmonton, Canada, “Predictably and sadly, some AIDS activists are celebrating — not her death exactly, but celebrating a point for their team nonetheless. This isn’t a war though, and premature death, whether from AIDS or AIDS meds refused or AIDS meds used, is a tragedy. … No matter what we still have to learn about the disease, Christine Maggiore deserves to have chosen her own path and to be respected for it. The hate she has suffered, and the hate and pressure her surviving husband and son will suffer, is inexcusable.”
I can’t imagine that the Jerry Colinard I knew for two decades, the man who worked hard and gave of himself unstintingly to advance alternative sources of information and thought about AIDS, would be thrilled that some of his friends are saying that if he’d only been a good little boy and taken his drugs like he was told, he’d still be alive. (As I noted above, that was the opposite of his real-life experience.) I don’t think he’d be thrilled that his survivors are using his death to raise money for the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, as his Gay & Lesbian Times obituary stated — though he’d probably be even more pissed if they’d used it to raise money for mainstream AIDS research or services instead of a memorial. He’d seen the use of other AIDS dissenters’ deaths by the mainstream for propaganda purposes, and though we never discussed the issue I can’t see Jerry wanting his death exploited by the very people who are trying to shut down debate on the causes and appropriate treatments of AIDS once and for all.