Saturday, September 17, 2011

Keith Brown Interviews Mark Conlan on "Big Brother" HIV Test Program

Big Brother Is Testing You (radio edit):

Gay Spirit: Keith Brown Interviews MGC on “Lead the Way,” July 2001:

Hello, and welcome to a special edition of Zenger’s on the air, the audio edition of Zenger’s Newsmagazine. I’m your host, Zenger’s editor-publisher Mark Gabrish Conlan, and today we’re going to take another look at the “Lead the Way” project, the brainchild of Dr. Susan Little of the Antiviral Research Center (ARC) at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) Medical Center. Launched in May 2011 out of a storefront in a former Starbucks location on the corner of Park and University in Hillcrest, “Lead the Way” is a project intended to — well, sometimes its publicity materials and its Web site say it’s to encourage people to take the HIV antibody test and sometimes they say it’s merely to ask people whether they’d take the test or not.

I heard Dr. Little announce the project on May 10 at the Hillcrest Town Council, and shortly after that I wrote an editorial for Zenger’s entitled, “Big Brother Is Testing You.” I was particularly incensed by their proposal to send out mobile testing vans to certain blocks in the 92103 and 92104 Zip codes — coincidentally or not, the parts of San Diego with the largest Queer populations — and knock on people’s doors in a Johnny-on-the-spot approach to get them to take a survey about the test as well as to get blood drawn for the test itself. I didn’t think people put on the spot this way were going to be in a position to make a rational decision whether or not they should undergo a test that, accurate or not, could lead to their so-called “diagnosis” with a presumably fatal disease, huge pressure from their doctors and the medical establishment in general immediately to go on highly toxic and expensive drugs; discrimination in employment, housing and other public services — it’s supposed to be illegal, but of course it still goes on — and the threat of prosecution if they have the “wrong” sort of sex with the wrong person, even consensually.

But that’s not the impression of the mobile testing program you’ll get if you visit the “Lead the Way” Web site, Instead you’ll read, “It’s kind of like a taco truck without the tacos. Or at least that’s how we like to think of our mobile testing and surveying truck. Four wheels of goodness, spreading the word about Lead the Way. We’re going to be dropping in to neighborhoods and events all over 92103 + 92104. Farmers’ markets, festivals, bars. We’re even going to knock on some doors and introduce ourselves. So, if you see us, please say ‘hi.’ Or please open your door. We’re out here to do something really good and really big, and we need your help.”

In the immortal words of British comedienne Anna Russell, “I’m not making this up, you know!” Though both Dr. Little and her P.R. person, Danielle Gano, sometimes insist that their goal is merely to build up public awareness about testing and ask why people do or don’t want to get tested, this comment Dr. Little made at the Hillcrest Town Council indicates something of the Machiavellian ambition behind this program, which goes a long way beyond simply surveying people about their attitudes towards HIV testing.

Since I published my Zenger’s article and did an earlier version of this report, in which I read the “Big Brother Is Testing You” editorial and plugged in Dr. Little’s quotes in her own voice, the “Lead the Way” program has toned down the pro-testing propaganda just a little. Where the ads on the street billboards and bus stops used to show their so-called “community role models” and say, “He would — would you?,” “She would — would you?,” “They would — would you?” — now they just say that so-and-so “answered the question” and you should answer the question too. But the captions to the pictures of the “role models” on the “Lead the Way” Web site still say they would, and ask, “Would you?”

Shortly after my article on “Lead the Way” appeared, I got a call from my friend Keith Brown of Hartford, Connecticut asking if he could interview me for Gay Spirit, the Queer-themed public radio program he’s been hosting in Hartford for almost 30 years. Like me, Keith is convinced based on scientific evidence that the conventional wisdom about AIDS which we’ve been brainwashed to believe since 1984 — that it’s a disease caused by a single virus, the so-called “Human Immunodeficiency Virus,” or HIV — is wrong. Indeed, he’s made it a bit of a tradition to interview me on World AIDS Day, December 1, to review the year’s events in AIDS from an alternative perspective. As he acknowledges in the show you’re about to hear, for a long time he pulled back on AIDS coverage because little new seemed to be happening on the issue.

Then he read an editorial of mine blasting one of the AIDS establishment’s most cockamamie ideas yet, “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” which means prescribing anti-HIV drugs to people who test HIV negative but who, because they’re Gay or have some other so-called “risk factor,” are considered likely to encounter the virus in their sex lives. The fact that HIV has never been proven to be sexually transmissible, of course, doesn’t enter into this. He called me for an interview on “pre-exposure prophylaxis” and again for one on “Lead the Way,” and he got two shows out of my material — which I, with his permission, have edited down to one. So here are Keith Brown and I from opposite ends of the country, talking about a sinister HIV antibody testing program that’s being tried out in San Diego and could spread nationwide if Dr. Susan Little has her way.

Since we did that interview, there’ve been a few changes in the “Lead the Way” program. The wording of the ads featuring 20 so-called “community role models” has been changed from saying that they had got tested and asking, “Would you?,” to merely saying that they had answered the question — to test or not to test — and you should answer the question, too. When I was called by Dr. Susan Little’s P.R. person, Danielle Gano, who had actually written those ads, she was very anxious to make sure I understood that the campaign was about building awareness of the test and asking why people do — and don’t — get tested. But the versions of the ads on the Lead the Way Web site,, still says, essentially, that these people took the test and you should, too. The site also features a map of the 92103 and 92104 Zip codes with colored boxes indicating the blocks they’ve visited with their mobile testing vans, with orange boxes labeled “here’s where we’ve been,” blue boxes labeled, “here’s where we are,” and green boxes labeled, “here’s where we’re going.”

As I noted in my introduction, the Web site refers to the mobile testing vans as “four wheels of goodness,” and calls the entire project “something really good and really big.” But when I think of a program aimed at reaching people in their homes, as well as when they’re shopping for food or out for a good time, to try to sell them on taking an unreliable test for antibodies to a virus that has never been isolated by classical standards of virology and almost certainly is harmless anyway, to people who will be told if they test “positive” that they are infected with a virus that will kill them and they need to be on highly toxic and very expensive drugs all their lives, the word that comes to my mind about this project isn’t “good” but its opposite, “evil.” And when I read the weird language of the “Lead the Way” Web site, with its bizarre and indigestible combination of infantilism and megalomania, I think not only of the word “evil” but of another word, the one the late Hannah Arendt linked with it in the title of her book on Nazi official Adolf Eichmann: “the banality of evil.”