Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Killing Them Softly

This week markes the 80th anniversary of the executions of two Italian immigrants for a murder they did not commit. Nicola Sacco & Bartolomeo Vanzetti were put to death, not because evidence proved them guilty, but because they were different.

Born in a foreign land with customs, foods, clothing, language, religion and politics most Americans found alien, Sacco & Vanzetti became human sacrifices to intolerance, ignorance and hate. Today, DNA evidence might have exonerated them and saved their lives, but intolerance, ignorance and hate aren’t as easy to eradicate with scientific proof.

If those plagues could be cured by a steady dose of facts, HIV positive people would not be banned from entering the United States, as is the case in 2007. The ban on HIV positive immigrants—enacted by Congress in 1993—is the reason why no international AIDS conference—like the one held last August in Toronto, Canada, and scheduled for next year in Mexico City—can ever be held just across those borders in the U.S.

Since there is no valid public health reason for the American jihad against HIV positive immigrants, what’s behind it? The immigration law’s exception—reinforced by the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—gives us an answer. An HIV positive person can seek a waiver of the ban if his or her citizen or permanent-resident spouse affirms that the HIV positive partner will be cared for without public support. DOMA bolted the door shut to HIV positive gays & lesbians in a relationship with an American citizen or permanent resident by defining “spouse” to be heterosexual only.

It may be 80 years since hate harshly killed two Italian immigrants for the crime of being different, but it still does its dirty work—quietly, softly, daily—by declaring HIV positive people to be latter-day lepers, especially if they are gay.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


When the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave its one million dollar Global Health prize to the former Health Minister of Thailand, they did it because he handed out millions of condoms over the past 30 years.

Mechai Viravaidya, once known as “Mr. Condom” in Thailand, persuaded Bangkok’s traffic police to give condoms away in a program tabbed “Cops & Rubbers.” In the worldwide fight against AIDS, Viravaidya achieved something few others have: he got people to discuss sex openly, and he saved lives while doing it. As reported in the Boston Globe, a World Bank analysis estimated that an additional 7.7 million Thais would have been HIV positive, if the country had not acted so aggressively.

In receiving the prestigious Gates Foundation Award, the Thai leader pointed out the limitations of the ABC method (abstinence, be faithful, use condoms) promoted by the U. S. around the world. “You’ve got to start off not with A, or B, but start off with S—Sex,” Viravaidya said. “You’ve got to understand what drives human beings regarding sex, and how to control it if you can.”

Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program President Tachi Yamada noted that the strategies employed by the Thai visionary could be used elsewhere to fight AIDS, particularly those programs that “have allowed women to make choices or a sex worker to feel strong enough to demand that the customers use condoms.”

Thailand’s effective safer sex campaign was supported by the Government, religious leaders, and the media, a partnership approach that put the small, Southeast Asian nation far, far ahead of the United States in fighting HIV/AIDS. And what is Mechai Viravaidya doing today now that he is no longer a government official? Lobbying for a large pharmaceutical firm? Not quite. He’s running his non-profit Population and Community Development Association, and funding it from the proceeds of his business—a Bangkok restaurant named “Condoms & Cabbages,” where patrons eat delicious Thai food, look at condom-covered lamps and tables, and always leave with protection.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


There was no shot of a woman bearing her breasts, nor of a man dropping his draws. No, it was a picture of an anthropomorphic pig that gave some of our network and cable system colleagues palpitations.

A clever and entertaining condom commercial for Trojan was recently deemed too controversial for airing—even during late night programming—for Fox and CBS networks, and a few cable systems around the country, despite the commercial’s pro-social message of, “Evolve: Use a condom.” Apparently, the networks and a few systems didn’t think their viewers were “evolved” enough.

“It’s so hypocritical for any network in this culture to go all puritanical on the subject of condom use when their programming is so salacious, “said NYU Professor and media critic Mark Crispin Miller. But, go puritanical they did, despite research that indicates that only one in every four sex acts in the United States are protected by a condom, a rate of unsafe sex rivaling those in under-developed countries.

The message of the Trojan ad was clear: being prepared makes you more desirable, particularly when it shows you’re thinking about your own health and the health and safety of your partner. Anything less, makes you a pig.

Killing the condom ads ignores all of the data on the effectiveness of regular condom usage in reducing the rate of STDs, and the transmission rate of HIV. It also closes the public’s eyes to the fact—well documented by the CDC and UNAIDS—that one out of every two new HIV infections are occurring in the under 25 year old age group.

Trojan’s creative team chose not to sugarcoat the truth like the spider in Charlotte's Web did in promoting another pig. It’s just too bad they didn’t pitch it as a joint commercial with Budweiser, where the beer-swigging pig could have been told to “drink responsibly.” That sure would have made everyone feel a lot better.