‘Circuit Parties’ Come Under Scrutiny Over Concerns That They Encourage High-Risk Sex Among Gays
Public health officials and many gay activists are concerned that "circuit parties" -- all-night dance parties designed to raise money for HIV/AIDS and gay organizations -- are actually creating environments that foster the kinds of high-risk behaviors that HIV/AIDS prevention groups seek to discourage, USA Today reports. Illegal drug use and "random, unprotected sex" have become widespread at such parties, which can last for entire weekends and usually attract "thousands of mostly gay young men," some of whom travel to several cities on the party "circuit" each year. In a CDC survey conducted last year, 95% of the 295 men who had attended circuit parties within the previous 12 months said they had used "at least" one illicit drug at a circuit party, with Ecstasy, ketamine, crystal meth and GHB being reported as the most popular drugs among party-goers. Twenty-eight percent of participants in the CDC survey also reported engaging in unprotected sex on circuit party weekends. Law enforcement officials said that the parties, which some describe as "the gay version of raves," generally "present fewer problems for police than similar events," but health officials are concerned that the risk to participants' health may outweigh the financial benefits of such fundraising events. At last year's annual "White Party" in Palm Springs, Calif., there were 13 reported overdoses, and police issued two citations to people having sex in public, prompting concern from the mayor's office. This year, when organizers gave out condoms, warned party-goers of the "dangers" of drug use and kept an ambulance on hand during the party, the incidence of overdoses declined to two.
Gay Men's Health Crisis discontinued throwing its annual circuit party in 1998 due to concerns about the risk-taking behaviors that the events were encouraging. "It became a social phenomenon above and beyond what (we) intended and beyond what (we) could control," Ronald Johnson, an official with the group, explained, adding that his organization is "still closing those (funding) gaps" caused by the absence of the annual fundraiser. Other groups have stepped up their security and outreach efforts in an attempt to prevent drug use and encourage safe sex at the parties, while some groups have also "tried to detach themselves from the controversy" by hiring outside promoters to handle organizing and running the events. Still, Patrick Menasco, whose group organized a circuit party in April, stated that organizers emphasized a "safe-sex, anti-drug message," giving each attendee a handout about drugs, hiring doctors to provide medical assistance and "scattering festively wrapped condoms and lubricants" around the party site. Menasco, who noted that no party-goers had to be taken to a hospital, said, "Weigh that against the fundraising and community-building. This event is worth it" (Lainwand, USA Today, 6/20).