Debate Over MSM Sexual Behavior, HIV Exposes ‘Cultural Divide’ Among Seattle-Area Gay Men
Debate over the expectations that men who have sex with men have about sexual behavior and the spread of HIV in King County, Wash., has "expos[ed] a cultural divide" among MSM in the area, the Seattle Times reports. The number of newly reported HIV cases among MSM in the county increased 35% from 2001 to 2002 and could have risen an additional 16% in 2003, according to the Times. Some MSM say that it is unfair to condemn men who engage in risky sexual activity without considering the causes of such behavior, while other MSM say that making excuses for such behavior is fueling the spread of HIV, according to the Times (Eskenazi, Seattle Times, 1/6). A manifesto issued in October 2003 by public health workers and gay community leaders said that MSM need to take more responsibility and make greater efforts to stop the spread of HIV. The document, titled "A Community Manifesto: A New Response to HIV and STDs," calls on MSM to be accountable to themselves, their sex partners and their community, calling unprotected sex outside of a monogamous relationship unacceptable (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/9/03). However, some MSM, as well as the Gay City Health Project, one of Seattle's largest gay health organizations, said that the manifesto makes moral judgments about sex between MSM, according to the Times. Gay City says that it is more important to nurture men's self-esteem, which will inspire them to make healthier choices.
Funding and Bathhouse Event
However, Gay City could be "paying the price" for its philosophy, the Times reports. The group this year lost its bid for public HIV prevention funding for the first time in nine years. In addition, Gay City -- after being pressured by County Executive Ron Sims -- canceled its annual workshop on HIV prevention, which was to be held in a bathhouse, where some men have anonymous sex with other men, sometimes without a condom. Dr. Alonzo Plough, director of public health for Seattle and King Counties, said that the event "implicitly normalized" anonymous and unprotected sex, according to the Times. "Part of nurturing self-esteem is saying, 'Hey, being gay is great,'" Fred Swanson, executive director of Gay City, said, adding, "We don't plan events worrying about whether they are acceptable dinner conversation for a 64-year-old straight man in Bellevue." Dan Savage, a nationally syndicated sex columnist who helped found Gay City before becoming critical of the organization, said, "There are some lost gay men out there who want and need guidelines on what is expected of them, so they go searching and are told, 'Everything goes, and the more reckless you are, the gayer you are.' ... Gay men today don't need AIDS organizations saying, 'Go for it!'" (Seattle Times, 1/6).