Copyright (c) 1992 First Things 20 (February 1992): 6-8.
Readers whose minds have not been numbed by all the media-generated sensations since then may be able to recall that back in the first part of November the nation was reportedly held in thrall by Magic Johnson's announcement that he had the AIDS virus. More than one television anchor solemnly announced that the country had not been so traumatized since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The good news was that Magic, a "role model" for America's youth, was going to spend his remaining days advocating safe (some said safer) sex.
To their credit, within a few days some reporters challenged the idea that Johnson was an exemplar for America's young, and especially for blacks. Off the court where he did his magic for the Los Angeles Lakers, Johnson had dropped out of college, fathered at least one child out of wedlock, and led a sexual life that is politely termed promiscuous. Magic was "my role model," says Wilt Chamberlain, who brags, perhaps preposterously, that he has slept with 20,000 women over the years. In the face of Johnson's charm and high spirits in making his announcement, some journalists were impertinent enough to wonder how many women whom Johnson infected would die of AIDS. Proponents of the homosexual cause were vocally upset that Johnson made clear he is heterosexual, thus reminding people of the ill-disguised connection between AIDS transmission and the "gay lifestyle." (Later, to his credit, Johnson had a change of mind and said he would be urging unmarried people to abstain from sex rather than practice "safe sex." He told reporters, "What I'm trying to do is save lives.")
The incessantly repeated line of the AIDS industry is that this is a disease that is out of control (a "pandemic") and that everybody is at risk of contracting it. But of course that is not true. As documented by Michael Fumento (The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, New Republic Books) and by Ronald Brookmeyer of Johns Hopkins, the epidemic is declining among all risk categories. (See "AIDS So Far," Commentary, December 1991). Since it erupted ten years ago, 188,348 cases have been reported in the United States, with 121,196 ending in death. The risk is far from being equally distributed. Propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, AIDS is most emphatically a respecter of persons, or at least of behaviors. A mere 727 whites, middle-class or otherwise, are listed as having contracted the disease through heterosexual contact-less than one-half of one percent of the total caseload.
In the same period that 121,00 died of AIDS, more than four times as many Americans have died in car accidents and fifty times as many have died of cancer. The point of such a comparison is not to downplay the tragedy of AIDS but to underscore the fatuity of the repeated claim that America is "not paying attention to the AIDS crisis." In terms of media notice, as well as private and government funding, AIDS is receiving attention wildly disproportionate to its place in the constellation of health problems facing the American people. Given the sector of the population that is chiefly at risk, that is not entirely surprising. Those afflicted with HIV or AIDS in the homosexual subculture are mainly young, often talented, concentrated in media-sensitive occupations, urban, affluent, and politically vocal. That is a potent combination and helps explain why a horrible disease breaking out among those who engage in certain sexual practices has actually resulted in increased public sympathy for the practitioners.
The AIDS lobby believes that sustaining such sympathy requires that they belittle or deny the connection between AIDS and homosexual practice. It is an article of faith with them that ours is a "homophobic" society. Thus New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen: "Over the last year we have witnessed the canonization of one AIDS patient, a 23-year-old woman named Kimberly Bergalis who says that she 'didn't do anything wrong.' This is code, and so is her elevation to national symbol. Kimberly Bergalis is a lovely white woman with no sexual history who contracted AIDS from her dentist. She is what some people like to call 'an innocent victim.'" (Kimberly Bergalis has since died.) To Ms. Quindlen and those who think like her, it is intolerable that we think there are innocent victims. It might lead to the conclusion that there are victims who are something other than innocent, and therefore perhaps not "victims" at all. Sympathy, however, should not have to depend upon mendacity.
AIDS is, in the jargon of the social scientists, behavior-specific. Of AIDS cases in America, 66 percent are homosexuals and 22 percent are intravenous drug users infected by homosexuals. Six percent are wives, lovers, or babies of people with AIDS. In sum, the AIDS epidemic in America is a product of homosexual activity, notably anal intercourse between men. Those in the schools who teach children that the lesson to be drawn is that "it could happen to anyone," that everyone is equally at risk, are simply lying. Teachers should not lie to their students, but most programs in AIDS education are doing precisely that. The lie is compounded by the constant contention that the answer to the crisis is government action. That routinely means increased government funding, but it is also said that President Bush and other national leaders should "speak out" on the crisis.
What on earth can the critics want? Perhaps the President should go on prime time to warn people against patterns of behavior that more than 120,000 deaths have not effectively discouraged. Or maybe there should be a law against athletes such as Magic Johnson taking the groupies that hang around the locker rooms back to their hotels. Vice President Quayle has had the temerity to speak out on AIDS. He suggests that an answer to AIDS might be abstinence. For this he is roundly reviled. Worse than not speaking out on AIDS is to speak out in a way that violates the studied pretense that AIDS is not a behavior-specific disease.
The first rule is to abstain from sex or have sex only with a faithful spouse, the second is not to use intravenous drugs. In addition, do not receive infected blood, avoid being operated on by health workers with AIDS, and somehow manage not to be born to parents with the disease. Follow those rules and you have, on the basis of everything that is known, zero chance of contracting AIDS. Follow the first two and you have much less chance of getting AIDS than of being killed in an airplane crash. Such are the relatively simple facts that a massive program of deception called "AIDS education" is designed to obscure.
Admittedly, deception is a hard word. Are we impugning the motives of those involved in this program? Yes, it does seem to come down to that, at least in many cases. No doubt there are people involved who have no desire other than to reduce the incidence of AIDS. But it would be disingenuous to deny that those who orchestrate the AIDS campaign have various other purposes in mind. This is not an accusation, for they typically do not deny it, indeed they are volubly articulate about those purposes.
At least three purposes are obvious. For some, the goal is to rescue the sexual revolution that began some three decades ago and is, in their view, one of the great progressive achievements of the century. For some, the goal is to gain social acceptance of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, on a par with or superior to marriage between men and women. For some, the goal is to transcend morality altogether, especially religiously grounded morality, and to create a "liberated" society of freedom unbounded in which all unpleasant consequences are amenable to a technical fix. And some embrace all three goals.
Those who embrace these goals have an enormous stake in managing very carefully the public discussion of the AIDS epidemic. They recognize that more and more people have come to the conclusion that the sexual revolution turned out to be a bust. Disease, abortion, illegitimacy, child neglect, sexual abuse, and divorce-especially men "trading in" for younger wives-have all increased sharply. The sexual revolution has simply failed in its promise to make people happy, and for many Americans that is the highest, if not the only, test of morality. For many others it has brought nothing but anxiety, domestic disaster, and, in the case of people with AIDS, death. And yet, for the true believers in what they proclaim as the defining achievement of their generation there can be, as they say, no turning back of the clock on the sexual revolution. That is exactly what the AIDS epidemic threatened to do. By dint of skillful management, backed by lavish funding and media collaboration, the threat has been held at bay and even turned to the advantage of the revolution. That is no small accomplishment.
For the proponents of homosexuality and an amoral society in which every consequence is mended by a technical fix, the chief response to the AIDS crisis is the promotion of condoms. Much attention has been paid the distribution, without parental permission, of condoms to the school children of New York City. While the political leadership of this city is certifiably madder than most, it is reported that at least sixteen school districts around the country have similar plans in the works and are watching the New York "experiment" with great interest. Critics of the program protest that it is a despair-based policy which assumes that adolescents and teenagers-especially blacks and Hispanics-are rutting animals, and the only thing to be done is to encourage them to rut more safely.
The critics are right, of course. All the studies indicate that most teenagers, including minority teenagers, are not "sexually active," if sexually active means indulging in promiscuous sex on a regular basis. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 73 percent of fifteen-year-old girls in America are virgins. Fifty percent are virgins at age seventeen. The critics say that public policy should be based on strengths rather than pathologies, that it should aim at encouraging young people to follow the example of those who practice abstinence and chastity. They claim that handing out free condoms "sends the signal" that promiscuity is the normal thing. In fact, the program does not just send that signal: its promoters explicitly state that regular sex is the normal thing. They say in the program's defense that it also acknowledges abstinence as an option for those who choose it. They do not wish to be intolerant of those who, for whatever strange reason, decide not to be "sexually active." As right as the critics are on the facts, their argument misses the point. The point is that those who would salvage the sexual revolution believe that chastity and abstinence are unnatural and unhealthy. Virginity, in that view, is a form of sexual deviance.
There is a marvelous irony in the promotion of condoms. Not long ago it was argued that easy access to abortion is necessary because of the notorious failure rate of condoms. Experts claim that condoms fail 14 percent of the time, even when used according to directions. If any other consumer product was so flawed, Ralph Nader and his like would insist that it be banned. The National Commission on AIDS has established an 800 number where youngsters can get instruction on the proper use of condoms (1-800-967-5399). The two-minute message lists six steps. Presumably kids (many of whom can hardly read or write) will take notes and carry the instructions with them at all times. The last instruction is that it is very important "to withdraw the penis before ejaculation." So we are back to old-fashioned coitus interruptus. The technical fix for the AIDS crisis is to have adolescents and teenagers at the peak of passionate abandon take out their list of rules, follow them assiduously, and then withdraw before climax. Anyone who says this scheme has any connection with the real world is either a liar or almost incredibly stupid.
Yet there is purpose in the madness. It keeps alive the dogma of the sexual revolution that says regular sexual intercourse is necessary and healthy, and it provides great opportunity for spreading the message of the joy of homosexual sex. An official publication of the New York Public Schools, issued in the name of Joseph A. Fernandez, Chancellor, is titled "Resource Directory of Groups Providing HIV/AIDS Education to Schools." The first resource listed is ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), the group that uses brownshirt tactics to break up meetings of which it disapproves and, perhaps most infamously, desecrates the Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Another resource listed is Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), a somewhat less militant homosexual activist group. Other resources listed are equally committed to the homosexualist agenda.
According to the publication, these groups will supply teachers and students "with prompt support and accurate information." In short, active homosexuals who are self-described as advocates of the gay lifestyle are, under the auspices of the school system, counseling boys on the use of condoms for sexual fun and satisfaction-with safety in mind, of course. Those in charge of the program insist that condoms not be handed out willy-nilly; distribution must be accompanied by appropriate instruction. Homosexual organizations promptly volunteered to provide instructors, and the offer was readily accepted. It is not too much to say that the public schools have become an institutional procurer for the recruitment of school boys to the homosexual subculture, which in this city is less and less a subculture. Little wonder that the champions of the condom program were adamant about eliminating any provisions for parental notification or consent. Little wonder that in the public hearings preceding the program's adoption the most vocal organized support was from the homosexual activists, loudly led by ACT-UP. At city hall, aides do not bother to deny that Mayor Dinkins' backing for the program was a matter of paying off a political debt to the homosexual activists without whose support he would not have been elected.
Only the children of the poor are so vulnerable to the designs of the sexual revolutionists. In New York City, with extremely few exceptions, people who can afford an alternative do not send their children to the public schools. The result is that there is a racialist, if not racist, component to the "AIDS education" program. The message is clear: black and Hispanic youngsters are not capable of the self-restraint expected of others. And again, behind that message is the assumption that, for everyone, self-restraint is unnatural and unhealthy. As one activist at the condom hearings said, "We're going to give public school kids the opportunities denied other kids in this uptight, homophobic society." Some opportunities. The sadness is deepened by the fact that a few key black churches have been enlisted in the program and, in the words of the Times, "now recognize that AIDS is not a moral but a medical problem."
The necessary consequence, we reluctantly conclude, is unambiguous. Homosexual activists, public school officials, politicians, and their allies in the media and some churches are, in the name of AIDS education, sentencing an indeterminate number of young people to a horrible death. Some are culpably ignorant, others know perfectly well what they are doing. In the words of the late Abraham Joshua Heschel, "Some are guilty, all are responsible." And Americans who think that this enormity is limited to places such as New York City and San Francisco have not begun to understand the culture that, absent a revival of moral sanity, their children will inherit.