Patient Zero – The truth



Gaétan Dugas | Anonymous/Associated Press | 16489gh

The alleged “Patient Zero” of the American AIDS epidemic was a French Canadian flight attendant named Gaétan Dugas, who died of AIDS in 1984. Mr Dugas was exonerated last week. Far from being the instigator of an epidemic, he was merely one of thousands of its victims.

New genetic sequencing of blood samples which had been stored since the 1970s showed that the strain infecting him had circulated among gay men in New York for several years before he arrived in the US in 1974. So he did not introduce the virus to North America; he was a victim.

The revelation proves that the epidemic’s early days had been overshadowed by a witch hunt.

Federal health officials said homosexuals, Haitians, hemophiliacs and heroin users were all victims — thus effectively calling them all carriers. Many individuals felt the sting of suspicion, including Ryan White, a 13-year-old hemophiliac who was bullied and barred from middle school after he contracted H.I.V. from a blood-clotting factor.

Mr. Dugas’s name emerged when Randy Shilts, the journalist who himself later died of AIDS, published his best-selling history of the epidemic, “And the Band Played On.” Through interviews, he found the real name of the mysterious “Patient O,” for “outside California,” in a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linking 40 men with AIDS on two coasts.

Mr. Shilts never claimed that Mr. Dugas was the nation’s first case, but alarmist journalism during his book publicity tour created the image of a libertine who, as one headline screamed, “Gave Us AIDS.”

“The current study provides further evidence that patient 57, the individual identified both by the letter O and the number 0, was not patient zero of the North American epidemic,” said Richard McKay, historian and co-author of the study from the University of Cambridge, adding that the authors of the original study had already pointed out he was unlikely to be the source. He said a “trail of error and hype” had led to Dugas being branded with the “Patient Zero” title.

“Gaétan Dugas is one of the most demonised patients in history, and one of a long line of individuals and groups vilified in the belief that they somehow fuelled epidemics with malicious intent,” said McKay.

The revelation has caused medical experts to consider the ethics involved when patients identities are revealed. Is it right to hunt down the first case in any outbreak, to find every Patient Zero?



Paul Monette



Paul Monette (left) and his partner Roger Horwitz (right) | The Monette-Horwitz Trust | 15191

Writer Paul Monette, whose autobiography, “Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story,” a memoir of suppressing and then celebrating his homosexuality, won the US 1992 National Book Award for nonfiction, died at home of complications from AIDS on February 10, 1995 aged 49. New York Times writer Esther B. Fein observed that

Mr. Monette’s memoir and a previous book about nursing a lover who died of AIDS humanized the tragedy of the disease and the torment of denying one’s homosexuality, but it also brought to life the rich relationships that some gay men enjoy.

Born in Lawrence, Mass., on Oct. 16, 1945, he described in “Becoming a Man” growing up in an ordinary middle-class world in which he became obsessed with his homosexual yearnings but had to suppress them: “Never lost my temper, never raised my voice. A bland insipid smile glazed my face instead, twin to the sexless vanilla of my body.” He went to Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Yale, then taught English at Milton Academy in Milton, Mass., and Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. He noted that his background was frighteningly similar to many of the “conservative homophobes” with whom he crossed political swords.

Mr. Monette came out in 1974 when he met Roger Horwitz and the two set up home in Los Angeles, where they lived together for 10 years while Mr. Monette wrote what he described as “glib and silly little novels,” many with gay protagonists, including “Taking Care of Mrs. Carrol” and “The Gold Diggers.”

Mr. Horwitz died of AIDS in 1985 which Monette chronicled in the best-selling and acclaimed “Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir” (1988). In a review in The New York Times, William M. Hoffman praised the book, saying,

“Mr. Monette has etched a magnificent monument to his lover’s bravery, their commitment to each other and the plague of hatred and ignorance they had to endure.”

A few years later, Monette lost a second companion to AIDS, Stephen F. Kolzak, a casting director for several television shows, including “Cheers” and “Starsky and Hutch.” When he was found to have full-blown AIDS he wrote his last book, “Last Watch of the Night,” while hooked up to three intravenous tubes and taking a mound of tablets every day.

Paul Monette mentored many aspiring writers. He said that the torment of suppressing his sexuality for so long and the inescapable threat of AIDS inspired him to become active in gay politics and to encourage young writers, whenever his health allowed.

The Monette-Horwitz Trust founded in his and Rogers’ names, honours individuals and organizations making significant contributions toward eradicating homophobia.


The origin of AIDS in the 1920s



Kinshasa in the 1950s | Getty | 14038

A team at the University of Oxford and the University of Leuven, in Belgium, tried to reconstruct HIV’s “family tree” and find out where its oldest ancestors came from by analysing mutations in HIV’s genetic code. They found that the HIV virus originated in the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and was then called Leopoldville.

Prof Oliver Pybus said: “It was a very large and very rapidly growing area and colonial medical records show there was a high incidence of various sexually transmitted diseases.” Large numbers of male labourers were drawn to the city, distorting the gender balance until men outnumbered women two to one, eventually leading to a roaring sex trade…. “Public health campaigns to treat people for various infectious diseases with injections seem a plausible route [for spreading the virus].

“The second really interesting aspect is the transport networks that enabled people to move round a huge country. Around one million people were using Kinshasa’s railways by the end of the 1940s. The virus spread, with neighbouring Brazzaville and the mining province, Katanga, rapidly hit.


The Names Project and the Aids Quilt



Forks Washington Chamber of Commerce | 14047

The Names Project began assembling the quilt of panels representi victims of Aids in San Francisco in 1987. The first name to be remembered on a completed quilt panel was that of Marvin Feldman. Each panel is six feet by three feet.

Name panels continue to be added to the quilt daily. The total quilt weighs more than 50 tons.

Sections of the quilt are on display around the US at various times.

The Names Foundation note:

The initial idea for The AIDS Memorial Quilt came to our founder Cleve Jones at a 1985 candlelight march to honor the memory of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, both assassinated in 1978. While planning the march, Jones learned that more than 1,000 San Franciscans had been lost to AIDS. In their honor, he asked his fellow marchers to write the names of those friends and loved ones on placards and carry them in the march. For the first time, numbers became Names.

At the end of the march, Jones and other participants taped the placards to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building. It was this action, the creation of a wall of names with its resemblance to a patchwork quilt, which gave birth to the idea for The AIDS Memorial Quilt and eventually, The NAMES Project Foundation.


Sean Sasser



Sean Sasser’s Twitter photo | Eton Online | 14157

Sean Sasser, an AIDS activist and chef whose romance with Pedro Zamora on the MTV reality show “The Real World” in 1994 was among the first real-life gay relationships on television, died on Wednesday at his home in Washington. He was 44.

Their relationship and their commitment ceremony, held in the “Real World” apartment, became the show’s most compelling story line. Each had contracted H.I.V. as teenagers.

Sean Franklin Sasser was born in Detroit on Oct. 25, 1968. His parents divorced when he was 6. He tried to enlist in the Navy at 19 and was rejected when a blood test showed he had contracted H.I.V. He traveled around the US, attended culinary school and became involved in AIDS education and activism. After Mr. Zamora’s death, Mr. Sasser became a more prominent advocate.

More recently, Mr. Sasser had concentrated on baking. He was the pastry chef at Ris, a restaurant in Washington. Mr. Sasser and his partner Mr. Kaplan were married this year. Mr. Sasser is survived by Mr. Kaplan, his mother, Patricia, and his sister, Staci White.

Gay Activist sends condolences to friends, family and colleagues.


Ireland notes 20 years of legalisation

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The 1993 Pride parade on O’Connell Street, Dublin | Matt Kavanagh/Irish Times | 14230

Two decades ago, Irish President Mary Robinson signed a law decriminalising homosexuality. Life for gay people in Ireland has changed since.

When University College Cork refused to recognise its students’ first Gay Soc, in the late 1970s, the group’s members responded by building a raft with a triangular pink sail and taking part in the annual boat race through the city as part of the university’s rag week.

In May 1981 over 200 gay men and women attended Ireland’s first national gay conference at Connolly Hall, organised by the Gay Collective, “Gays in the ’80s: Which Way Forward?” The conference was ignored by the Irish media.

In the autumn of 1983 Paul, a gay man who had Aids and was in the last weeks of his life, asked the chaplain of the Catholic-run Dublin hospital in which he was a patient, to hear his confession. The priest explained that, because homosexuality was against the laws of church and state, he could not absolve the man unless he promised never again to contemplate having sex with another man. Paul died shortly afterwards. His death wasn’t recorded as related to Aids, records Ger Philpott in the Irish Times.

Ger recalls the Dubin gay scene of the pre-legalisation era.

“In 1980s Dublin the Bailey, on Duke Street, was a trendy pub to go to on a Saturday lunchtime. The Oak, on Dame Street, was also a happening place. The best-known gay bar was Rice’s, on St Stephen’s Green. Nearby, “the Triangle”, between Peter’s Pub, Bartley Dunnes and the South William, was an oasis of tolerance. Many would head to the Hirschfeld Centre, on Fownes Street, afterwards to dance and, if they were lucky, to score. Disco reigned, and a mirrored alcove was the unofficial territory of a cohort of handsome young men who had been to the US and brought back with them music and a lifestyle that were previously alien. They imbued Dublin with a joie de vivre and gave us a taste of what was possible. Most of those fine young men have died since then.

…I can’t help thinking of how my departed friends, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and are no longer with us, would make sense of the Dublin and the Ireland of 2013. I imagine there’d be some dancing involved.”

Ger Philpott is a writer, director and journalist, and former director of Aidswise.


Clayton Coots



Clayton Coots’ letters to Frank Rich | Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine | 14253

Frank Rich writes in New York magazine about Clayton Coots, a well known figure in 1960s and 1970s theatre in America. Clayton was Frank’s mentor and adviser while he was growing up and a student. They corresponded by letter several times a week, but Rich did not realise that Clayton was gay until years later. Re-reading Clayton’s letters, he discovered many gay references which had missed him at the time.


Clayton Coots in front of the Blackstone Theatre | 1966 | File photo/Photographer unknown | 14254

“I grew up in the Washington, D.C., of the sixties, where the impact of racism was visible everywhere, front and center in my political education. But gays—what gays? No one I knew ever saw them or mentioned them. Not until the eighties—when, like many Americans of that time, I was finally forced by the rampaging AIDS crisis to think seriously about gay people—did I fully recognize that a gay man had been my surrogate parent in high school, when I needed one most. Not that I ever thought to thank him for it.”

Mr Rich found Clayton generous and kind.

“When I met Clayton, he was a company manager for touring Broadway shows and I was a stagestruck high-school junior just turning 17. We crossed paths at the National Theatre, a busy Broadway touring house in downtown Washington in the pre–Kennedy Center era. I had landed a part-time job there as a ticket taker. Most of the visiting show people I met were characters out of Broadway Danny Rose. But not Clayton, who hit town as the manager of the tour of Neil Simon’s first big hit, Barefoot in the Park. Then about 30, he was younger than his peers, as handsome as a model, and came to work each day as if he were attending a glamorous opening night in Times Square rather than cooling his heels in the provinces. He always wore a Pierre Cardin tux to the theater, with accessories to match—a Patek Philippe watch, glittering cuff links, and a long black-and-gold cigarette holder that matched his Dunhill lighter. (He would soon instruct me in these brands.) He took an interest in me from the start, chatting me up about school, my family, and the only subject I really cared about, Broadway. It was the first time any adult in the theater had taken me seriously, and I was flattered and dazzled and entertained. He was a perpetual wisecrack machine, wry but not bitchy—“the closest I ever got to Noël Coward,” as one theatrical colleague of that time would later recall.”

They drifted apart – occasionally writing to each other – then Clayton seemed to disappear. His career in theatre had come to an end.

“The final glimpses I have of Clayton, near the end of his life, were courtesy of a reader who wrote me almost a decade after Ghost Light was published. He and Clayton had worked together in the late seventies at M. Rohrs’, a small coffee-and-tea shop that survived until recently in the East Eighties. Clayton, now out of the ­theater, was at this point “cobbling together a living,” the reader wrote, working part time at Rohrs’ and at a bakery run by a friend. He was also “hustling bridge at the Cavendish Club.” Talking with Clayton was “a tutorial in graciousness, treating people well, and always presenting an enthusiastic front,” he recalled, adding that “an entourage began to appear” on the days Clayton worked. Clayton was still working at Rohrs’ when he took ill in 1983 or 1984. “He said it was lung cancer,” the letter went on, “but I was never sure if it was that or AIDS. I visited him a couple of times at his apartment, but it was clear that he was failing. The last time I saw him he was just hoping to hang on to get back to the beach on Fire Island with his friend (who I didn’t know) one more time.”

Enclosed with the letter was a copy of a photo of the two of them outside the shop, with Clayton wearing the very un-Clayton accessory of a coffee vendor’s apron.

“I have met a lot of exceptional people, but Clayton was truly special,” my correspondent concluded. “With the picture on our wall, hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of him.”