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Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for April, 2009

Is Swine Flu the New Straight Plague?

Jim Burroway

April 27th, 2009

Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous. But the constant stream of news coming out of Mexico reminds this writer of the hype surrounding whatever fill-in-the-blank disease that has been trotted out in times past to stigmatize the LGBT community. Of course this time, now that straight people are engaging in behaviors (attending school, going to movies, etc.) which provide such fertile ground for these exotic viruses to fester, we see the World Health Organization leap into action while the President of the United States urges everyone to take a deep breath.

Obama’s assurances aside though, what if — think of it — what if this viral outbreak escapes into the general population? Won’t all hell break loose?

Oh wait. Straight people are the general population.

And what a difference a population makes. It was just a little over a year ago that anti-gay activists hyped an outbreak of a drug-resistant strain of staph (MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in the Castro as the latest “gay plague.” That hype disappeared about as quickly as it began, but today it serves as a textbook example of how quickly research based on a stigmatized population can become fodder for further stigmatizing.

And when I say it’s a textbook example, I mean it. Greenhaven Press, an imprint of textbook publisher Gale’s Cengage Learning, has published Resurgent Diseases: Opposing Viewpoints, which features a reprint of my article, Is MRSA The New Gay Plague? My article appears in Chapter 2 (“How should society respond to resurgent diseases?”) and is retitled, “The hysteria over MRSA is unfounded.”

Resurgent Diseases begins the chapter with a reprint of Sabin Russell’s San Francisco Chronicle which helped kick off the MRSA scare to begin with. My article follows, which is appropriate because I wrote it, in part, as a direct answer to the Chronicle article. This makes the juxtaposition of these two articles in the same textbook ideal. The four other articles rounding out the chapter discuss the balance between individual rights and public health, and the role that governmental authorities and non-governmental organizations can play to address resurgent diseases.

With the latest fears surrounding the swine flu outbreak, Resurgent Diseases may be among the more timely textbooks to come along in a long time.

Straight Convention Workers An Epicenter For Potentially Deadly Norovirus

Jim Burroway

May 10th, 2008

It was just last January when the San Francisco Chronicle stoked fears over a new “gay plague” in their article about methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA), a bacterial staph infection that is resistant to certain antibiotics. An article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine documented an outbreak of MRSA in the Castro, which lead anti-gay activists to falsely accuse gay men of spreading MRSA from the gay community into the straight community. The only problem with that charge is that MRSA had been making its rounds among heterosexuals for several decades. Ironically, athletes are at particularly high risk.

The Chronicle headline that started that hysteria read:

S.F. gay community an epicenter for new strain of virulent staph

Today, San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis noticed that this morning’s Chronicle headline about an outbreak of a potentially deadly norovirus among straight workers is very different:

Moscone Center workers sickened by norovirus

San Francisco public health officials are warning of an outbreak of a virus that has sickened dozens of people at Moscone Center.

About 70 people who fell ill had been at the Moscone Center between April 30 and Thursday, authorities said Friday. All but three were staff members working at the convention center, said Moscone spokesman David Perry.

NorovirusMichael Petrelis observes that while the MRSA story in January hyped fears of a dreaded disease in the gay community infecting the “general population,” this story is being treated by some news outlets as a light-hearted, low-key tech story (this norovirus epidemic started during a JavaOne tech conference) aimed at calming fears rather than stoking them. He noticed that CNET’s coverage was downright adolescent:

To clarify, this is a virus that makes you barf and gives you diarrhea. It’s not the kind of virus that sends Viagra-pitching e-mails to all your friends or treats you to a Rick Astley sing-along every time you turn on your computer.

No, you won’t drop dead from it. Norovirus is better known as one of the viruses that causes a nasty stomach flu. Symptoms only last about a day or two, but it’s highly contagious. Just to up the gross-out factor: Norovirus is found in the fecal matter or vomit of people who are infected. If they don’t wash their hands properly, they spread it when they handle food or drinks.

What a difference. When it was gays coming down with MRSA, headlines screamed, “New Superbug Hitting Gay Men” or “Flesh-eating bug spreads among gays.” This time, it’s “Did you get infected? Virus runs amok amid JavaOne.”

The norovirus is passed exactly the same way as MRSA — by people who don’t wash up. And get this: fecal matter is a culprit. That detail is an anti-gay activist’s wet dream. I wonder when Matt Barber and Peter LaBarbera will exploit this latest danger coming from the heterosexual community.

[Hat tip: Michael Petrelis]

MRSA Update: UCSF Creates Task Force To Study Overhyped Scare

Jim Burroway

February 7th, 2008

If you remember from last month, we saw the mainstream media and anti-gay extremists hype a study by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco by reporting that a “flesh-eating superbug” was sweeping the gay community and threatening to spread into the”general population.” This drug-resistant staph infection, known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), has actually been spreading among straights for decades (especially among professional athletes and military personnel). But that didn’t stop the usual band of anti-gay extremists, who are never ones to be sticklers for truth or accuracy, to exploit the misery of others to blame gays for once again being a threat to the “general population” — all with their cynical brand of “love,” of course.

The hype eventually retreated somewhat — some members of the mainstream media took a deep breath and sought out some second opinions as UCSF offered a half-hearted apology. But that did little to clarify the situation, and the hype of the “flesh-eating superbug” has continued to take on a life of its own.

That’s why three local San Francisco activists, Michael Petrelis, Clinton Fein, and Hank Wilson, sought a meeting with UCSF to discussion the events of last month. That meeting took place on Tuesday, and Petrelis and Fein have reported the results. Here are some highlights:

The following people were present at the meeting: Barbara French, Associate Vice Chancellor, University Relations; Kieran Flaherty, Director of State Government Relations; Shane Showdon, Director of LGBT Resources; Aimee Levine, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs, Beth Mooney, assistant to Barbara French and Dr. Chip Chambers, a scientist and professor involved in the MRSA study. …

The core problem presented by the press release was a misapplication of epidemiological terminology that implied that gay men were about to unleash a MRSA strain on the “general population” instead of acknowledging that the strain already exists in the “general population,” despite findings that it seems to have a higher preponderance among men who have sex with men.

This misconception was fueled by comments by one of the lead authors of the study, a postdoctoral scientist, Binh Diep, who expressed grave concern about “a potential spread of this strain into the general population.”

…UCSF was quick to acknowledge the boundaries breached by Binh Diep. As a postdoctoral scientist, while excited about communicating the findings of his study, and whilst genuinely hoping to communicate the information in the interests of promoting health, he was unequipped to recognize the extent to which his comments could be misconstrued….

…Ms. French acknowledged that an internal task force had been created in the wake of the MRSA fallout, to streamline and coordinate efforts between and among various departments relating to the dissemination of news and public communications. This is an important and significant development.

It looks like Peter LaBarbera’s the one who could use some fact-checking.

LaBarbera Babbles on about MRSA

Timothy Kincaid

January 29th, 2008

horse.bmpPeter LaBarbera has yet further musings about MRSA. But because there’s nothing new and they really aren’t very interesting, I think I’ll just illustrate for you the limitations of my artistic abilities.

Close the San Francisco and Boston Bathhouses!!!

Timothy Kincaid

January 23rd, 2008

Update for Peter LaBarbera’s readers: The post you’re really looking for is here: Is MRSA The New Gay Plague? It’s the post he doesn’t want you to see.

sm-bathhouse.jpgAs we reported earlier, the usual crowd of anti-gay activists jumped all over the faulty stories about outbreaks of MRSA in San Francisco and Boston. Although subsequent reporting (and our indepth analysis) clearly shows that the anti-gays were completely wrong in their accusations, rather than repent of their false accusations, they simply changed directions.

Concerned Women for America issued a press release quoting their own Matt Barber “inviting” the gay community to join his campaign against bathhouses

Therefore, these groups should publicly condemn those specific ‘high-risk behaviors’ which this study has concluded are responsible for spreading MRSA among homosexuals.

“In light of this behaviorally related MRSA outbreak,” said Barber, “we additionally ask HRC and other groups to call on local health agencies to shut down the many bathhouses and sex clubs around the country where men meet for anonymous sex with other men, often multiple partners, on a daily basis. These places create the ‘perfect storm’ for infectious disease, including MRSA.

Peter LaBarbera printed Concerned Woman Barber’s press release with the heading

CWA Invites Homosexual Groups to Work to Curb Spread of MRSA

and put in his own support for the effort

Well, folks, I’m not exactly expecting Human Rights Campaign and the rest of the “gay” lobby to hop on this request for cooperation from my good friend Matt Barber of CWA, but it sure would be progress if they did.

So will Box Turtle Bulletin join the cry to close down those bathhouses in San Francisco and Boston that were so integral to the spread of MRSA? Well, we might consider the question, if they existed!

What the anti-gays failed to notice is that neither San Francisco nor Boston has a single public gay bathhouse. San Francisco closed down bathhouses in 1984 at the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic and the closest bathhouses to San Francisco are in Berkeley and San Jose. Bostonites can head down to Providence.

So yet again we see that the claims of anti-gays have no basis in reality.

Concerned Woman Matt Barber’s Invitation

Jim Burroway

January 22nd, 2008

Reasonable heads are starting to prevail in the latest MRSA “gay plague” scare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement saying that MRSA isn’t a gay disease, UCSF has backed away from their misleading statements, and some members of the media is starting to follow suit.

But while reasonable heads are coming forward, the unreasonable ones are still hacking away. Concerned Woman Matt Barber has issued a cynical and shameless press release calling on the homosexuals to “join him” to “help curb the spread of a potentially deadly strain of Staph infection.”

The gay community doesn’t really need an invitation from Barber. Given the neglect and open hostility that too many so-called Christians demonstrated during the HIV/AIDS crisis, the gay community has had to learn how to draw on their own resources. But if Barber were to actually consider the overwhelming weight of medical evidence concerning MRSA, he might consider issuing a call to the “straight community” to help curb the spread of MRSA into the gay community. After all, if one were to really look for someone to blame, that’s the first place one should look. 

But don’t count on it. People like Barber have no qualms about exploiting the suffering of others to score cheap political points. If there was any doubt about that, Barber’s latest stunt is just another example.

More Cold Water on the MRSA Scare

Jim Burroway

January 22nd, 2008

From Christopher Wanjek at LiveScience:

A grossly misinterpreted study about drug-resistant staph infections in a gay community in San Francisco, conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, has led some newspapers and numerous anti-gay groups on the Internet to proclaim that an AIDS-like epidemic is upon us, spread through sinful behavior.

… While that might sound ominous, the infection has less to do with being gay and more to do with living in a closed community, which like a school or ship serves as an incubator to spread the disease first within the group and then to the rest of us.

… The research article states that the MRSA strain can be transmitted sexually because, well, there’s usually touching involved. For this community, sexual activity is the probable transition route. For the Amish, MRSA could be transmitted through the sharing of contaminated hammers.

Our report, “Testing the Premise: Is MRSA The New Gay Plague?” provides examples where MRSA was spread on a US Navy ship and among school sports teams. We also talk about its spread in an upstate New York religious community. They weren’t Amish though, as far as I can tell.

Mainstream Media Retreats From MRSA Hysteria

Where are LaBarbera's and Barber's apologies?

Jim Burroway

January 20th, 2008

The mainstream media is now beginning to recognize that the MRSA hype was overblown:

Peter LaBarbera and Matt Barber couldn’t conceal their glee when the lead researcher’s ill-conceived statements landed on their lap. Now that UCSF has apologized and denounced LaBarbera’s and Barber’s statements and major news outlets are correcting initial reports, will we see a similar apology from LaBarbera and Barber? After all it would be the Christian thing to do. I somehow doubt it. They’ve built a career by exploiting the suffering of others to score cheap political points. “With love,” of course, as they like to say when they remember it’s what they’re supposed to say. But in the end, this is just another day at the office for them.

You can read more about the overblown hype in our latest report, Testing the Premise: Is MRSA The New Gay Plague?

UCSF Apologizes for Misleading Statements on MRSA

Jim Burroway

January 19th, 2008

The University of San Francisco has posted an apology on their web site:

Statement from UCSF Dept of Public Affairs regarding study on emergence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus clone USA300 in men who have sex with men

We regret that our recent news report (1-14-08) about an important population-based study on MRSA USA300 with public health implications contained some information that could be interpreted as misleading. We deplore negative targeting of specific populations in association with MRSA infections or other public health concerns, and we will be working to ensure that accurate information about the research is disseminated to the health community and the general public.

Update: This statement resulted from an inquiry from San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis. There’s more information at his web site, including a personal note from UCSF.

Is MRSA The New Gay Plague? Not According To The Medical Literature

Jim Burroway

January 19th, 2008

A new study came out last week from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, which found a high rate of drug-resistant staph infection among “men who have sex with men” in San Francisco and Boston. The sensational reporting surrounding this report suggests that once this drug-resistant infection known as MRSA “reaches the general population, it will be truly unstoppable.” That line has probably become the most quoted line among our favorite anti-gay demagogues. Lead researcher Binh An Diep also told the San Francisco Chronicle:

We probably had it here first, and now it is spreading elsewhere… This is a national problem, and San Francisco is at the epicenter.

MRSAThe Toronto Star said that this latest study “discover[ed] a new strain” of a super-bug “hitting gay men” Headlines in Britain screamed, “Flesh-eating bug strikes San Francisco’s gay community,” while Australians panicked over the more widespread, “Flesh-eating bug spreads among gays.”

But there’s a problem with all of this. None of it is true!

In our latest report, “Testing the Premise: Is MRSA The New Gay Plague?”, we examine some of the medical research on MRSA over the past two decades — there are over 750 articles listed in the PubMed Database on community-acquired MRSA — and reach several conclusions which should be obvious to anyone familiar with the subject:

  • San Francisco is not the epicenter of the new disease,
  • this disease in fact is not new,
  • and gay men are not spreading it into the “general population.”

The overwhelming medical evidence actually shows the opposite — it’s the “general population” that’s responsible for spreading MRSA into the gay community. In our report, we examine some of the communities that have been hardest hit by MRSA, including:

  • Cities all across the U.S. and around the world.
  • American Indians, rural Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, prisoners, and kids in day care;
  • A religious community in upstate New York;
  • Soldiers and sailors in the U.S. and on a ship at sea;
  • And athletes. Lots of athletes. The USC Trojans, St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins were all hit in recent years, as were other professional, college and high school programs around the country. (One study blamed “cosmetic body shaving and turf burns,” and the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine described MSRA as “the latest sports epidemic.”)

But for some reason, there has not been a hue and cry over a “flesh-eating jock staph” threatening the “general population.” In fact, none of this has anything to do with gay men. But that doesn’t keep the popular press and anti-gay demagogues from accusing disease-ridden gay men of spreading filthy diseases to an innocent, unsuspecting population. Sound familar?

In our latest report, you can:

  • See the actual medical evidence — including direct links to the medical research so you don’t have to take our word for it;
  • Examine the statements by lead researcher Binh Diep which helped to fuel the hysteria about the latest “gay plague”;
  • Look at how the usual suspects have used the researcher’s comments to flame anti-gay bigotry;
  • Learn what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention really say about MRSA and gay men.

You will find all of this in Testing the Premise: Is MRSA The New Gay Plague?