Saturday, August 14, 2010
Response from New York State Legislator Tom Duane of District 29 in NYC
Thank you for writing to me about what you describe as the “gay male social networking epidemic.” I regret that I did not see the letter when you originally sent it several months ago. While I share your concern about unsafe sexual practices and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, I do not share your diagnosis of the problem or your proposed solutions.
As you may know, social networking for dating and sexual encounters – as well to connect with family, friends and others with shared interests – is not just a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) phenomenon. Non-LGBTQH people use online social networks for the same reasons.
The notion that sites such as Manhunt only facilitate the spread of irresponsible sexual practices is far from universal. While many people believe, as your letter reflected, that these sites are “catalysts to unsafe sex practices,” others argue that such websites are actually a way to reach sexually active people with targeted messages about safe-sex and personal responsibility. Indeed, the non-profit organization Public Health Solutions has partnered with Manhunt.net on “HIV Big Deal,” an ongoing, multi-faceted, internet-based effort to motivate gay men to have safer sex and to get tested for HIV.
I also have first amendment concerns about your call to shut down Manhunt.net and similar websites as well as to limit their right to advertise. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of the American principle of civil liberty. Furthermore, non-sexual encounters can lead to sexual encounters, so would you object to any website that leads people who meet virtually to then meet in person? Where do we draw the line?
Ultimately, sexual behavior requires personal responsibility; it is up to each sexual partner to ask about and disclose whether he or she is HIV+ or has any other STDs and to insist upon practicing safe sex. Such disclosure and precautions cannot be guaranteed by a third party, be it the government or a website operator.
Individuals and organizations have strong feelings on both sides of this issue. I am taking the liberty of forwarding your message to Public Health Solutions and the New York Civil Liberties Union and I encourage you to reach out to all stakeholders.
While I disagree with your prescriptions for social networking websites targeted at sexually active gay men, as chair of the Senate Health Committee as well as New York State’s only openly-HIV-positive State legislator, the representative of a district that has one of the highest rates of known HIV infections in the country, and an outraged witness to the virus’s continued spread, I have taken many constructive steps to end the spread of this deadly disease. Just last month, I had a milestone victory when both the State Senate and State Assembly overwhelmingly passed my legislation requiring the routine offering of HIV tests to individuals ages 13-64 in all health care settings. Also last month, both houses of the New York State Legislature passed my bill adding language to the penal law to make it explicit that a person is not criminally liable for possessing syringes and drug residue in or on syringes and that the person has a right to possess such syringes based on his or her participation in New York’s Expanded Syringe Access Program or Syringe Exchange Program. This bill will expand protections for users of public health syringe access programs, prevent unlawful harassment and arrest of syringe exchange participants, and as a result, reduce and other blood-borne pathogens.
I will continue to fight for sound legislative and budgetary initiatives that will prevent the spread of HIV and ensure those who are HIV-positive have access to necessary care and treatment. I appreciate your support in this quest.
Thomas K. Duane
MY REPLY ON August 3rd, 2010
Dear Senator Duane,
I appreciate your hard work with pushing through legislation which you had mentioned. These are extremely helpful initiatives that will help in the fight against , but these initiatives are not enough, and not getting at the core of the increase in HIV infections in the MSM community. I was a member of Manhunt.net until recently, and I can tell you that safe sex messages were hard to find on the site. I do get that we are all responsible for our own actions, and I understand our first amendment right. I want to share with you the following statistics from the cdc.gov site.
In 2008, estimated that approximately 56,300 people were newly infected with HIV in 20061 (the most recent year that data are available). Over half (53%) of these new infections occurred in gay and bisexual men. Black/African American men and women were also strongly affected and were estimated to have an incidence rate than was 7 times as high as the incidence rate among whites. Also, within other sub group's have declined, while the male to male category continues to increase year after year.
Below is a graphic from the CDC. While I understand that Non-LGBTQH sites do exist, when referencing the below data from the CDC Male to Male Sexual contact is 5 times higher than that of the heterosexual community. This underground drug and sex culture amongst the MSM community happening on these MSM social networking sites is not happening on sites like facebook, myspace, or twitter.
And...with regard to specific statistics regarding NYC in a study done by HIV Epidemiology and Field Services Program, NYC DOHMH - of the 3,809 living with an HIV diagnosis at the end of 2008 in NYC, of this number 2,866 were men vs 943 Women. Of this 3,809, it is estimated that 1614 HIV infections were from Male to Male contact and vs 855 transmissions from heterosexual contact. With the 20-39 year old - those who mainly frequent such sites as manhunt.net and other sites being the most infected.
We are undergoing a Public Health Crisis amongst the MSM community not seen since the AIDS epidemic of the 80's. This is a war on Public Health and sites such as manhunt.net and others should be shut down. Instead of advertising manhunt.net ads all over New York City, why don't we have a more prominent Education/Awareness campaign?
Are you aware of such public phone booth advertising all throughout your district?
I too will continue to work from the constituent side to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, and other STD's, as well as uncover salacious advertising and sites that play on the vulnerabilities of the young male. Thank you for your response.