ACT UP, GLAAD target Simon & Schuster HQ over ‘AIDS denialism’ book

Activist Jason Rosenberg holds up a sign outlining ACT UP's core demand to Simon & Schuster.
Activist Jason Rosenberg holds up a sign outlining ACT UP’s core demand to Simon & Schuster.
Donna Aceto

ACT UP and GLAAD teamed up on March 28 for a public demonstration to condemn Simon & Schuster in response to the publishing company’s plans to distribute a book by an author who has been widely criticized for engaging in AIDS denialism.

The book at the heart of the issue is “The Real AIDS Epidemic: How the Tragic HIV Mistake Threatens Us All,” by Rebecca V. Culshaw.

“This book follows the blueprint of decades of AIDS denialism that has spread HIV misinformation and stigma while undermining efforts toward HIV education and ensuring that people with HIV lead long and healthy lives,” Brandon Cuicchi of ACT UP said in a written statement.

The demonstration, held outside Simon & Schuster headquarters at 1230 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, came a week after dozens of organizations and hundreds of people voiced similar concerns in a letter by ACT UP that was addressed to the publisher and president of Simon & Schuster, Jonathan Karp. Advocates held signs such as “AIDS denialism kills” and “drop AIDS denialism,” while a truck with digital billboards was also stationed at the demonstration.  

“The thesis of Culshaw’s book is that HIV does not conclusively cause AIDS, but that this was a ‘mistake’ made in the 1980s and never amended or corrected,” the letter stated. “To the contrary, that HIV causes AIDS was demonstrated first in the 1980s, when the virus was discovered, and subsequently research has only strengthened that causal link in the subsequent decades, including via in vitro systems, in animal models, including non-human primates, via molecular phylogenetics, and in human samples.”

Advocates say they never received a response to their letter, but a curious development emerged thereafter when Simon & Schuster removed the book from an online webpage. Regardless, the letter demanded that Simon & Schuster halt plans to distribute the book, reassess other future releases, and establish a public health working group to show people in the community that the same situation does not happen in the future.

“While this is a good sign, there is no indication as to what this actually means regarding their plans for distribution,” ACT UP’s Leah Hollander said before the demonstration.

Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, issued a written statement saying it “is unimaginable” that Simon & Schuster would “distribute a book by an author with a history of spreading false and scientifically disproven beliefs regarding HIV.” Culshaw previously published a book called “Science Sold Out: Does HIV Really Cause AIDS.”

“In an era where misinformation spreads faster than truth, Rebecca V. Culshaw’s rhetoric has the potential to result in devastating consequences for people living with HIV,” Ellis said. “While HIV is now manageable, it is still an epidemic, particularly in the South, where racism, homophobia, HIV stigma, and the lack of access to high-quality healthcare continue to fuel an HIV crisis in communities of color. With the release of Culshaw’s book, Simon & Schuster is choosing profit over public health in an alarming partnership that should concern us all.”

Simon & Schuster did not immediately respond to a request for comment on March 28.

Brandon Cuicchi holds a sign outside Simon & Schuster's headquarters.
Brandon Cuicchi holds a sign outside Simon & Schuster’s headquarters.Donna Aceto
Victor Li offers a reminder of the realities of HIV/AIDS.
Victor Li offers a reminder of the reality.Donna Aceto
Benjamin Heim Shepard conveys the real-life impact of HIV/AIDS on the community.
Benjamin Heim Shepard conveys the real-life impact of HIV/AIDS on the community.Donna Aceto