Task Force calls for government funding, changed attitudes, efforts in community
Responding to the threat posed by crystal meth to New York City’s gay community, a report by a Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) task force called on state and local government to spend $3.5 million annually to treat crystal users and fund anti-crystal campaigns.
But it also challenged the queer community to “articulate and promote the view that defining and limiting unhealthy behavior is not tantamount to placing limits on gay sexuality or placing limits on gay identity and freedom.”
In a community that prizes its sexual freedom, that charge is a departure, however small, from the long-held view that preserving gay men’s sexuality is a paramount value.
“That’s actually a pretty out-there statement for traditional AIDS activists to sign on to and I was pleased to see it,” said Peter Staley, one of 17 task force members and a longtime AIDS activist.
Task force members included the heads of leading gay and AIDS groups across the city as well as researchers, harm reduction exponents, and AIDS activists. The report was detailed in linking meth to syphilis, being HIV-positive, and other health problems.
“Although it is impossible at this stage to draw firm conclusions, emerging evidence also suggests that crystal use may be contributing to an increase in new HIV infections among men who have sex with men in New York and other cities,” the report said.
The task force report also refuted the perception that crystal is a problem only for white gay men.
“Studies in New York have similarly confirmed that crystal users include young gay men and those who are not so young, HIV-negative as well as HIV-positive men, and all racial and ethnic groups,” the report said.
The report explored meth’s connection to sex and gay identity, noted that “the reasons many HIV-positive men use crystal are often strikingly different from those of HIV-negative men,” and acknowledged that there is currently no drug to treat crystal addiction, acknowledging that tackling meth will be hard.
“Although the groups that have joined together in this Task Force firmly believe it is possible to reverse the crystal epidemic, it will not be easy,” the report said.
While noting that government, at all levels, has consistently failed to respond adequately to AIDS in the gay community, the report called on the city and state to fund an expansion in treatment for crystal users and anti-meth efforts.