LGBT groups ‘at war’ over HIV-preventing drugs as attack ad targets controversial AIDS group

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center has released an attack ad aimed at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation – as rival groups clash over HIV-preventing drugs.

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis drug Truvada can reduce the chances of being infected with HIV by up to 99% if taken daily, and has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for regular use by at-risk men who have sex with men.

The pill has the backing of a large number of LGBT groups and sexual health charities, but its use is opposed by the controversial AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Spokespeople for the AHF have claimed that use of PrEP de-emphasises the protection of condoms, that men who have sex with men cannot be trusted to take it consistently, and that its long-term side effects are unknown – though studies have found that it is safe as aspirin.

The AHF’s often-outspoken President Michael Weinstein has also previously claimed it is a “party drug” that is peddled by people who are “all associated with bareback porn”.

The AHF is no stranger to criticism – facing a backlash from LGBT groups in the past for its “anti-sex” stances on hook-up apps and pornography – and has also been slammed for alleged monopolisation across the AIDS healthcare sector.

But the spat between the AHF and LGBT groups has now reached new heights – as the Los Angeles LGBT Center this week released an attack ad slamming the group.
Los Angeles LGBT Center – Timeline | Facebook

The ad centres on the battle over AB 2640, a proposed bill in California that would introduce education about PrEP into the standard routine for those undergoing HIV tests.

It points out that bill is backed by a raft of LGBT and HIV charities – but is being actively opposed by the AHF.

The ad also features an AHF lobbyist claiming to lawmakers that “a 45-year-old man who has been married for 20 years” could end up needlessly taking the HIV-preventing drug if people who get tested are routinely informed about it.

He adds: “Truvada does has side effects. It can be toxic. And so you’re condemning a person who should not be taking it, to forever having to take this pill.”

The LGBT Center hits back: “This bill is not a mandate to prescribe anything – only to share information about PrEP with people who test negative for HIV.”

The AHF is yet to respond to the ad.

A petition to lawmakers circulated by the Los Angeles LGBT Center adds: “I urge you to support AB 2640, a bill to help stop the spread of HIV in California by boosting awareness of two highly effective HIV-prevention treatments, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

“PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy in which HIV-negative individuals take a daily medication to reduce their risk of becoming infected. PrEP has been shown to be up to 99% effective at preventing HIV transmission. PEP involves taking anti-HIV medications as soon as possible after a potential exposure to reduce the risk of becoming HIV-positive.

“According to a 2015 survey of gay and bisexual men by the California HIV/AIDS Research Program, only 1 in 10 respondents had ever used PrEP and nearly 85% had never talked to their doctor about PrEP.

“Alarmingly, awareness of PrEP and PEP is particularly low for those most at risk of HIV infection in California: Black and Latino men who are gay or bisexual. It is estimated that 1 in 2 Black gay men and 1 in 4 Latino gay men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime if infection rates continue to rise.

“AB 2640 is common sense legislation that would simply ensure that people who test negative for HIV will receive information about all the methods that reduce their risk of infection, including PrEP and PEP, from the healthcare provider who tests them.

“We can only stop the spread of HIV if people know about all the tools that can protect them. That is why I ask you to support AB 2640, introduced by California Assembly Member Mike A. Gipson.”