Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 20 of 27

Gourley quoted Judy Grahn's book Another Mother Tongue, in which the author had noted that throughout history, gay people had often been the ones to take risks, especially cultural pioneers like Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde. For their "differentness," they had at times suffered cruelly -- been despised and attacked -- but they were often the impetus for social change. He said it was time for gays to "honor ourselves." Now, more than ever, gays needed to define themselves and what they stood for. "In order not to view gay as bad," he wrote, "but rather vital and indispensable, we've got to expand on where we were ten years ago.

"We cannot allow ourselves to be defined in straight male terms or we'll never figure out who we are, we'll never feel good about being gay...Our coming out will not be powerful and change creating."


Up until 1987, Gourley had somehow managed to avoid losing someone close to him to AIDS. That changed when he heard that a friend's younger brother and a sometime housemate had died. The young man had been a carefree spirit and an accomplished concert pianist. His battle with the disease had been protracted and gruesome -- medical science was still a couple of years away from good medicines to at least alleviate the worst effects of the opportunistic infections. He had been young and strong, and it had taken a long time to beat him down, but at last he'd died with candida cottage cheese crawling down his throat, suffocating him.

Gourley got the story from Gorman, who was now living in San Francisco. In India he'd hooked up with the leader of a Hindu sect and spent a year "breaking rocks" as he sought enlightenment. When he returned to Denver in 1983, he'd at first approached AIDS as though he could chant it away. But then he'd taken off for San Francisco, where he'd thrown himself into the AIDS activism in the East Bay.

Gorman had tested positive for HIV. But he was convinced he could beat the disease through his meditation and healthy living.

Everyone had his own way of dealing with the pressure, and there even seemed to be progress on the medical front. A drug known as AZT, or Retrovir, had been shown to slow AIDS by destroying key enzymes in helper T-cells that the virus needed to reproduce. Patients showed improvement, but the results didn't last. The virus kept reproducing, if more slowly, including mutations that proved more resistant to the drug.

On the political front, Gourley was still arguing with Witte and others that confidentiality in testing was counterproductive. In the spring of 1988, Gourley wrote a piece in opposition to gay activists who were fighting HB 1177 in the Colorado Legislature, a bill requiring that medical records be kept for those who tested positive. "One of the major concerns is that records kept by the health department on infection with the virus may someday be used to discriminate against gay men. This concern is not inappropriate," he wrote. "However, everyone must realize that such records already exist for other sexually transmitted diseases (syphilis, hepatitis B). These diseases are also markers for sexual preference and for the most part already in the medical records."

He acknowledged that gay men's skepticism and mistrust of health departments "and most societal institutions, in general, is historically appropriate." However, he wrote, gays were buying into "society's attitudes about us and actually reinforce them in our insistence that infection with this virus be treated anonymously. By wanting this disease treated differently from others, we reinforce the idea that AIDS is bad and so are the people who get it."

Again, his was not a popular opinion in the gay community. But Gourley was concerned about a growing polarization between some segments of the gay community and health departments. A group called The Coalition for Political Responsibility was even advocating that gay men give false information as to what "risk group" they fell into, which would make it appear as though the epidemic were moving more rapidly into the heterosexual community and result in more money and effort going into AIDS research.

But Gourley warned that such tactics could backfire. "What has kept truly repressive quarantine measures -- a la Bill Armstrong -- at bay to date is the epidemiology of the disease: that it is impossible to transmit this virus through casual contact."

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Steve Jackson