Have Gay Men Conquered The Crystal Menace?


A few years ago, there were alarming reports of crystal meth use soaring among gay men. Readers know I'm a libertarian on the responsible use of soft drugs. But I have no tolerance for crystal meth. It's poison. I decided a while back to have a zero tolerance policy for it among my friends and acquaintances. I saw what it was doing to human beings. Not only did it destroy their minds and empty their souls, it also was HIV's best friend. On meth, the last thing anyone thinks about is protection from HIV.

And so we gays had a challenge. Could we fight this the way we fought HIV and AIDS? Some pioneers, like my friend Peter Staley, an alum of ACT-UP, deployed all the skills they had learned fighting HIV to fight meth in NYC.

We forced the city council to appropriate funds for anti-meth campaigns designed by our own community groups.  We held packed community forums to discuss what the drug was doing to us.  And most importantly, we started talking to each other honestly about the downsides of Tina.  We helped those among us whose lives were being destroyed -- getting them into treatment, begging them to stop, and caring for each other much as we did during the darkest days of the AIDS crisis.

The results of this campaign of self-help are now coming through:

In 2008, only 6% of gay men in New York City reported using meth during the previous 12 months.  That's a 57% drop from the percentage reported in 2004.

There was a similar drop in San Francisco, which ran many of the same meth prevention campaigns designed for New York City.  They reported a meth use rate of 13% in 2008, dropping from 22% in 2004.  Los Angeles still has work to do, with a much smaller drop -- 13% of gay men reported using meth in 2008, vs. 16% in 2004.

This kind of success story doesn't get much media play - certainly not as much as hysterical stories about "Super-AIDS" (remember that in the NYT?) or diagnoses of dysfunction and gloom among gay men. But it's real. And it makes me proud of my community, and its capacity to drag itself out of trouble with tenacity and compassion.

Conservatives of all people should see this as a classic example of a minority group not whining but acting to help its own, to confront uneasy truths, to air its dirty linen in public on order to save lives. But they won't.

Because we're gay; and our well-being is of no interest to so many in the GOP. When was the last time you heard any conservative thinker or writer express any concern about the well-being of gay men, unless it is to tell them to stop being gay? It's as if there is one group of human beings and citizens the right simply won't treat as worth caring about.