Peter Duesberg and homophobia

by Martin Delaney
April 15, 2007

More than a decade and a half ago we on the frontlines in the fight against HIV/AIDS concluded that Peter Duesberg was bitterly homophobic. Long before there were many anti-viral drugs for him to blame, he clearly blamed AIDS on the gay men who contracted it, arguing that it was the product of a life of promiscuity and drug abuse. In the earliest days, a lot of people suspected that, but studies were soon done by Ascher and others that disproved the theory. Only Duesberg continued to promote the belief, despite studies of thousands of drug using men, controlled for the presence or absence of HIV. Only the presence of HIV correlated with death and major immune deficiency. Drug use and promiscuity were indeed a risk factor for contracting HIV, but by themselves were never shown capable of producing AIDS-like symptoms. Despite this evidence, Duesberg continued to blame AIDS on the behavior of the men, not the viral infection they acquired. This was the same nonsense mouthed by right wing fundamentalists, minus the religious overtones. It still came down to blaming the victim for the disease. In my opinion Duesberg always was, and continues to be, a major homophobe. For a while, he tried to counter this view by hanging around with leather-clad gay men, trying to show some affiliation, but these men were simply a first wave of denialists among the gay community. They were notorious themselves for denigrating others in the gay community, accusing people with AIDS of promiscuity and drug abuse. Their presence in no way cleansed Duesberg of his homophobia.

In all his efforts to blame the victim for the disease, Duesberg has always overlooked the fact that there were plenty of gay men who died of AIDS who never had a history of either promiscuity or drug use. Whenever confronted with this information, Duesberg simply accused people of lying or being in denial.

While I am not aware of explicit homophobic words on record by Duesberg (unlike his friend and business colleague Harvey Bialy, though both are known to use racial slurs), his explanations about AIDS makes it clear what he thinks of gay people in general – contrary to clear, controlled studies, Duesberg insists that AIDS is the fault of the immorality of its victims.

Martin Delaney is the Founding Director of Project Inform, one of the nation's oldest and best-known non-profit foundations working in AIDS.