Although Altman and many other homosexuals quite rightly rejected attempts to blame them for the AIDS epidemic, they uncritically accepted and propagated suggestions that AIDS had originated in black people and was primarily a black and not a homosexual problem:
The most striking indication that AIDS was in no intrinsic sense a disease of homosexuals came in the mounting evidence of its widespread existence in central Africa, where it seemed to have very little correlation with male homosexuality. The connection with Africa was known to researchers as a real possibility from 1982 on, but it took some time to be reported to the mass media, at least in the United States.
Peter Tatchell, another gay activist and left-wing socialist, echoed this view in the British Communist Party weekly, 7 Days:
Contrary to the mythology that AIDS is a gay plague, the overwhelming majority of people with AIDS are heterosexual, including as many women as men and almost as many children as adults. Most of these AIDS cases are in central Africa, where the incidence of AIDS far surpasses New York or Los Angeles. According to World Health Organisation figures released in June, between five and ten million people have been infected with the virus world-wide. In Africa it is estimated that 6% of the total population is now infected but in some countries it is much higher - 25% of the Malawi population, 23% of the Ugandan population and 18% of the population of Rwanda and Zambia.
This attempt to deflect anti-homosexual fire onto central Africans shows little respect for either truth or logic. If we consider the figure of 6% of the total African population of 517 million, there would be over 31 million AIDS carriers on the African continent alone, and, estimating from American experience, half a million new cases of AIDS each year. Our research failed to find a World Health Organisation publication reporting 5 to 10 million carriers in the world, and the WHO world tally of AIDS cases published in November 1986 included only 1,069 African cases. Malawi had not reported a single case of AIDS when Tatchell made his sweeping pronouncements, and even now has seen only 13 cases.
Whilst Altman is prepared to admit the "extent of plain old-fashioned racism, to which gays are no more immune that anyone else", neither he nor any other homosexual organisation or individual has ever raised the possibility of a racist motivation for the Haitian or African hypotheses. Altman discussed the appearance of AIDS in Haitian immigrants "which led researchers to go to Haiti in search of a possible source of disease" but failed to ask why they should conduct their search in Haiti and not at home. We are told that many of the researchers are homosexual, their scientific objectivity is questionable, and they are no less racist than the rest of white America. Yet Altman accused the Haitians of scapegoating homosexuals when they had suggested that AIDS may have been introduced to Haiti by homosexual tourists from the United States and proffered an extraordinarily offensive explanation:
One suggestion was that Africa monkeys, possible carriers of AIDS, were imported into Haiti and kept as pets in male brothels.
Like most western writers on AIDS, Altman's capacity for objectivity or logical thought is overwhelmed by the desire to believe that AIDS originated in black people. This is clearly illustrated by his objections to the removal of Haitians from the official "at risk" list. Even though Altman mentioned that American researchers may have failed to obtain relevant information about homosexuality or drug abuse from their Haitian patients because of language and cultural barriers, and quoted research that showed ordinary Haitians were not significantly at risk for AIDS, he continued to argue that Haitians were removed from the "at risk" register for political and not scientific reasons:
What has been distinctive about the classification of Haitians is that, unlike other groups, they protested their classification as a risk group, and even without much clout domestically, their status as a nationality lent a certain support to their claim.
Haitians, it seems, should believe whatever the white folks say in spite of any evidence to the contrary. And particularly when they are being blamed for a deadly new sexually transmitted disease. Racism, like AIDS, is not a very selective disease. It infects liberal academics and fascist scholars alike.
American homosexuals were not the only group looking for a non-American origin for AIDS. Although the 'gay plague' theory superficially managed to absolve the rest of America from the stigma of AIDS, the disease was perceived by the rest of the world as an essentially American phenomenon. Soon rumours began to circulate that the AIDS virus had been artificially manufactured in an American laboratory, perhaps for military purposes. Indeed as Altman stated, the Defense Department discussed the theoretical possibility of such developments as early as 1969:
Within the next 5 to 10 years it would be probably be possible to make a new infective micro-organism which could differ in certain important respects from any known disease-causing organisms. Most important of these is that it might be refractory to the immunological and therapeutic processes upon which we depend to maintain our relative freedom from infectious disease.
Support for a laboratory origin has come from various sources including the Soviet Union, who said the AIDS virus was a biological warfare agent developed by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon. These charges were rebutted by the American ambassador to Moscow, Arthur Hartman, who wrote to the Soviet magazine Literaturnaya Gazetta. His letter was summarised by the US Information Agency:
The ambassador pointed out that even Soviet scientists agree that AIDS originated in Central Africa and may have existed for several hundred or even several thousand years..(the Soviet articles) are nothing more than a blatant and repugnant attempt to sow hatred and fear among the Soviet population and to abuse a medical tragedy affecting people all over the world, including in the Soviet Union, for base propaganda purposes.
From the standpoint of the AIDS sufferer, blame and guilt may not be useful responses to the epidemic, but when an American ambassador wishes to dissociate his country from the problem, the African connection becomes very useful indeed.
Not every American sought to deny the central role of the United States in the AIDS epidemic. June Osborn, Dean of the school of Public Health at the Michigan University, wrote a perceptive article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled "The AIDS Epidemic: Multidisciplinary Trouble." Although she believed in a probable African origin for the virus, Americans, she argues, had spread the virus throughout the world.
We in the United States have a world-class epidemic on our hands, which we have exported so effectively that the rest of the world is only a little bit behind us... There is a politically interesting aspect of the epidemic that has thus far been mercifully obscure. Although the virus causing AIDS is surely American by adoption, not by birth (the most likely location of transfer to the human species is in Central Africa), the epidemic is indeed all-American in its initial dissemination. Most of the rest of the world is catching up with us, with a lag time of two or three years, but the exportations from the United States are easily tracked. We are indeed one world in operational - if not peaceful - terms. A recent paper from Japan, for instance, documented the absence of antibody from a number of Japanese groups, including homosexuals, but reported 27 percent seropositivity among patients with haemophilia, which is directly related to the American source of the factor VIII and IX concentrates used to treat them. The introduction of AIDS into Denmark and Australia was readily traceable to the return of homosexual men from vacations in New York and San Francisco.
Incredibly the US Government now plans to test potential immigrants for AIDS antibodies, a policy strongly opposed by Dr Osborn and many AIDS researchers. Perhaps the only rational purpose of such tests would be to advise antibody negative would-be immigrants, in the interests of their health, to stay at home!
Fear, ignorance and prejudice and not humanity and rationality have unfortunately characterised our responses to the AIDS epidemic. Although homophobia was the mainstay of the early response to AIDS, to the Western mind black people are the usual repository for fantasies about disease, dirt and sexual promiscuity. It was almost inevitable that, once AIDS appeared in black people in any numbers, they would be attributed with its source. Haiti was the first unfortunate victim. Africa was soon to follow. Let us take a closer look at the scientific evidence for these hypotheses.