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Volume 15/Issue 24

by PlanetOut,, a Worldwide Online Community of Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans People

Louisiana Bashing Victim Recalled

Joey Balog was a non-gay Mississippean whose gay-bashing murder sparked enactment of Louisiana's hate crimes law, the only one in the Deep South to enhance sentencing for crimes committed out of homophobic bias. Balog's murder in New Orleans'French Quarter on November 11, 1993 made an activist of his father William Balog, who visited the scene on the anniversary of the crime last week. At a small reception in the neighborhood, William was given the pen used by Louisiana Governor Mike Foster this year to sign into law the bill which took effect July 15.

Joey Balog was walking in the Quarter with his friend Charley Burks, also non-gay, when four men shouting homophobic epithets attacked them with knives, killing Balog. Both in New Orleans and in Biloxi, Mississippi the death was commemorated with candlelight marches primarily composed of gays and lesbians. Their concern moved William Balog to join gay and lesbian activists for several years of intense lobbying to overcome the indifference of the Louisiana legislature and the active opposition of conservatives and the Christian Coalition.

Conservative Journalist Fired

Conservative Journalist David Brock, who came out as a gay man in 1994 and is best known for his counterattack on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas'accuser in The Real Anita Hill, was fired November 13 from his post at the right-wing American Spectator. Brock took pride in being known as the conservatives' "hit man" for his muck-raking investigations of President Bill Clinton's sex life, which he said led to the current sexual harassment lawsuit by Paula Jones. But he fell out of favor with the right when his million-dollar contract for "The Seduction of Hillary Rodham" yielded a presentation of her in a more forgiving light. In July, he published a screed in Esquire that lambasted the right for putting political advantage above journalistic truth and for its homophobic treatment of him once he failed to toe the party line.

Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. told the media that, "We can't sustain the high salary we were paying him. I haven't gotten a lot of pieces out of him." Brock attributes the firing to his rising above mere scandal-mongering, and believes it's no coincidence that it came shortly after New York magazine published a piece in which he takes aim at conservative FOX News President Roger Ailes. Brock told the Washington Post that, "When I'm writing what they want, that's fine. But my sense is they were growing uncomfortable with the fact I was trying to do something different with my writing and it no longer serves their interest."

At the time of the Esquire article, Brock was already aware that "conservative donors [to the American Spectator] had been agitating for my dismissal," but said Tyrrell was resisting the pressure. He wrote that, in contrast to the my-way-or-the-highway attitude of other conservatives, "Tyrrell and I have agreed to disagree about Hillary: one bright spot in an otherwise bleak conservative landscape."

In the Esquire article, Brock had also charged that, "There are a handful of openly gay moderate Republicans, but the homosexuals working in high-level posts at the Republican National Committee, for conservative members of Congress, or in conservative lobbies and think tanks, belong to a secret society. I was a minority of one as the only openly gay person identified with the conservative movement and inhabiting such hard-line precincts as the American Spectator." He said that when he attempted to correct Gary Aldrich's published allegations that Clinton had sneaked out of the White House to have sexual liaisons - allegations Aldrich had based solely on a misunderstanding of Brock's own remarks - that Aldrich's public relations team began to spread the word that Brock's opposition was motivated only by "the gay thing," Brock's sexual orientation and Aldrich's anti-gay rhetoric.

Washington, DC syndicated columnist Lars-Erik Nelson commented in the Los Angeles Times in mid-June that having published the Esquire article there was nowhere for Brock to go, because "Most of the conservative outlets that trumpeted Brock's charges - the American Spectator, the New York Post,the Weekly Standard,the Washington Times - are money losers subsidized by their conservative owners because they print ideologically reliable propaganda for the conservative cause. Brock just quit that team."

3-Drug Combo Can't Erase HIV

There's good news and there's bad news from the AIDS front: the remarkably successful combination drug treatments have indeed enabled some people's immune systems to recover to some degree; and while they can't actually completely eliminate HIV or the threat of its developing into AIDS, they seem to have at least prevented the virus' mutation into something the drugs can't combat.

Two separate studies from four different labs being published recently in the distinguished journal Science, and a third study forthcoming from yet another lab that will be appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, looked at people with HIV who've been treated long-term (as much as 30 months) with the three-drug "cocktail" combination therapy. These studies feature such leading names as David Ho, Anthony Fauci and Robert Siliciano and labs at the Aaron Diamond Research Center, Johns Hopkins University, the University of California at San Diego, and the National Institutes of Health National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NAIAD).

The upshot is that for now, those infected with the virus will be recommended to continue indefinitely on the expensive, unwieldly and toxic drugs, while researchers will have to discover an entirely new line of attack on the virus in order to achieve a cure.

All three types of drugs in the "cocktail" interfere with HIV's replication, and they've succeeded in many cases in reducing to zero the IRV "viral load" detectable in the blood with now-standard clinical tests. But the three research projects looked for HIV in so-called "reservoirs" where it has previously been found to "hide" without replicating, and found that the treatment in fact does not entirely eradicate HIV from the body. The studies looked specifically for HIV particles in "resting" CD4 lymphocytes, white blood cells that are part of the immune system's "memory," which lie dormant for long periods until an antigen they're keyed to enters the body. When an antigen triggers the reproduction of the CD4 cells, it has now been found that it also triggers HIV replication in those cells which have been infected. That means that even those people without detectable viral load could still have the HIV infection flare up again, suggesting that drug therapy should be continued to keep stopping any viral replication that may recur. Further, the NAIAD study found some evidence that even the "hidden" virus might be replicating to some degree.

The discovery of the "hidden" HIV suggests that a true cure will have to include a treatment that locates and disables HIV that is both hidden inside a cell and not in the process of replicating. No such approach has yet been developed for any infection. However, since the individuals studied appeared to have healthy uninfected CD4 cells reproducing again at normal to near-normal rates, researchers acknowledged the possibility that some treated people's immune systems might actually prove to be capable of naturally fending off a small recurrence of HIV activity, although there's no way to know that at this time. On the plus side, the current studies offer confirmation that by stopping replication, the current drug treatments have also stopped the virus from mutating significantly, a possibility which had raised fears that the treatments would become ineffective.

At some point, there will be some study of what happens when people come off the drug cocktails. In September there was a widely publicized report of a French study that looked at two people who had been taking ddI and hydroxycarbamide for one year and then stopped the drugs for a year, without showing any so-called "viral rebound" as a result. Further, larger studies with those same drugs are expected to be reported in the near future.

This past week, a meeting of the Adelaide conference of the Australasian Society for HIV medicine discussed a number of people who had achieved zero viral load scores, but then relapsed into clear evidence of infection. The theory was that these findings were the result of failure to follow the drug regimens and/or viral mutation.

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