Monthly Archives: March 2020

The Tolpuddle Martyrs

Throughout history, tales of brave, courageous people being executed for their beliefs, usually religious ones, are well known but the men who became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were not persecuted for their religion.

Tolpuddle is a village near Dorchester in Dorset, where in the years 1833 and 1834 a great wave of trade union activity took place and a lodge of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers was established. Entry into the union involved payment of a shilling (5p) and swearing before a picture of a skeleton never to tell anyone the union’s secrets.

Lord Melbourne was Prime Minister at this time and he was bitterly opposed to the Trade Union Movement, so when six English farm labourers were sentenced in March 1834 to 7 years transportation to a penal colony in Australia for trade union activities, Lord Melbourne did not dispute the sentence.

The labourers were arrested ostensibly for administrating unlawful oaths, but the real reason was because they were trying to protest at their already pitiful wages. The labourers at Tolpuddle lived in meagre poverty on just 7 shillings a week and wanted an increase to 10 shillings, but instead their wages were cut to 6 shillings a week.

The Whig government had become alarmed at the working class discontent in the country at this time. The government and the landowners, led by James Frampton, were determined to squash the union and to control increasing outbreaks of dissent.

Six of the Tolpuddle labourers were arrested: George and James Loveless, James Brine, James Hammett, Thomas Stansfield and his son John. It was George Loveless who had established the Friendly Society of Agricultural Workers in Tolpuddle.

At their trial, the judge and jury were hostile and the six were sentenced to 7 years transportation to Australia. After the trial many public protest meetings were held and there was uproar throughout the country at this sentence, so the prisoners were hastily transported to Australia without delay.

The people were incensed at this treatment and after 250,000 people signed a petition and a procession of 30,000 people marched down Whitehall in support of the labourers, the sentences were remitted. After some delay, the the six were given a free passage home from Australia.

When finally home and free, some of the ‘martyrs’ settled on farms in England and four emigrated to Canada.

The tree under which the ‘martyrs’ met is now very old and reduced to a stump, but it has become a place of pilgrimage in Tolpuddle, where it is known as the ‘Martyrs Tree’. A commemorative seat and shelter was erected in 1934 on the green by the wealthy London draper Sir Ernest Debenham.

The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is perhaps the best known case in the early history of the Trade Union Movement.


‘Dream Daddy’ Is A Surprisingly Earnest Dating Simulator Where You Can Date Gay Dads


“Dream Daddy” is a brand-new dating simulator in which you play a dad trying to romance other hot dads, and I’m pleased to report it’s much more charming, earnest and goofy than I expected it to be.

My main source of apprehension stemmed from the fact that “Dream Daddy” was produced by Game Grumps, a “Let’s Play”-style YouTube channel with 3.9 million subscribers. It’s run by Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan, both of whom are known for their over-the-top, juvenile, shock-based senses of humor. For example, their most recent “best of” video features a clip where one of the two asks the other if he thought he could “stuff tits into [his] asshole.”

So, to say that I was fearful about whether this game would treat its same-sex romances with respect is an understatement. However, I’m happy to report that after playing “Dream Daddy” for a couple of hours, my fears were (mostly) unfounded.

Wait, back up. What’s a dating simulator? How do you play “Dream Daddy”?

If the dating simulator genre is a totally foreign concept, here’s how it works: They’re essentially video game versions of those choose-your-own-adventure books.

In “Dream Daddy,” you design your own character — which, notably, include “binder” body options for trans characters — and help shape their story with the decisions you make.

If you’re having a conversation with another character, you’ll sometimes have to choose between one of several responses. Sometimes, these responses will affect another character’s perception of you, which is indicated by an explosion of hearts (good) or a murky, black ink cloud (bad). Other times, these options simply alter the way a conversation unfolds, but there isn’t a tangible, numbers-based outcome.

Ultimately, your goal is to pursue one — or several, if you’re feeling frisky — romances with another character. But if you choose the wrong responses in conversation, they might not return your affection. Kinda like real life, really.

The sweetest relationship in “Dream Daddy” isn’t with another dad

“Dream Daddy” is, of course, about romancing hunky men, but there’s actually a different relationship at the heart of the story: The one between your character and his daughter, Amanda.

The whole conceit of the story is that you’re a single dad who’s moving to a new neighborhood with Amanda — and, in the process of getting to know the new digs, meet a bunch of hot dads. It’s implied that you’re downsizing because your character’s spouse died in the somewhat recent past. Also, Amanda is in her senior year of high school and will be going off to college soon.

Amanda is the main vector by which the story moves forward, and it works surprisingly well. She’s the one pushing you to get to know the people in your new neighborhood — spoiler alert: They’re all dads — and she’s a nice, familiar face that helps ground everything in between all the flirtation.

In the opening minutes of the game, I was already getting choked up over the pair’s conversation about my character’s late husband, which is not what I was expecting out of a game called “Dream Daddy.” You can choose whether your spouse was a man or a woman, but this game is about romancing dudes, so, the choice was pretty clear.

I’ve also been surprised at how invested I am in her own narrative about troubles in school. I haven’t delved too deeply into her story yet, but I’m intrigued to see where it goes.

So, who can you date in “Dream Daddy”?

All right, enough about Amanda. What you’re really here for is hot dads. I get it.

I’ve met all the dads so far, and my current favorite is Craig, a sporty, reformed frat bro who’s settling into his new role as a divorced, mature(ish) dad. He regularly pantomimes a voice for River, the wide-eyed tot strapped to his chest. He also works out a lot. I’m not down with his fratty masculinity — he’s bound to have “masc4masc” in his Grindr profile, right? — but for now, he seems like a good option.

At first, I was partial to Hugo, a charming English teacher at Amanda’s school, but then I found out he had a son named Ernest Hemingway Vega. That’s simply too much.

I’m only a couple of hours into my first playthrough, so we’ll see how things go. Overall, I’m genuinely surprised at how much I’m enjoying it, but I do have some qualms with the way the writing fails to engage with gay culture in a meaningful way, despite relying entirely on the idea of gayness for its success.

But that’s a topic for another day. I’ll have more thoughts on “Dream Daddy” soon.


Buddhism 101: The Buddhist Pure Lands

Amitabha Buddha in the Pure Land of Suvakti. Rubin Museum of Art

The “pure lands” of Buddhism can sound a little like heaven; places where “good” people go when they die. But that’s not what they are. There are, however, many different ways to understand them.

A “pure land” often is understood to be a place where dharma teachings are everywhere and enlightenment is easily obtained. This “place” may be a state of mind rather than a physical place, however. If it is a physical place, it may or may not be physically separate from the mundane world.

However one enters a pure land, it is not an everlasting reward. Although there are many kinds of pure lands, for the unenlightened they are best thought of as a place where one may dwell only for a time.

Although pure lands are mostly associated with the Pure Land traditions, such as Jodo Shinshu, you can find references to pure lands in commentaries by teachers of many Mahayana schools. Pure lands also are mentioned in many Mahayana sutras.

Origins of Pure Lands

The concept of a pure land appears to have originated in early India. If enlightened beings choose to not enter Nirvana until all beings are enlightened, it was thought, then these purified beings must live in a purified place. Such a purified place was called a Buddha-ksetra, or Buddha-field.

Many different views of pure lands arose. The Vimalakirti Sutra (ca. 1st century CE), for example, teaches that enlightened beings perceive the essential purity of the world, and thus dwell in purity — a “pure land.” Beings whose minds are muddled by defilement perceive a world of defilement.

Others thought of pure lands as distinctive realms, although these realms were not separate from samsara. In time a kind of mystical cosmos of pure lands emerged in Mahayana teaching, and each pure land became associated with a particular Buddha.

The Pure Land school, which emerged in 5th century China, popularized the idea that some of these Buddhas could bring unenlightened beings into their pure lands. Within the pure land, enlightenment could easily be realized. A being who did not achieve Buddhahood eventually might be reborn elsewhere in the Six Realms, however.

There is no fixed number of pure lands, but there are just a few widely known by name. The three you will most commonly find referenced in commentaries and sutras are Sukhavati, Abhirati, and Vaiduryanirbhasa. Note that directions associated with particular pure lands are iconographical, not geographical.

Sukhavati, the Western Pure Land

Sukhavati the “realm of bliss,” is ruled by Amitabha Buddha. Most of the time, when Buddhists talk about THE Pure Land, they are talking about Sukhavati. Devotion to Amitabha and faith in Amitabha’s power to bring the faithful into Sukhavati is central to Pure Land Buddhism.

Sutras of the Pure Land school describe Sukhavati as a place filled with gentle light, the music of birdsong and the fragrance of flowers. Trees are adorned with jewels and golden bells. Amitabha is attended by the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta, and he presides over all sitting on a lotus throne.

Abhirati, the Eastern Pure Land

Abhirati, the “realm of joy,” is thought to be the purest of all pure lands. It is ruled by Akshobhya Buddha. There was once a tradition of devotion to Akshobhya in order to be reborn in Abhirati, but in recent centuries this was eclipsed by devotion to the Medicine Buddha.

Vaiduryanirbhasa, the Other Eastern Pure Land

The name Vaiduryanirbhasa means “pure lapis lazuli.” This pure land is ruled by the Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru, who is often depicted in iconography holding a lapis blue jar or bowl containing medicine. Medicine Buddha mantras often are chanted on behalf of the sick. In many Mahayana temples, you will find altars to both Amitabha and Bhaisajyaguru.

Yes, there is a Southern Pure Land, Shrimat, ruled by Ratnasambhava Buddha and a Northern Pure Land, Prakuta, ruled by Amoghasiddhi Buddha, but these are far less prominent.


  • O’Brien, Barbara. “The Buddhist Pure Lands.” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020,

Gay History: Martyrs Among Us: Deifying Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk + more


When news broke that Matthew Shepard’s remains were finally buried at the National Cathedral some 20 years after his death, we were reminded of the collective grief the nation felt after the brutal, senseless murder of the waiflike 21-year-old. In the intervening years since he happened into a bar where he met up with two men who lured him into their truck, robbed him, and drove him to a desolate stretch of highway outside Laramie, Wyoming where they pistol-whipped him, tied him to a wooden fence and left him for dead in the cold night air, Shepard had become more than an emblem of the senseless hate crimes perpetrated against the gay community, he had become a martyr.

Matthew Shepard was an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming who was brutally attacked in a hate crime at the age of 21.

Shepard’s place among sacrificial victims was solidified when more than 5,000 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol to mourn his death and cemented when Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which broadened existing law to include crimes triggered by sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race and disability. Byrd was an African American man murdered by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. On June 7, 1998, they dragged his body for three miles behind their pickup truck. Although Byrd wasn’t gay, his inhumane murder serves to remind us of the hate that permeates society.

In his book, Dying to Be Normal: Gay Martyrs and the Transformation of Sexual Politics, author Brett Krutszch theorizes that LGBTQ activists are using religion to make the argument that gays are essentially the same as straights and deserve the same equal rights. He points to the veneration of Shepard, Harvey Milk and other high profile gay victims, as well as campaigns like the It Gets Better Project, which he believes promotes the notion that “like Christ’s suffering on the cross, one’s trials today can lead to a better tomorrow.” Krutszch says that national tragedies like Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting show how activists use headline-grabbing deaths to gain acceptance, shape the debate over LGBTQ rights and foster assimilation.

Krutszch maintains that Mr. Shepard’s 1998 murder is steeped in religious imagery. Just the thought of the all-American boy-next-door tied to a fence conjures up images of the crucifixion. He concludes that Matthew Shepard’s resulting canonization is due to the interplay of religion, death and LGBTQ politics and that “martyrs as emblems can be changed into more respectable figures than they were in their lifetime.” We may never know if Mr. Shepard was the innocent victim most people believe he was, or as The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard indicates, he was a meth dealer who not only knew his killers, but was sexually involved with one and that his death was the result of a drug robbery gone bad.

Whatever the motive for his murder, Shepard has become a shining symbol in the pantheon of almost exclusively white gay martyrs. The group dates back to the 4th century when Sergius and Bacchus, two Roman Christian soldiers who happened to be lovers, took part in a rite called adelphopoiesis (the ancient equivalent of same sex marriage) and refused to attend sacrifices for Zeus, thereby revealing their Christianity. The pair was paraded through what is now Syria. They were dressed in women’s clothing and tortured to death. They lived on through fervent followers and the churches that were dedicated to them throughout The Byzantine Empire.

Any conversation about modern-day martyrs would not be complete without mentioning Harvey Milk. He was the first openly gay elected official in California. Krutszch described Milk as “a secular Jewish, Yiddish-speaking, anti-monogamist” who was transformed by activists who “downplayed his Jewishness, depicted him as committed to fidelity and presented him as someone whose death, like Christ’s crucifixion, transformed the world.” One can argue the validity of that characterization, but it is hard to deny the contributions Milk made as San Francisco’s District 5 Supervisor. Those included defeating Proposition 6 that would have banned lesbian and gay educators from teaching in California public schools, and his efforts to pass legislation that prohibited discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.

Harvey Milk

Tyler Clemente may be less well known than Milk and Shepard, but like their deaths, his was another flashpoint. You may remember reading about his suicide in 2010. Clemente was an 18-year-old Rutgers University student who jumped from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man. The video was posted on Twitter.

Most homosexual martyrs are white, but they are not all men. Brandon Teena, born Teena Renae Brandon, became famous when Hilary Swank played him in Boys Don’t Cry. The 21-year-old Teena was living a quiet transgender life in Humboldt, Nebraska, dating 18-year-old Lana Tisdel and hanging out with two ex-convicts John Lotter and Marvin Thomas “Tom” Nissen. Everything was fine until December 19, 1993, when Teena was arrested for forging checks. He used his one phone call to call Tisdel. She got the surprise of her life when she came to bail him out and was directed to the women’s prison where Teena was being held.

Brandon Teena

At a Christmas Eve party a few weeks later, Lotter and Nissen forced Teena to remove his pants, proving to Tisdale that he was a woman. Later that night, Lotter and Nissen forced Teena into a car, drove him to a deserted area, attacked and gang-raped him. Fearful that Brandon would file a police complaint, the pair murdered him on New Year’s Eve. While his family buried him as a female (his tombstone reads “Teena R. Brandon, Daughter, Sister and Friend”), the death of Brandon Teena is credited with raising awareness of transgender issues in the same way that Matthew Shepard’s became a clarion call for injustices directed toward gay men.

Teen Lana Tisdale

While real-life suffering seems like a necessary prerequisite for martyrdom, some fictional characters like Brokeback Mountain’s Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar have transcended fictional status to take their place in the cultural zeitgeist. Brokeback author, Annie Proulx, said the characters Jack and Ennis were her first two that felt “really damned real” and “got a life of their own.” She also said, “Unfortunately, they got a life of their own for too many other people, too … the audience that Brokeback reached most strongly have powerful fantasy lives. They can’t bear the way it ends. So they invent all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis, it’s about homophobia.”

Gay martyrs like Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Brandon Teena and even Brokeback’s fictional characters are often a byproduct of homophobia, when people who find themselves outside the mainstream and are struggling to just be who they are.


Gay History: Paul Lynde 1926–1982

American comedian, character actor, and Hollywood center square. He began his career doing stand-up before moving into theater, where he got his biggest break playing the father in the musical Bye Bye Birdie. He reprised the role in the film adaptation to great success. From there, he was sought after to make appearances on television and variety shows including The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and most notably in the role of Uncle Arthur on Bewitched. In 1966, Lynde made his first appearance on the new gameshow Hollywood Squares. His snarky one-liners were so popular, he became the regular center square for most of the show’s run. Throughout his career, Lynde’s humor was built on camp and a flamboyant persona; during Hollywood Squares, his jokes were often thinly veiled references to his own homosexuality. But although he made subversive gay humor palatable for American homes, he never actually came out, except to close friends. He sometimes blamed his sexuality for keeping him from better roles, but it also may have been his reputation as a mean and occasionally violent alcoholic. He managed to quit drinking at the age of 53, but died of a heart attack two years later.

Real People: The “Openly Closeted” Paul Lynde

Despite the entertainment industry being hindered for years in portraying explicitly homosexual characters, those “in the know” were well aware of how this restriction was subverted by the very presence of certain actors and celebrities whose outrageous, decidedly “unmanly” personas could be interpreted as covertly gay. The movies had such jittery, effete ninnies like Edward Everett Horton and Franklin Pangborn, while television offered the likes of glittery, flamboyantly attired Liberace, who rocked the boat in the staid ‘50s by pushing his camp mannerisms to the limit; the mincingly nervous Charles Nelson Riley; and perhaps the most hilariously “sissified” of the bunch, the exasperated, acid-tongued Paul Lynde. 

Despite his initial efforts to be taken seriously as an actor, Lynde realized early on that his exaggerated vocal inflections and stinging way of delivering a line got him easy laughs, so he accepted comedy as his future. He first gained attention on the Broadway stage as one of the comedic highlights of the revue New Faces of 1952, doing a version of his “African Hunter” monologue that had gained him a New York nightclub following. From this more specialized universe he leaped into the big time with his performance as the uptight dad in the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie (introducing the hit song “Kids”), a role he was asked to repeat on the big screen in 1963. Lynde was soon being hired both for film and television to deliver his patented acerbic remarks, often done with a shake of the head, a nasally snarl, and a drip of prissy sarcasm, certain words emphasized with campy relish for added impact. Fellow gays cherished Lynde for honing to perfection what could only be described as “the bitchy queen,” lobbing a withering retort at straight-laced America, who laughed as well at what they perceived to be nothing more than a “quirky” comedian, since there was no thought of casting Lynde in roles that were deliberately gay.

While fans fondly remembered him for playing prankster warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched or as the host of one of the kitschiest of all ‘70s variety offerings, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, it was being added to the cast of the daytime game show The Hollywood Squares that brought him his greatest fame. Positioned in the “center square,” he became the go-to favorite among the celebrity guests, being fed questions that ensured a tart, often surprisingly risqué reply, some of his answers clearly suggesting a coded, campy gay sensibility: i.e., the question “Why do Hells Angels wear leather?” received the reply, “Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.” During his eleven-year run as a series regular (1968–79), Lynde became revered as one of show business’s great “put down” comics. To most of America he was just a “smart ass” who talked kind of funny, but to the gay community his unapologetic, scalding manner was something to which they responded, perhaps interpreting the Lynde wit as a defense mechanism against an intolerant world.


Gay History:The Briggs Initiative: Remembering a Crucial Moment in Gay History

Homophobe John Briggs promoting his initiative

A lot of people are saying this year’s midterm election is the most crucial of our lifetime. It may well be, given the need to elect officials who will fight Donald Trump’s loathsome agenda. But another midterm election, 40 years ago, was one of the most crucial as well, at least in California.

In 1978, State Sen. John Briggs put an initiative on the ballot that would have mandated the firing of any gay or lesbian teacher in California public schools, or any teacher who supported gay rights (the term LGBT wasn’t used back then). Thanks to a Herculean effort by California grassroots activists — Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, Sally Miller Gearhart, hundreds of others — Briggs’s Proposition 6, popularly known as the Briggs Initiative, was resoundingly defeated, by more than a million votes. It was the first time voters had rejected an antigay measure.

To mark the 40th anniversary of this milestone, the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco is mounting an exhibition called “The Briggs Initiative: A Scary Proposition,” recounting the story of the initiative and how it was turned back. It opens September 14.

“This exhibition will bring a scary time for LGBTQ people zinging back for those of us who were there, reminding us that we can fight the forces of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and win even against long odds,” said co-curator Sue Englander, a veteran of the anti-Briggs Initiative effort, in a press release. “And if you weren’t here 40 years ago, the story will sear itself into your consciousness. The differences between 1978 and today aren’t as big as they may look.”

Indeed, there are similarities between 1978 and today. The gay rights movement jump-started by the Stonewall riots and other events of the 1960s had made some gains in the 1970s. Gays and lesbians were getting elected to state- or city-level public office, or coming out and getting reelected — Elaine Noble in Massachusetts, Allan Spear in Minnesota, Harvey Milk in San Francisco. Many cities and counties, including San Francisco and Miami-Dade County, were adopting ordinances banning antigay discrimination. Major cities across the nation were holding Pride parades, usually around the anniversary of Stonewall in late June. The American Psychiatric Association announced it no longer considered homosexuality a mental illness.

This amount of progress pales in comparison with that of the 21st century, which brought nationwide marriage equality, many more antidiscrimination laws, and, for a time, a president who wholeheartedly supported LGBTQ equality. But just as the Trump administration and other anti-LGBTQ forces are trying to undo civil rights progress today, homophobes came out of the woodwork to try to strip away the advances of the 1970s. The Briggs Initiative was part of this backlash, as was Anita Bryant’s campaign to repeal the Miami-Dade County gay rights law. But where she succeeded, Briggs would fail.

Briggs was a far-right Republican from a district in Orange County, a conservative enclave between Los Angeles and San Diego. In a state that makes greater use of the citizen initiative process than almost any other that has it, he hoped Prop. 6 would boost his political career. Specifically, he aspired to become California’s governor.

But one of the forces who helped persuade voters to reject the initiative was a former governor — Ronald Reagan. When he became president a few years later, Reagan didn’t build a gay-friendly record — he courted the religious right and notoriously ignored the AIDS crisis. But in 1978, he announced his opposition to the Briggs Initiative in an informal letter and in responses to reporters’ questions, and on November 1, six days before the election, he published a commentary in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner denouncing the measure.

“Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles,” he wrote. “Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.” That language may sound pretty tepid now, but at the time it was a significant statement. Then-President Jimmy Carter and his predecessor, Gerald Ford, also opposed the initiative.

Opponents meet: John Briggs and Harvey Milk

But the credit for defeating the Briggs Initiative really should go not to high-profile politicians but to the many grassroots activists who worked against it. The opposition started with gay and lesbian advocates and the women’s movement, but they formed alliances with organized labor, progressive religious groups, and community organizations representing a variety of populations. Milk and Gearheart famously debated John Briggs, as chronicled in the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk and the narrative film Milk (although the latter left out Gearheart). They made mincemeat out of Briggs’s arguments, particularly about his initiative being a way to combat child molestation; Gearheart cited government data showing that this is overwhelmingly committed by straight men.

But most important, gay people came out. “We can defeat the Briggs Initiative if all the gay people come out to your family, your friends — if indeed they are your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors,” Milk said at the time. “You will hurt them if you come out, but think of how they will hurt you if they vote for Briggs. If they don’t come out, then it will be a very tight race.”

Indeed, gay people and their allies managed to flip the script on the initiative, as Ramy K. Khalil noted in his Western Washington University master’s thesis on the campaign. In August, just three months before the election, opinion polls showed support for the measure at 61 percent, opposition at 31 percent. By September, the polls showed a toss-up. And on November 7, voters delivered a resounding defeat, with the proposition losing by a margin of 58.4 percent to 41.6 percent, and not even carrying Briggs’s home county.

“One decisive factor was the mistake by Briggs himself of over-reaching — of promoting an initiative that was more extreme than the anti-gay ballot initiatives in other states,” Khalil wrote. “Proposition 6 required school districts to terminate employment of LGBT or straight people who expressed any sympathy toward homosexuality, on or off the job, whereas the ballot initiatives in other states merely repealed special protections against discrimination for gays or lesbians. Most importantly, though, Proposition 6 was defeated by LGBT people, labor unions, feminists, and other allies who organized a powerful grassroots movement involving highly visible protests and actions that successfully confronted the homophobic arguments behind Proposition 6.”

One of the posters to be featured in the exhibit
“Never Again! Fight Back!” (San Francisco: Too Much Graphics, 1978); silk-screened poster sold as a fundraiser for the No on Six campaign, GLBT Historical Society.
“No on 6” bumper sticker (San Francisco: Bay Area Committee Against the Briggs Initiative, 1978). Collection of the GLBT Historical Society.


Further to the last blog post “Behind the Weird Internet Scheme to Associate Pedophiles with the LGBTQ+ Community”

There was a reference made to a MAP (Minor Attracted Persons) Pride flag in the article. This is not a legitimate or recognised Pride flag, and here is the information about it.


Groups of pedophiles are attempting to be part of the LGBTI community.

A group known as MAPs (or Minor Attracted Persons, not to be confused with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has been circulating its own version of the Pride flag.

Another term for ‘pedophile’

MAPs attempts to soften the idea of pedophilia by insisting it’s not wrong if there is no contact.

‘”John” was suicidal. He had been bullied by trolls on social media for most of his life for being different. The bullies were primarily people who claimed, based on their religious beliefs, that “John” was going to hell and deserved to die. They described how they would kill him on his twitter page and people supported their hate. Desperate for help, John sought treatment for his shame, depression, and suicidality. Although he was scared to share about himself with a stranger, he felt desperate for help as he had NO desire to harm anyone, ever. Once he shared about his attraction to children, his therapist told him, “I don’t treat sex offenders,”’ a passage on The Prevention Project about MAPs reads.

‘First, let’s be clear. “John” is not a child molester nor is he a sex offender. He has an attraction to children. He is also fervent about helping prevent child sexual abuse by speaking out against it and by showing his support of global child sexual abuse prevention programs on his social media. “John” deserves support as do others who have a minor attraction. After all, isolation and depression are known to increase one’s risk of doing something they might regret.

By the way, we have talked to “Janes” who are women who identify as anti-contact, non-offending pedophiles and like “John”, they have no desire to sexually harm children.’

Considering the long-standing trope that LGBTI people are rapists and/or child molesters, the fact those who actually have attraction to children are attempting to co-opt LGBTI spaces is disturbing.

Social media reactions

Many on social media are warning LGBTI people and allies to be wary of the MAPs flag during Pride season. Additionally, many also called out the problematic nature of using a term like ‘minor attracted persons’ to normalize pedophilia.

Offline and in the real world

This isn’t just happening online, either. A photo of drag kid Desmond Napoles was recently used on a flyer in Oregon, promoting a fake Pride event for pedophiles. The posters were allegedly distributed by a group called the National Association of Man-Boy Love (NAMBLA).

When Napoles and his family learned about his picture being featured on the flyer, they took to Instagram to urge people in Oregon to ‘tear them down immediately.’

UPDATE 28 July: Fact-checking website Snopes has concluded that this flag was a hoax. Not officially associated with MAPs or NAMBLA, it seems to have originated on Tumblr. It is unclear what the motivations behind the hoax were.


Gay History: Behind the Weird Internet Scheme to Associate Pedophiles with the LGBTQ+ Community

It’s time to recognize these trolling tactics for what they are.

Wesley Johnson

The LGBTQ+ community has long been maliciously associated with pedophiles by people who wish to further stigmatize us. Internet trolls are aware of this violent tradition, and are taking advantage by spreading propaganda that, on first glance, resembles an embrace of pedophiles by LGBTQ+ people. It’s an effective tactic if we accept the false premise: that there is a link between sexual predators and queer people. But there isn’t, and it’s time we stopped meeting that propaganda on the trolls’ terms.

Last month, Central Oregon Pride organizers were targeted by an insidious campaign that distributed fake posters claiming NAMBLA was sponsoring the event along with the Human Dignity Coalition, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Bend, Oregon. Jamie Bowman, president of the organization, says, “Several people sent me photos asking if it was the real thing.” The posters prominently featured a photo of 10-year-old Desmond Napoles, known as Desmond is Amazing in drag, who was the subject of debate thanks to professor and YouTuber Jordan Peterson saying on Twitter that Desmond’s drag was child exploitation.

Desmond’s mother, who runs Desmond’s social media, took to Instagram where Desmond has over 75,000 followers to disavow the poster. “THIS IS DISGUSTING!” the caption reads. “I am offended, angry, and yes, hurt. If you see these signs, please tear them down immediately.” Bowman says she did just that, walking around and pulling the posters down.


Since debunked by internet sleuths at Snopes, “clovergender” is an invented identity meant to mock nonbinary people by claiming that some adults have not mentally matured past the age of 13 and therefore should be allowed to date underaged people. Shkreli asked people to spread awareness of “clovergender” on Twitter, and the call for volunteers on 4Chan asked for help to “troll SJW’s.”

Besides the obvious goal of causing distress to queer people, the goal of “clovergender” proponents and of the Oregon Pride trolls is bifold: to get cisgender heterosexual people to associate the LGBTQ+ community with sexual predators, and to get the LGBTQ+ community to mount a genuine defense against the accusation that it is harboring pedophiles within our circles, thus, on some level, validating the assertion. These repudiations, while virtuous in intent, still give the trolls what they want. They want to use the preexisting stigma against LGBTQ+ people to demonize us.

Another recently debunked hoax was the “Minor Attracted Persons” flag that emerged in Pride season this year. “Minor Attracted Persons” is indeed a term some pedophiles have attempted to use to breach mainstream acceptance, but the flag appears to be a hoax that, again, was taken at its word. It fits nicely with other hoaxes that use rainbow flag imagery and inclusive language that support pedophilia.

But perhaps the most malicious campaign came in 2016, when a faction of 4Chan users attempted to create a false movement to include the letter “P,” for pedosexuals, into the LGBTQ+ acronym. Snopes has debunked this as well, but what’s most chilling about this campaign is the planning and patience the organizers exhibited when putting it together. “If they want to demand that society accept their horseshit identities, then it’s time we slip in one of our own,” wrote the post’s author. “How do we do this? We convince them that Pedos deserve rights too. Think about it, if this were to catch any traction at all it would only further remove any legitimization they’ve gained.”

 Ethan Edwards, a cofounder of the group “Virtuous Pedophiles” who uses a pseudonym, advocates against acceptance of pedophilia and monitors the movements of groups like NAMBLA online. He says he hasn’t seen any attempts on their end to integrate with the LGBTQ+ community. “Perhaps there is some genuine pedophile somewhere pushing this new rainbow flag. Maybe a few others are trying to infiltrate LGBT+ groups by the backdoor,” he says over email. “But I haven’t seen any evidence of this in a group setting.”

That hasn’t stopped some well-meaning LGBTQ+ people from speaking out against this alleged movement. Attitude, a UK-based gay mag, ran a story on the supposed “MAPS” Pride flag, which, again, is a hoax. It’s completely understandable why one might exercise an abundance of caution by calling this out, but it still validates a false premise that this is part of some larger movement.

It’s also worth noting that oppression of LGBTQ+ people in the modern day relies on the falsehood that queer people are child predators. In Russia, for example, Vladimir Putin said in 2014 that gay people would be safe at the Sochi Winter Olympics so long as they “leave kids alone.” It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that people often invoke the safety of children when trying to legislate against the LGBTQ+ community.

But obvious troll campaigns like these, while they do invoke that reality, must be dealt with on a different level. Our current political climate is an example of what happens when we assume every argument, no matter how ridiculous or odious, has merit and must be met halfway. It’s how we ended up with Donald Trump, whose litany of ridiculous and bombastic statements, like assertions that Mexicans are rapists, earned him even more coverage but little accountability.

We should bear this in mind when responding to incidents like what happened in Oregon, and be aware of the offending party’s goal: to paint a picture in which LGBTQ+ people are having an internal debate over where pedophiles fit into our community. It’s a debate that, at the moment, is not happening on any meaningful scale. Our response should not necessarily be to ignore it. Our response should, however, call a spade a spade and place the blame where it rightfully lies: on the trolls.


Buddhism 101: Tathagata: One Who Is Thus Gone

An Alternate Title for a Buddha

A standing Buddha figure in Thailand. Image Source/Getty Images

The Sanskrit / Pali word Tathagata usually is translated “the one who has thus gone.” Or, it is “one who has thus come.” Tathagata is a title for a buddha, one who has realized enlightenment.

Meaning of Tathagata

Looking at the root words: Tatha can be translated “so,” “such,” “thus,” or “in this manner.” Agata is “came” or “arrived.” Or, the root may be gata, which is “gone.” It’s not clear which root word is intended — arrived or gone — but an argument can be made for either.

People who like the “Thus Gone” translation of Tathagata understand it to mean someone who has gone beyond ordinary existence and will not return. “Thus come” could refer to one who is presenting enlightenment in the world.

Other of the many renderings of the title include “One who has become perfect” and “One who has discovered truth.”

In the sutras, Tathagata is a title the Buddha himself uses when speaking of himself or of buddhas generally. Sometimes when a text refers to the Tathagata, it is referencing the historical Buddha. But that isn’t always true, so pay attention to context.

The Buddha’s Explanation

Why did the Buddha call himself Tathagata? In the Pali Sutta-pitaka, in Itivuttaka § 112 (Khuddaka Nikaya), the Buddha provided four reasons for the title Tathagata.

  • First, everything in this world, “whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought, and reflected upon by the mind,” is fully understood by a Tathagata.
  • Second, from the moment a being realizes complete enlightenment until he passes into Nirvana, leaving no trace behind, whatever he teaches is just so (tatha) and not otherwise.
  • Third, what he does is in the manner of (tatha) what he teaches. Likewise, what he teaches is what he does.
  • Fourth, among all other beings in this world, a Tathagata is the conqueror, unvanquished, all-seeing, and the wielder of power.

For these reasons, the Buddha said, he is called the Tathagata.

In Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhists connect Tathagata to the doctrine of suchness or tathata. Tathata is a word used for “reality,” or the way things really are. Because the true nature of reality cannot be conceptualized or explained with words, “suchness” is a deliberately vague term to keep us from conceptualizing it.

It is sometimes understood in Mahayana that the appearance of things in the phenomenal world are manifestations of tathata. The word tathata is sometimes used interchangeably with sunyata or emptiness. Tathata would be the positive form of emptiness — things are empty of self-essence, but they are “full” of reality itself, of suchness. One way to think of the Tathagata-Buddha, then, would be as a manifestation of suchness.

As used in the Prajnaparamita Sutras, Tathagata is the inherent suchness of our existence; the ground of being; the dharmakaya;  Buddha Nature.


  • O’Brien, Barbara. “Tathagata: One Who Is Thus Gone.” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020,

Gay History: Would You Believe…The Most Unbelievable HIV Hoaxes EVER!

Is Capriccio Sangria Spreading HIV?

One of many hoaxes involving the claim that a common food product has somehow become contaminated with HIV.

Capriccio Bubbly Sangria beverages are contaminated with HIV.

In May 2018, the Capriccio Bubbly Sangria beverage generated a good deal of publicity online and in news coverage, drawing frequent comparisons to Four Loko as well as speculation about its ingredients and rumored effects on consumers:

One of the most prominent rumors about the beverage involved a supposed screen shot from an alleged news report aired by Chicago television station WFLD (Fox 32 Chicago) stating that Capriccio Sangria was “spreading HIV worldwide”:

We (Snopes) found no evidence that WFLD, or any other legitimate news organization, aired such a report. This image appears to be a digitally doctored one in which a fake chyron was overlaid onto a screenshot of an ordinary Fox News/WFLD report about the drink’s sudden popularity.

The Capriccio Sangria rumor is just the latest entry in a long string of hoaxes positing that various food items have been contaminated with HIV. As we often note, such rumors fail the reality check that HIV would not survive in this type of environment long enough to pose a real danger to unwitting consumers:

Hoax: Beware of HIV-infected oranges

One joke got out of hand while a false declaration was used to promote the anti-immigrant agenda. Here are some recent hoaxes spreading on social media.

Several poor-quality shots of sliced oranges with red spots and a brief description stating they come from Libya were used to spread a popular rumour: the oranges were sprayed with blood infected with the HIV virus.

Croatian customs officers were said to have made this socking discovery, the Sme daily wrote recently. More then 8,000 people on Facebook shared the fake information that has been spreading for at least three years. In August 2017, the website was already writing about the hoax.

More recent alarm

The Czech version of the hoax has been spreading since at least spring 2016. The current version of the hoax is probably identical to the one Antipropaganda noticed: it’s in the Czech language, and both versions contain the same typo – instead of “pomeranče“ (oranges), it reads “pomenanče“. In 2016, more than 16,000 people shared this status.

HIV does not spread through food

The English version has been spread since February 2015, and was analysed by the website. The server reminded readers that even if someone really injected the HIV virus into oranges, one cannot get infected in this way.

“Except for rare cases when children ate a meal previously chewed by an HIV-infected person, this virus cannot spread via meals,” Snopes writes. The virus cannot live for long outside of the human body nor survive cooking or exposure to stomach acids.

Joke looses control

Sometimes there is no bad intention or efforts to impact public opinion behind a hoax: from time to time, a mere joke morphs into hoax that isn’t too amusing.

Recently, Czech social media has been flooded by the news that Prague will lose one of its most famous monuments. The popular Charles’ Bridge is allegedly damaged beyond repair, and thus, it has to be demolished. Instead, a modern replica will be built.

This is not the case, however.

A man named Martin Topič created a paste-up that looks like an article from the Czech website iDnes concerning the end of a famous monument. The article states that the walls, thought to be 700 years old, cannot be renovated anymore, and the city has to get rid of the bridge. It claims the European Union ordered the bridge’s demolition as it does not fulfill EU standards anymore, and this news has to be shared.

The author intended this as a joke, targeting fans of such hoaxes and fake news by sending it to several groups in which they meet. In fact, he only misrepresented the original news about the demolition of the Výtoň Bridge, according to the Manipulátoř website.

Facts and fiction

The Výtoň Bridge is the Prague railway bridge that has so many problems it doesn’t make sense to repair it, according to Czech railways. As it is protected by the Monuments Board, however, it could be replaced by an exact replica.

But hoax enthusiasts did not bother to check on anything, resulting not only in rude and enraged comments but also the spread of news that was originally meant as a mere joke.

Is there any lesson to learn? Hardly, if you know how embarrassing it is to explain the meaning of jokes, Sme wrote.

Monaco is not Marrakesh

In May, people started sharing information on the Monaco Declaration, according to which Slovakia has to accept 11,000 Africans, starting on July 1, 2018. After someone noticed that there is no such thing as the Monaco Declaration but rather the Marrakesh Declaration, the hoax was updated and the alarming news continued to spread, the Denník N daily wrote.

The first website to share this hoax was the Czech disinformation website Parlamentní Listy, according to Czech TV. On May 7, it published a story headlined “Africans to Europe, Babiš’ minister signed in Africa. Hungary: this will change the population of Europe, let us not sign it”. The story spread en mass across Facebook, while other Czech and Slovak websites immediately grasped the issue. “An avalanche of migrants from Africa is being prepared, supported by the legislation on the European and national levels,” the Slobodný Výber website wrote one day later.

Slovak politicians use the hoax

For example, the Supreme Court Justice and potential presidential candidate, Štefan Harabin, recorded a video in which he said that 150 to 200 million Africans will arrive in Europe.

“This is a fatal threat to citizens of Slovakia, and an existential threat to our sovereign state,” he noted for the video, which has more than 40,000 clicks. “Do our families want to have children raped, do we want to have window shops broken and zones where even police do not dare to enter?” he asks.

The Facebook site Zdrojj then published a picture where duties allegedly steaming from the Marrakesh Declaration are listed, garnering around 300,000 shares in two days. This is the third most successful disinformation news in the whole week, according to the project.

The extreme right ĽSNS party also joined in, according to Denník N. Its MP Natália Grausová described at a parliamentary session in mid-May how Slovakia would be obliged to accept Africans and pay for their accommodation, paired with €800 in pocket money and other benefits.

The state tried to officially disprove these rumours through repeated explanations by the Foreign Ministry. The Facebook site for the police joined in, calling it nonsense and an “absolute hoax”.

The Foreign Ministry’s state secretary Ivan Korčok warned of the hoax through a special status on his Facebook profile.

The Marrakesh Declaration can be read in English on the European Commission websites. It was created as part of the so-called Rabat process, a long-term dialogue of European and African countries on solutions in the sphere of migration.

What is the Marrakesh Declaration?

The latest conference concerning the declaration took place in Marrakesh, Morocco, and one of the participants was Czech Interior Minister Lubomír Metnar; on the Slovak side, nobody participated. Moreover, none of the Slovak ministers even formally signed it. Slovak diplomacy joined the declaration with the Slovak ambassador to Brussels expressing his support remotely.

The working agreement does not mention anything about Slovakia being forced to accept Africans.

The Marrakesh Declaration is not an international contract obliging Slovakia to anything. It is a mere political declaration which is legally non-binding, according to Denník N.

HOAX ALERT: HIV injected into ‘bloody’ bananas, again

“That is Satanism,” a religious group says on its Facebook page, claiming that fruit is being injected with HIV-infected blood by groups of people “with the aim of killing millions of people around the world”.

The post by the Spiritual Warfare and Tactics Squad warns people not to eat any fruit with a “red weird colour.” It’s illustrated by two pictures: one shows a banana being injected with a fluid that looks like blood. The other shows a peeled banana with a red colour inside.

Hoax debunked three years ago

The post was flagged by Facebook users in Nigeria. Africa Check has found a number of versions of the claim. It has been so popular it was debunked by Snopes in November 2015 and Hoax-Slayer in February 2016.

“This form of reddish discolouration in bananas has nothing to do with blood of any sort,” Snopes explained. “It’s a hallmark of fungal or bacterial diseases that affect bananas grown in some areas and can cause their centres to turn dark red.”

The US Centers for Disease Control states that HIV does not live for long outside the body. And the virus can’t be caught from food, even if the food contains small amounts of HIV-infected blood. – Allwell Okpi (24/10/2018)

Rumor: Someone Put HIV+ Blood in Pepsi Cola

A viral rumor has been circulating since at least 2004 claiming that a worker put HIV-infected blood into a cola company’s products. The rumor is false—a complete hoax—but read on to find out the details behind the urban legend, how it got started, and the facts of the matter according to health officials

“Urgent Message”

The following posting, which was shared on Facebook on Sept. 16, 2013, is fairly representative of the rumor alleging HIV-infected cola:

There’s news from the police. Its an urgent message for all. For next few days don’t drink any product from pepsi company’s like pepsi, tropicana juice, slice, 7up etc. A worker from the company has added his blood contaminated with AIDS.. Watch MDTV. please forward this to everyone on your list.

Versions of the same rumor have made the rounds previously, in 2004, and again in 2007-2008. In those previous instances, the food products allegedly contaminated with HIV-positive blood were ketchup and tomato sauce, but the status of the claim was the same: false. 

No legitimate sources, media or governmental, have reported any such occurrence. Moreover, even if such an incident had occurred, it would not have resulted in the spread of AIDS, according to medical experts.

CDC Debunks Myth

This is how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains it:

You can’t get HIV from consuming food handled by an HIV-infected person. Even if the food contained small amounts of HIV-infected blood or semen, exposure to the air, heat from cooking, and stomach acid would destroy the virus.

A CDC fact sheet also reported that the agency has never documented any incidents of food or beverage products being contaminated with HIV-infected blood or semen, or incidents of HIV infection transmitted via food or beverage products.

The Myth Resurfaces

As recently as 2017, the urban legend resurfaced—this time in a viral rumor posted on. Aug 21 of that year. The post, which appeared on the website of Washington, D.C., television station WUSA 9, reads in part:

WUSA9 News was contacted by several viewers who saw this text message being shared on social media as a warning. The message reads: Important message from Metropolitan Police to all citizen of United Kingdom.
“For the next few weeks do not drink any products from Pepsi, as a worker from the company has added blood contaminated with HIV (AIDS). It was shown yesterday on Sky News. Please forward this message to the people who you care.”
WUSA9 News researchers contacted United Kingdom Department of Health Media & Campaigns Executive, Lauren Martens who confirmed the message is a hoax and also not shown on Sky News. Martens also said Metropolitan Police did not have any issued statement about this message.

The television station also contacted the CDC, which—as noted above—said that you can’t get HIV “from consuming food handled by an HIV-infected person.” WUSA also contacted PepsiCo spokesperson Aurora Gonzalez from who called story an “old hoax.”

HOAX: This photo with a warning about tainted chocolates is false

A photo warning consumers about consuming Cadbury chocolates actually shows a terror suspect being extradited

A Facebook post warning social media users not to consume Cadbury chocolates ‘for the next few weeks’ because a HIV-positive worker allegedly added his contaminated blood to them is a HOAX.

The post cautions against consuming Cadbury products due to the risk of getting infected with HIV/AIDS..

Reverse image searches on Google and TinEye reveal that the man in the photo being escorted by two police officers was not arrested for contaminating Cadbury products as the post claims, but is actually Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche, the alleged mastermind behind the April 2014 bombing of a bus station in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, in 2014.

The photo in the post was taken on his arrival in Nigeria following his extradition from Sudan.

The claim of potential HIV infection from blood in chocolate contained in the post is also factually incorrect, because the HIV virus does not survive long outside the human body and cannot reproduce outside a human host. Contracting the virus from consuming food items, even if they are contaminated with HIV, is extremely unlikely as explained by the CDC.

Cadbury took to Twitter in March 2018 to caution its clients about the false information being spread about its products being contaminated with the HIV virus.

PesaCheck has looked into the claim that tainted Cadbury products could transmit HIV to unsuspecting consumers and finds it to be a HOAX.

Urban Legend: Needles Hidden Under Gas Pump Handles

A viral alert warns that evildoers are exposing innocent victims to the AIDS virus by attaching HIV-contaminated needles to gas pump handles. This is a long-discredited hoax that has been circulating since 2000 but continues to crop up years and even decades later

The samples of the hoax postings are included for your comparison. If you receive a similar warning via email or social media, you can safely ignore it. It’s best not to continue circulating this hoax.

  • Description: Internet hoax via email and social media
  • Circulating since: June 2000
  • Status: False


Email contributed by R. Anderson, June 13, 2000:

Please read and forward to anyone you know who drives.

My name is Captain Abraham Sands of the Jacksonville, Florida Police Department. I have been asked by state and local authorities to write this email in order to get the word out to car drivers of a very dangerous prank that is occurring in numerous states.

Some person or persons have been affixing hypodermic needles to the underside of gas pump handles. These needles appear to be infected with HIV positive blood. In the Jacksonville area alone there have been 17 cases of people being stuck by these needles over the past five months.

We have verified reports of at least 12 others in various states around the country. It is believed that these may be copycat incidents due to someone reading about the crimes or seeing them reported on the television. At this point no one has been arrested and catching the perpetrator(s) has become our top priority.

Shockingly, of the 17 people who where stuck, eight have tested HIV positive and because of the nature of the disease, the others could test positive in a couple years.

Evidently the consumers go to fill their car with gas, and when picking up the pump handle get stuck with the infected needle. IT IS IMPERATIVE TO CAREFULLY CHECK THE HANDLE of the gas pump each time you use one. LOOK AT EVERY SURFACE YOUR HAND MAY TOUCH, INCLUDING UNDER THE HANDLE.

If you do find a needle affixed to one, immediately contact your local police department so they can collect the evidence.


Social Media Posting 

As posted on Facebook, Jan. 26, 2013:

HIV/AIDS Needles hidden under gas pumps

In Florida and other places on the East Coast a group of people are putting HIV/AIDS infected and filled needles underneath gas pump handles so when someone reaches to pick it up and put gas in their car, they get stabbed with it. 16 people have been a victim of this crime so far and 10 tested HIC positive. Instead of posting that stupid crap about how your love life will suck for years to come of you don’t re-post, post this. It’s important to inform people, even if you don’t drive, a family member might, and what if they were next? CHECK UNDER THE HANDLE BEFORE YOU GRAB IT!!! IT MIGHT SAVE YOUR LIFE!

Analysis of Viral Warnings 

On June 20, 2000, mere days after the overwrought warning above first slammed inboxes across the Internet, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department issued a press release declaring it a hoax.

“The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has had no reports of such incidents and there is no ‘Capt. Abraham Sands’ at the JSO,” the statement said. Nor had any such incidents been reported elsewhere in the United States. Moreover, according to the CDC, there are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted via needle-sticks in non-health care settings, ever.

The viral warning was, and is, entirely fictitious. It did add an interesting new wrinkle to the HIV needle-stick rumors already circulating online in various forms since 1997. Previous variants warned of tainted syringes planted in movie theater seats and pay phone coin slots, not to mention random “stealth prickings” (for lack of a better phrase) in nightclubs and other crowded public places.

Copycat Pranks 

All these variants have been investigated and deemed false by authorities with the sole exception of a spate of apparent copycat pranks that occurred around the beginning of 1999 in western Virginia. According to police there, actual hypodermic needles were found in the coin slots of public phones and bank night deposit slots in a couple of small towns in the area. None were found to be contaminated with HIV or any other biological agent. Presumably, the pranksters were imitating rumors that had already been circulating online for months.

Groundless though it may be, the conviction that unknown assailants are intentionally spreading AIDS by hiding contaminated needles in public places remains popular, especially on the email forwarding circuit. One reason is that these tales and other urban legends like them provide an outlet for unspoken fears—of strangers, of the motives of some of the more marginal members of society, of AIDS itself. They’re cautionary tales, albeit ones that don’t really function as such—not literally, at any rate—in that they fail to address the primary way HIV is actually transmitted: unsafe sex.

Personal Risk 

By virtue of the fact that each of these fictitious scenarios depicts the transmission of HIV via acts of penetration, each works as a metaphor for sex. Consider the claim that one risks exposure to HIV simply by inserting one’s finger into the coin slot of a public phone. The imagery isn’t pretty, but it’s apt. Now we’re being warned to be careful when pumping gas, to take all due precautions before sliding the nozzle into the tank. Sound advice? Metaphorically speaking, yes!

CDC Statement 

This statement appeared on the site in 2010.

Have people been infected with HIV from being stuck by needles in non-health care settings?

No. While it is possible to get infected with HIV if you are stuck with a needle that is contaminated with HIV, there are no documented cases of transmission outside of a health-care setting.

CDC has received inquiries about used needles left by HIV-infected injection drug users in coin return slots of pay phones, the underside of gas pump handles, and on movie theater seats. Some reports have falsely indicated that CDC “confirmed” the presence of HIV in the needles. CDC has not tested such needles nor has CDC confirmed the presence or absence of HIV in any sample related to these rumors. The majority of these reports and warnings appear to be rumors/myths.