The Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club of San Francisco was the first registered Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Democratic Club in the nation. Forming only two years after the Stonewall riots in the infancy of the LGBT civil rights movement, Alice grew to become a vibrant organization that has made a profound impact on San Francisco, California and American politics. Alice made its impact by training activists over four decades to become political professionals and electing candidates that have fought for the issues that are important to the LGBT community. The club has been instrumental in growing new leaders who would rise to the highest levels of government in the nation, such as Dianne Feinstein, an early friend of the club. Alice has been critical to the fight for LGBT leaders to win office, such as Mark Leno, the first gay man elected to the California State Senate. These leaders have helped make San Francisco the epicenter of the LGBT political movement, advancing causes such as equal benefits, domestic partnership, transgender health care, and marriage equality. Alice continues to be a major player in local, state and national politics and remains an inspiring and effective organization to this day.
1970s-1980s: Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence and Working Together as a Community
Beginnings of the Club
Back in 1971, it had only been a couple of years since the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot and Stonewall Riots; homosexuality was still registered as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association; the modern Women’s Movement was just forming; President Richard Nixon was playing to his “silent majority”; and the issue of homosexuality was still thought of in the popular consciousness as “The Love That Dare Not Speak its Name.”   
At this time, ‘gay people’ (including women, men and transgender people who frequently referred to the community in this period as a ‘gay movement’), all faced widespread cultural stigma and the high probability that they could be fired, expelled from families, and subject to violence for simply coming out. To even speak of gayness was taboo. This environment constituted a ‘conspiracy of silence’ where the culture had established rules that any deviation from perceived normalcy related to gender and sex was considered pathological, immoral and criminal. At this time and in this hostile environment, for gay people to sign up publicly for a ‘gay democratic club’ and for politicians to be associated with the issue of homosexuality, was an act of bravery.
Jim Foster founded the Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club in December 1971.  Foster was a gay rights activist who had been organizing with the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) to elect pro-gay candidates in San Francisco since SIR was formed in 1964. Prior to Alice there had been a few gay and lesbian advocacy groups such as SIR, the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society and others, but gay political goals had never been incorporated directly into the platform of a major American political party.  In 1971 Foster chartered Alice to initiate gay advocacy within the Democratic Party and started a collaborative relationship that continues to this day. 
Why Alice B. Toklas?
Alice B. Toklas was the partner of the famous writer Gertrude Stein. The original 20 members of the Club chose Alice B. Toklas because the name served as a code to protect the confidentiality of members. Saying you were a “member of Alice” was like saying “I’m a friend of Dorothy” – only gay people would know that the “Alice” club referred to gay people.
Alice’s first political Campaign – 1972 McGovern vs. Nixon
Alice and Jim Foster played an important role in the Democratic Party’s selection of George McGovern as the Democratic Party candidate of 1972. Alice endorsed McGovern, opened a ‘McGovern for President’ campaign office, and became a Bay Area political operation for McGovern in one of the Democratic strongholds in the state of California. At a critical point in the campaign, Foster helped implement a midnight signature gathering campaign in San Francisco gay bars in advance of the state primary deadline that helped McGovern be the first candidate to submit the required signatures that morning. This placed McGovern’s name first on the list of candidates on the California ballot. McGovern won California with a 5-point edge over Hubert Humphrey, and ballot placement was considered one of the reasons for his win.
1972 Democratic Convention – First Attempt to put Gay Rights Plank in Democratic Party Platform
After McGovern became the candidate, Foster also represented Alice at the Democratic Party National Convention of 1972, and brought a “Gay Liberation Plank” to the national platform committee. This motion was extremely significant for the Democratic Party because it brought gay rights policy before the national party for the first time ever. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party was not yet ready to adopt gay rights in its platform. Kathy Wilch, a speaker at the Democratic National Convention, gave a divisive speech opposing the Gay Liberation Plank and halted approval of its inclusion in the Democratic Party Platform. This action angered many gay activists, prompting McGovern to send a letter clarifying: “Her views in no way reflect my views on the subject… I have long supported civil rights of all Americans and have in no way altered my commitment to these rights and I have no intention of doing so.”
McGovern didn’t specifically say he supported gay rights, but in referencing the Wilch incident, he included gay rights in the broader context of civil rights, which was a victory. Gay rights had never been recognized as civil rights by a previous national party leader. Alice and Jim Foster’s platform effort thus initiated a national effort to incorporate gay rights within the Democratic Party platform, and this relationship between the gay community and the Democratic Party would continue and grow for decades.
1973 – A club of professional advocates working from the inside
The people who started Alice were experienced in politics, many of them working previously for the Society for Individual Rights. Jim Foster, Jack Hubbs, Steve Swanson and Tere Roderick, the original officers, got the club off to a quick start. The club began raising “Dollars for Democrats”, started a door-to-door canvassing program, and outreached to Democratic Party members, including Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, Supervisor Quentin Kopp, Supervisor Peter Tamaras, Senator Milton Marks, Senator George Moscone, and other elected officials.   At that time, Jim Foster built an especially close relationship with one of California’s most successful politicians: Dianne Feinstein. 
Early Political Successes
In 1969, Foster invited Supervisorial candidate Dianne Feinstein to meet with the Society for Individual Rights for her 1970 first race for Supervisor. After Feinstein was elected in 1970, Jim Foster requested that she introduce legislation to add the words “sex and sexual orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. In 1973, Supervisor Feinstein introduced and passed the legislation at Alice’s urging. Following this action, Supervisor Dorothy von Beroldingen, another close ally of Foster’s, appointed Alice member Jo Daly to a television oversight commission, a first for the City, and paving the way for lesbians and gay men to be appointed to public positions in San Francisco in later years.
A major concern of the club in the early years was police harassment and substandard conditions in the San Francisco County jail. Gay men and lesbians dealt with police harassment issues with raids on bars and mistreatment by officers of people in the community. The jails were also a highly unsafe environment for gay detainees and the club made it a priority to change conditions in the jails. Jim Foster wrote Mayor Alioto a letter on behalf of the club criticizing him for not doing enough to address the problem of poor jail facilities. In this time, Alice began a long relationship with Sheriff Michael Hennessey who became a friend of the club, often performing as a disc jockey at the clubs annual holiday party. Hennessey worked with the community to institute changes in holding conditions for gay inmates.
Although the concept of “medical marijuana” was not a common political concept in this era, Alice supported efforts to decriminalize the overall possession and cultivation of marijuana.
The “Big Four”
In November 1973, Alice worked to elect Dianne Feinstein, Jack Morrison, Jeff Masonek and Dorothy von Beroldingen to the Board of Supervisors. It was the first “Alice Slate” of candidates, and became a model for future efforts.
1974-1977 Post Watergate Era – Beginnings of Political Change
With Richard Nixon’s resignation and the wind blowing at the back of Democrats, it was an exciting time. Jo Daly and Jim Foster went to the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York, representing Alice. Despite the excitement about Democrats heading towards a win, Gay people were upset at the removal of the gay rights plank from the Democratic Platform to avoid ‘controversy.’ Gay protesters organized outside of the convention hall while Jo and Jim registered their disappointment to other delegates inside the convention. The ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ suppressing advocacy for gay rights on the national political level continued to be a pervasive stance of the Democratic Party during this era.  
After the Democratic Convention, Carter made some efforts to reach out to lesbian and gay constituents through adult media. Playboy Magazine released an interview where Carter made it clear that he would sign a bill to extend equal rights to gay people, and his wife said at the time “I do not think that homosexuals should be harassed.” Carter’s choice of Playboy Magazine as the context for discussing gay rights cloaked gay rights in an adult context, and reinforced the idea that gayness is strictly about sex, but Carter’s outreach was an important start for a Democratic Party that was still finding its way on the issue of gay rights. It was the first time a Presidential candidate specifically committed to support gay rights legislation and this began to break the ‘conspiracy of silence’ surrounding the issue. 
Huge Victory in California – Decriminalizing Homosexuality
One of the important victories for gay rights during the post Watergate era, was Willie Brown’s passage of “consensual sex legislation”, Assembly Bill 489. The 1975 bill removed California’s anti-sodomy laws that criminalized sex between consenting adults of the same gender. Sodomy laws had long been used in states around the nation to criminalize homosexuality.While the laws had been used in practice sporadically, the practical impact was to silence lesbians and gay men about their sexuality. If someone came out about being gay and having a partner, sodomy laws made it that this person was in effect admitting to being a criminal. Since the formation of Alice, the organization had been working closely with Willie Brown to remove California’s sodomy law. Passage of this legislation marked an important step in protecting the civil rights of gay people and an important legislative victory for Alice.
Alice in 1977
With the election of President Carter, the passage of Willie Brown’s consensual sex acts legislation, and the election of Alice’s slate of candidates, Alice became better known to the community. With all of this success, more people wanted to get involved in politics and the Alice B. Toklas Club. An election was held in 1977 for Club President, and membership grew significantly. 107 members showed up to vote for the elections and 26 members were elected as officers to the club. With these elections, Alice’s moderate, professional insider style became a sore point for many in the community who felt the club didn’t speak for them at that time.
1977-1978 – the Moscone / Milk Period
Social change brings about the most raw of human emotions and Harvey Milk’srise to power awakened the city, bringing about new possibilities, and unfortunately new hostilities that had not been experienced in the past.
After two unsuccessful bids for Supervisor in 1973 and 1975, Harvey Milk was elected Supervisor after a new system of district elections was established in 1977. Known as the “Mayor of Castro Street”, Harvey was the first openly gay man elected to the Board of Supervisors, and he won as a grassroots candidate without the support of Alice. Members of Alice believed Harvey was too left in his politics to win, so the Club backed another gay candidate, Rick Stokes. But Harvey did win the election and made history, leaving Alice to consider its decision. One important historic aspect of Milk’s win was the recognition that grassroots politics could be successful. Alice members believed that politics was an ‘insider’ game, and that outsiders couldn’t make it into positions of power. Milk’s win disproved this and set about a rethinking of San Francisco politics for years to come.
Because Alice did not support Harvey, his supporters formed the “Gay Democratic Club” which eventually became the Harvey Milk Democratic Club after Harvey was assassinated. The ‘Milk Club’ ultimately became the left-leaning voice in LGBT politics for the city, while Alice became positioned as the ‘moderate’ voice in LGBT politics. A third club, the Stonewall Democratic Club, formed in Los Angeles and established chapters all over the country, with a San Francisco chapter established for much of the 1970’s and 1980’s. This club also became quite influential in San Francisco politics for some time, especially under the leadership of Gary Parker. With Stonewall and Milk, San Francisco now had three clubs for gay activists to choose from, whereas Alice had been the only game in town just a few years before.     
In 1977, when Harvey Milk and George Moscone were newly elected, the Alice B. Toklas Club met with Mayor Moscone. At this meeting he made commitments to Alice members about many issues: 
1977 Community Issues:
Police Commission: The Mayor agreed to appoint a gay person to the city Police Commission. He also praised the Toklas club for its resolution in support of Police Chief Charles Gain, a liberal policechief he appointed.
Community Center: Moscone supported city funding for the development of a Gay Community Center, explaining that the Center at 330 Grove was in a building that was to be torn down for construction of the Performing Arts Center. He promised funds would be made available.
Mayor’s Open Door: The Mayor established himself as a gay political ally, encouraging activists to work with Supervisor Harvey Milk to advance pro-gay legislation for him to sign. He also announced he had out gay people on his staff that would work with the community on community goals.
Pride Funding: He said he favored city funding of the annual Gay Freedom Day Parade from the city hotel tax, a long-time goal of the community.
Unity: Moscone urged Alice members to put aside their feelings that were evident from the campaign about Harvey Milk and to unite behind the winner for progress that could benefit the gay community.
Political Action and Progress
1978 was a year of clashes between the newly active “religious right” and the “feminist left.” Five years after the Supreme Court made it’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade, the religious right began to organize all over the country, linking feminism and gay rights as shared targets in their cultural war. Jerry Falwell created his “Moral Majority” and Anita Bryant waged a Save our Children campaign in Florida, while in California, State Senator Briggs jumped into the act by placing his Measure 6 on the ballot to ban gay people from teaching. The “No on 6 Campaign” backfired on Briggs and turned out to be a huge success story for LGBT Californians. Briggs lost his initiative after Alice and other LGBT organizations rallied together across the state. The campaign became a context for training young activists and supported networking among LGBT organizations. The conservative loss temporarily slowed the religious right’s crusade against gays. Progress was made on other fronts that year as well. The American Psychiatric Association finally removed homosexuality from its list of pathologies in 1978, which was a crucial step in helping American culture to shift its attitudes towards gay men and lesbians.    
Violence and Turmoil
While some progress was made in 1978, ultimately the year will be remembered most for its great tragedies. On November 27th, 1978, Supervisor Dan White climbed through an open window of City Hall and gunned down Supervisor Harvey Milk as well as Mayor George Moscone. It was a day when everyone grieved and the assassination changed San Francisco forever.
Dan White assassinated Milk and Moscone just days after the Mayor signed into law Milk’s Gay Rights Ordinance that White opposed. The LGBT Community held a massive, peaceful candle light vigil in Harvey’s memory following news of the murders. Later that year, White was brought to trial outside of San Francisco, and a suburban jury found him guilty of “voluntary manslaughter” and gave White 7 years in prison, a sentence widely criticized as too lenient. The jury supported the verdict on the grounds that he had eaten too many Twinkies and his blood sugar was so high, that he snapped and went temporarily insane. This infamous “Twinkie” defense sparked outrage within the LGBT community, for justice had not been done. Following the verdict, the “White Night Riots” broke out in San Francisco, and over 160 people ended up in the hospital. The riots directed anger at the SFPD, as Dan White had been a former police officer, and a string of police related incidents occurring around the time of the verdict led to an environment of tension between the community and the police. (For more about the Police and LGBT community tensions at that time, Uncle Donald’s Castro Street history has some interesting information: http://thecastro.net/milk/whitenight.html )
Amidst all of this turmoil, the leadership of Alice was torn about how to respond. Club President Steve Walters remarked:
“It’s been almost two weeks since the infamous Dan White non-verdict, and I’ve read and heard an infinity of comments and reactions about the trial, and events that night at City Hall. I remain conflicted, torn between my dislike of violence and my rage at the injustice of the jury’s decision. Harsh critics have emerged, focusing on the violence of that night, but ignoring the events that led up to it: the murders of George and Harvey, increased physical attacks against gay men and women, the infamous Pegs Place affair, and the equally infamous police investigative whitewashing, removal from the Dan White jury of a man solely because he was gay, and finally, the ultimate immorality and insult of the jury’s decision.”
As Walters mentioned, a string of issues had been creating tension between the community and the SFPD. The Pegs Place incident involved officers entering a lesbian establishment and assaulting women patrons with little action taken afterwards by the SFPD to respond to the incident. Walters and other members of the community charged that the SFPD had ‘whitewashed’ the facts of the Dan White case to protect one of their former officers. With anger mounting over all of these police issues, Alice became even more intensely focused on the issue of police misconduct, writing letters to the Mayor and requesting action to address the situation.   
The Early 80’s – Growing Pains, Separatism, and Different Agendas.
Lesbians and gay men shared some common political goals in the early 80’s (such as supporting Senator Art Agnos’s Assembly Bill 1, banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians), but issues such as economic justice for women and gay men’s sexual revolution came to be viewed at times as conflicting sets of priorities. When members of the community were appointed to positions of power, people began to raise questions such as “Can gay men in power truly speak for lesbians?” or “Are lesbians truly sensitive to the issues of importance to gay men?”
Former Alice Co-Chair Jo Daly was the first member of the lesbian and gay community to be appointed to the San Francisco Police Commission, but Alice member Bruce Petit wrote a letter to the club raising concerns about her appointment that echoed many of the divisions of the time.  He said:
“Feinstein fulfilled her major campaign pledge to the Gay community by appointing one of their own to the five-member body that directs the police department. But some activist elements faulted Daly as short on progressive credentials, too close of an ally to the Mayor, and unable to represent Gay men—who are said to have more problems with the police than lesbians”
Bruce Petit continued his letter, quoting lesbian Police Commissioner Jo Daly as saying:
“Women make 53 cents for every dollar men make. Two white gay men putting their incomes together are better off than anybody else in society. For Gay activist males to make their major concentration maintaining glory holes—when La Casa, the only home in the county where battered women and children can go, is going out of business because there is no money—that leaves us angry!” 
The tension between lesbians and gay men in this period was heated, and some of the accusations on both sides now seem unfair. The conflicts were perhaps especially acrimonious in Alice because male leadership had up to that point dominated the club. But despite the divisions that erupted at this time, there were also important unique perspectives that were affirmed out of that discourse. The community began to affirm that women have a truly unique perspective from men, and people of both genders have unique contributions to make. “Gay” was no longer used as an umbrella term for the community – “gay” became a word largely designated for men, and “lesbian” became an important, distinctive term of choice for women. 
Women in Leadership Positions
One of the most significant areas of progress for the community in the early 80’s was the rise of women to leadership positions, beginning the careers of some women who would go on to the highest offices in the nation. Barbara Boxer was elected to congress with outspoken support for LGBT issues as a central part of her campaign message.
Carole Migden became the President of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club and ran for Community College Board, laying the groundwork for her later Board of Supervisors, Assembly and State Senate races.
Because of the male dominance of gay democratic clubs in the early years, lesbians worked outside of the Democratic Club system to become politically active in their own right. After Harvey Milk was assassinated and Harry Britt was appointed as his replacement on the Board of Supervisors, there was a feeling among many women that a woman should have been appointed to support gender balanced leadership. Out of the frustration of many women at being held out of political office, a group of politically active women formed the Lesbian Agenda for Action. Women like Roma Guy, Pat Norman, Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Carole Migden began to work outside the democratic club establishment in this organization as a way to assert power outside of a system that was heavily dominated by men. Out of this activism, Carole Migden eventually became the chair of the Democratic Party bringing gay staff with her. Roger Sanders, her staffer, computerized the Democratic Party system and helped her modernize the Democratic Party’s voter turnout process.   
After the Milk/Moscone assassinations, San Francisco moved back to citywide elections for supervisorial races. It was believed by some that district elections were a large part of the divisiveness that led to Milk’s assassination. Others felt that district elections were crucial to representing San Francisco’s diversity. Alice membership overwhelmingly supported the concept of district elections in 1980, with 200 members voting to support district elections and only two members dissenting.
1980 Democratic National Platform:
Alice worked very closely with the Harvey Milk Democratic Club in 1980 to successfully lobby Jimmy Carter (with the help of Mayor Feinstein) to include a gay plank in the Democratic Platform.  The convention that year had a record 71 openly lesbian and gay delegates, with 17 coming from California. Alice Delegates included Harry Britt, Gwenn Craig, Jim Foster, Bill Kraus and Anne Kronenberg (one of Harvey Milk’s Aides).  Mike Thistle went on behalf of the Milk Club and Alice member Larry Eppinette attended as a Carter delegate. Alice also sent many non-gay delegates including Kevin Shelley, among others.
Fighting Police Entrapment:
Law enforcement issues continued to be a major issue of concern for Alice, as Senator John Foran authored SB 1216 to legalize police entrapment and require that a defendant prove he/she is of ‘good character’, not predisposed to commit a crime, if loitering.
Gay Men campaigning for office:
John Newmeyer became California’s first openly gay man to run for congress in the 2nd District, and Alice endorsed his unsuccessful, but historic first bid. TomAmmiano ran for School Board for the first time in 1980, starting a long career in San Francisco politics, and Alice endorsed Tom in his first race.  Harry Britt was also appointed by Dianne Feinstein to replace Harvey Milk in office. This appointment was a source of contention for some in the community as many women felt that Ann Kronenberg, Harvey Milk’s legislative aide, should have been appointed to office to support gender balance. Britt continued to serve on the Board in the 1980’s focusing particularly on tenant’s rights issues.
Alice comes out officially as a “Gay Democratic Club” under Club President Connie O’Conner
During the early eighties Connie O’Conner was elected President of Alice and ran a slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee. Louise Minnick, Randy Stallings and Connie O’Conner all won as Alice’s candidates in 1980. Connie also successfully made a motion to change the name of the club to the “Alice B. Toklas Gay Democratic Club.” This was very controversial at the time and many longtime Alice members such as Jim Foster and Robert Barnes argued that straight club members might feel alienated if the club was explicitly identified as a “gay democratic club”. Alice voted to change its name and move towards greater openness, while straight San Francisco allies continue to this day to sign up to be a part of Alice.
Alice wins seats on the San Francisco Democratic Central Committee
In 1980 Under the leadership of club President Connie O’Conner, Alice ran a slate of candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee and Louise Minnick, Randy Stallings and Connie O’Conner won seats on the committee. Previously only Milk club members like Ron Huberman and Gwen Craig represented the LGBT community on this committee.
Mayor Feinstein Recall Fight
In 1983, a heated battle ensued over attempts to recall Mayor Feinstein, with recall supporters citing her veto of domestic partners legislation and her support of landlords over tenants. Anti-recall supporters cited Feinstein’s longtime support for gay legislation and her willingness to put funds towards helping people with KS and AIDS at the very beginning of the epidemic. Alice voted 137 to 73 to oppose the recall effort and became very active in fighting the recall. Afterward, Feinstein was very grateful to Alice and instituted regular meetings with the club to keep in communication with the community about issues.
HIV and AIDS – The Total Focus of the Mid 1980’s and Early 90’s
The fight over the Feinstein recall was one of the last divisive fights between left and moderate LGBT democrats for a while, as the energy and focus had to go 100% to saving lives. San Francisco was hit especially hard by the AIDS epidemic and some of our brightest people in the community were lost. With them went much knowledge and skill that could be shared and passed down in the community. Many died early in the epidemic, such as the Founder of Alice, Jim Foster and former Alice President Robert Cramer who passed away just a few years before protease inhibitors were introduced. Many continued to die after 1994, and this had enormous impact on the community. Tony Leone, a longtime member of Alice, and a dedicated activist for gay rights, passed away in 1999. Dick Pabich, the legislative aide to Harvey Milk who went on to become a campaign consultant to Carole Migden passed away in 2000. Many friends in politics of these brilliant, dedicated people wondered how they could continue without their guidance and years of experience. A whole generation of knowledge was lost.
Alice jumped into the fight against AIDS early, as friends were dying, and the Federal Government was being completely unresponsive. Bay Area representatives Phil Burton and Barbara Boxer worked tirelessly to get federal support, while President Reagan still refused to even mention the word AIDS. It was a battle to get government to pay attention about something that was killing our community. As a result of this, a new slogan became popular among activists after the formation of ACT UP in 1987: “Silence Equals Death”. Activism against AIDS would increasingly be shaped as a direct battle between those who perpetuated the Conspiracy of Silence, and those who recognized that silence could kill them. 
The 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco
In 1984 the Democratic Convention was held in San Francisco three years after the initial discovery of HIV/AIDS and long before effective treatments were available. Alice representatives Sal Rosselli and Connie O’Conner were both elected as openly gay Gary Hart delegates to the Convention, and they watched Jesse Jackson speak to the convention floor after his first historic run for President. (Four years later Jackson would make his Rainbow Coalition Speech at the 1988 Convention where he famously included “gay Americans” as part of the Rainbow Coalition). Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis both lost their elections, but progress continued for the gay and lesbian community as the national Democratic Party began to publicly include the community as part of their public agenda.
Despite progress on some fronts, the fight against AIDS continued to be enormous and at sometimes overwhelming for the members of Alice. Club President Sal Rosselli wrote in the January 1985 edition of Alice Reports:
“While talking to friends over the Holidays, I often heard this statement characterizing 1984: Too intense, too much work; here’s to a relaxing 1985. Thanks to our active membership of almost 600, Alice has accomplished a great deal during the last year… Of course there is still so much to be done; but let us be proud and grateful for all we have accomplished. The year ahead looks like it may be less hectic and may afford us… more time to organize from within and focus on our primary agenda. That primary focus must be developing national, statewide and local plans to combat AIDS.”
By 1985, as can be seen in this statement, Alice was challenged by the fight against AIDS. After a depressing election loss against Ronald Reagan, and continuing struggles to save friends with few treatments available, these were difficult times. Alice’s primary focus would continue to be fighting AIDS until the partial success of halting the virus came with protease inhibitors in the mid ‘90’s, which allowed for a broadening of the political agenda.
The Larouche Initiative:
Alice and AIDS activists did not get a reprieve after 1985 – things got worse before they got better. In 1986, Lyndon Larouche capitalized on AIDS-phobia and placed his infamous Proposition 64 on the ballot to quarantine people with AIDS, using the clearly faulty logic that AIDS could be spread by mosquitoes. Even in the early stages of the virus, it was obvious that mosquitoes could not spread the disease; otherwise it would not have disproportionately impacted specific groups. Fortunately, California voters struck down the initiative, once again sending a message to the radical right that measures like the Briggs and Larouche Initiatives would not be supported in California. Alice worked very hard to defeat the Larouche Initiative, contributing to the opposition’s success.
Alice Pickets KQED over PBS Frontline Special on AIDS
In 1986 Alice became very involved in the fight against media defamation of people with AIDS under the leadership of Club President Roberto Esteves. San Francisco’s local television station KQED ran a PBS Frontline news story on a man with AIDS named Fabian Bridges who they presented as a ‘typhoid mary’. The reporters described Bridges as an HIV positive homosexual who had six partners a night and refused to stop having sex, regardless of his HIV status. The reporters didn’t mention that Bridges continued to have sex because he was in financial dire straights and he was a prostitute. The reporters also failed to mention that they paid Bridges to set up their exploitative interview. Alice joined with the Milk Club to protest the KQED Bay Area showing of this story to fight the media stereotype of presenting people with AIDS as predators. After this protest, KQED responded by appointing its first openly gay member to their community advisory board. This effort was one of the early efforts to fight media defamation of gays happening right after the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in 1985.
1986 Alice’s endorsement critical in Jackie Speier winning Assembly Race
One of the Bay Area’s most prominent leaders, Jackie Speier, became first known to many as an aide to Congressman Leo Ryan who was assassinated in the Jonestown massacre. Speier was in Guyana during the Jonestown Massacre and while attempting to shield herself from rifle and shotgun fire behind small airplane wheel, Speier was shot five times and waited 22 hours before help arrived. Speier survived and returned home from the incident going on to serve as a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. In 1986 she ran for an open seat on the California State Assembly against Mike Nevin. Nevin had secured the endorsement of the Burton/Brown San Francisco political establishment, as well as the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, but Alice was Speier’s first club endorsement, and fighting against tough odds, she wound up winning. Alice’s support proved critical as Speier won the race by only a few hundred votes. Speier went on to serve as a member of Congress representing nearly half of San Francisco, as well as San Mateo and the Peninsula. Alice member Ron Braithwaite organized support for Speier in her first race for Assembly and for many years Speier marched in the LGBT Pride Parade with Alice and always considered Alice to be ‘her club’. 
1987 Art Agnos wins race for Mayor
Alice shocked many in 1987 with its decision to make no endorsement in the race for Mayor between liberal Assemblyman Art Agnos and centrist Supervisor John Molinari. Molinari had been the favorite of Alice for some time and it was assumed by many that Alice would endorse him, but Agnos had many supporters who were able to block an endorsement of Molinari on a 275 to 206 vote.
1990s-2000s: An Organized Constituency Finds its Power
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Alice and the LGBT Community of San Francisco made enormous progress in challenging the conspiracy of silence that had prevailed in earlier decades. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, the LGBT Community started winning larger numbers of local electoral victories in San Francisco. It was no longer enough for the movement to rely upon straight allies (although Alice’s straight allies would continue to be crucial and would rise to prominence at all levels of government); but LGBT people would finally begin to win office in San Francisco in significant numbers, and would be appointed to various City commissions and departments holding offices in policy areas as diverse as Law Enforcement, Human Rights, Transportation, Education and Health. With this expansion of ‘out’ LGBT local representation and influence, Alice supported candidates began passing legislation that would implement changes for LGBT civil rights, not only in San Francisco, but far beyond the City limits.The 1990 “Lavender Sweep”
While San Francisco was confronting AIDS, there was an urgent sense that LGBT people needed to be in positions of power. It was not enough anymore to have friends of our community supporting us. We needed a place at the table. 1990 saw the culmination of two decades of political work by Alice and the Milk Club to bring our community to the table. All the hard work had finally come to success when the two clubs worked together in the historic 1990 Lavender Sweep (the first of two sweeps, the second being in 1994).
The 1990 sweep successfully pushed several candidates over the top to become elected leaders. Lesbian Donna Hitchens won citywide as Superior Court Judge. Lesbians Carole Migden and Roberta Achtenberg won races to join the Board of Supervisors, and Tom Ammiano became the first gay man elected to the San Francisco School Board. Years of work had paid off for all the candidates who had been trying to get into office, and work by Alice was crucial to these victories.
Alice Involvement in the Lavender Sweeps and broader community work:
Campaigns are not won by leaders simply rising to power. It takes incredible work and commitment of people in the community to make a difference. It takes fundraising. It takes strategy. It takes coalition building. It takes development of successful messages and professional campaign materials. It takes enlisting support, one endorsement at a time. And it takes courage to stand by your vision even in the face of opposition. That’s exactly what Alice and the community did to create the 1990 and 1994 landmark elections. There are countless heroes in these efforts that deserve to be recognized, and a few of these are Dick Pabich, Jim Hormel and Mark Leno who raised money for numerous community efforts throughout these years. Jim Hormel not only supported LGBT candidates, but also raised enormous sums for the new Public Library’s Hormel Center for LGBT research. Mark Leno became a lead fundraiser and strategist for building the new LGBT Community Center] and one of Carole Migden’s top fundraisers. Dick Pabich not only helped Carole Migden raise funds to get into office, but he became a chief fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer, paving the way for one of our nation’s most outspoken national advocates for LGBT rights in the United States Senate. Robert Barnes and campaign consultant Jim Rivaldo were instrumental in establishing a professional campaign operation for LGBT advocacy. Barnes became a key advisor to LGBT leaders and Rivaldo became a lead graphics designer for slate cards, billboards, and countless materials done pro-bono for LGBT causes during this time. Carole Cullum at the law firm of Cullum and Sena also provided crucial legal advice to LGBT campaigns while long time LGBT activists Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and Denny Edelman gave non-stop volunteer work on behalf of community causes throughout these years as well. There were so many others, but this gives a small sense of the broad coalition of work that was being done to lay the foundation for LGBT political power and LGBT social services in San Francisco.
National Repercussions of the 1990 Lavender Sweep
The Lavender sweep had national repercussions as it became a precursor to LGBT campaign organizing prior to the 1992 presidential election, and established the San Francisco lesbian and gay community as a base of power that could help win local, state and national elections in the future.
1992 “The Year of the Woman”
In 1992 California made history by sending Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate and the LGBT community played a key role in that success. Political pundits billed 1992 as “The Year of the Woman because women candidates made successful efforts to break into the male dominated US Senate, which had only 2 female members in office at that time. Feinstein’s campaign used the slogan ‘2% is good for milk but not for equality’ in the US Senate. Senator Barbara Boxer won the election for US Senator in 1992 against radio commentator Bruce Herschensohn by 5% of the vote with the crucial assistance of the LGBT community. Her openly gay political consultant and fundraiser Dick Pabich was a key strategist for the Boxer campaign. Pabich adopted a strategy for Boxer to explicitly build a California majority of women, gay men and minority constituencies. Alice helped boost turnout in San Francisco to provide the margin of difference in that campaign.
Bill Clinton becomes President
That year Alice became an important player in Democratic Presidential politics as well. Robert Barnes, chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club had this to say about the approaching presidential election in the May 1992 edition of Alice Reports:
“Alice demonstrated its Democratic Party savvy in putting together a winning slate of delegates for the Clinton Presidential Caucus. Alice is the first major Democratic Club, and thus far the only Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, to endorse Bill Clinton for President… With Alice’s support, lesbian Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg was the caucus’ top female vote getter.”
As an early endorser of Bill Clinton, Alice established itself as a “Friend of Bill’s” before other Democratic Clubs had gotten in the act, and Alice helped propel Roberta Achtenberg into the limelight of the Democratic Convention, supporting her eventual selection as Housing Undersecretary.
At the Democratic Convention, Bill Clinton was outspoken in his support of the LGBT Community, breaking the ‘conspiracy of silence’ that had long dominated national discussions of gay issues, even among Democratic politics. At the 1992 Democratic Convention, Clinton specifically talked about “gay people”, [43 minutes into speech], whereas in the past, democratic presidential contenders such as George McGovern and Jimmy Carter had said they supported “Civil Rights” when referring to LGBT people, but not actually identifying directly with our community at the Democratic Conventions. Clinton went on to appoint Roberta Achtenberg as Undersecretary of Housing, prompting archconservative Jesse Helms to famously refer to her as “that damn lesbian!” Clinton also appointed Democratic fundraiser and gay philanthropist Jim Hormel to be a U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, the first openly gay person to serve as a U.S. Ambassador.
Alice supports Mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz in his 1993 run for Assembly:
In September, 1993, many Alice members volunteered in the campaign to elect openly gay mayor John Laird of Santa Cruz to the State Assembly, as was reported by co-chair Mathew Rothschild in the Sept. 1993 edition of Alice Reports. Nearly a decade later, John joined Mark Leno as the first two gay men to be elected to the Assembly in 2002.
Susan Leal Replaces Roberta Achtenberg on the Board of Supervisors.
Susan Leal was appointed June 7th, 1993 by Mayor Frank Jordan to serve on the Board of Supervisors succeeding Roberta Achtenberg. Susan joined Alice in endorsing Willie Brown in 1995 and began a strong relationship with the club, building towards her run for mayor, which Alice endorsed, in 2003. As a Latina lesbian, she continued the tradition of broadening San Francisco’s LGBT leadership diversity. 
The 1994 “Lavender Sweep”
In 1994 San Francisco had a second “Lavender Sweep” with openly gay candidates Susan Leal, Carole Migden and Tom Ammiano being elected to the Board of Supervisors, and Leslie Katz and Lawrence Wong winning election to the Community College Board. Alice was instrumental in the fight, working in coalition with the Milk Club. Susan Leal went on to Chair the powerful Finance Committee on the Board of Supervisors, ensuring that much needed funds would be directed towards HIV and AIDS services. With the 1994 Lavender Sweep, Alice and the LGBT Community demonstrated a firmly established base of power in San Francisco. The community that previously needed district elections to win a single elected office was now a major power broker sweeping several candidates into numerous offices for a second time. San Francisco’s political establishment would from this point forward be walking in close step with the LGBT community and its political goals.
Willie Brown Elected Mayor:
With newly imposed term limits, longtime community ally Assemblyman Willie Brown was forced out of office and ran for Mayor in 1995. A major power broker for the state, it was believed that he could beat conservative Mayor Frank Jordan and bring unity to a deeply divided city. Prior to his campaign, Willie Brown met with Carole Migden, Alice Chair Mathew Rothschild, Milk Club Chair Martha Knutzen, Fran Kipnis and other LGBT community members to plan his run for Mayor. In the past, the lesbian and gay community had been on the ‘outside’ in brokering power for the city, but with the Lavender Sweep, lesbian and gay leaders were now recognized as a strong political force in San Francisco and Speaker Brown formed a direct alliance with the community in his race for Mayor. Brown won the election and went on to appoint more LGBT people to lead city departments and commissions than ever before in the city’s history. He also signed the Equal Benefits Ordinance to require businesses that contract with the city to provide equal benefits to domestic partners that are offered to married couples.
Carole Migden replaces Willie Brown in the Assembly:
Willie Brown, the legendary “Ayatollah of the Assembly” who represented San Francisco and the Democratic Party incredibly well for decades, including early support for LGBT rights through his consensual sex laws, stepped down due to newly imposed term limits and Carole Migden replaced him. Alice’s longstanding relationship with Willie Brown and Carole Migden helped position Migden to become the second LGBT person ever sent to the California State Legislature. Carole won election to the seat later in 1998.
Labor Organizing – Training for Alice Members
Jack Gribbon was a labor organizer who trained Alice members how to organize during the Willie Brown Campaign for Mayor. A waiter who organized thousands of hospitality workers in the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 2 (H.E.R.E), Jack ran Willie Brown’s 1995 field campaign and enlisted Alice members to spend months before the Mayoral election tirelessly calling voter lists, identifying Brown supporters and walking precincts to turn voters out on Election Day. Jack originally got involved with Alice during the Domestic Partnership campaigns of the 1980’s, and his training became a model that worked. Alice member Fran Kipnis, for instance, turned out 99% of her own precinct in 1992, the same year that Barbara Boxer won her U.S. Senate race by 5%. Alice would sign up precinct captains, identify voters and track down if they were voting by mail or voting on Election Day, and would work relentlessly on Election Day until the polls closed, taking nothing for granted until the fight was over. Gribbon’s approach continues to be the model the club uses to this day, and LGBT areas of San Francisco such as the Castro District are known to be some of the highest turnout districts in the city every Election Day.
Leslie Katz Elected to the Board of Supervisors:
In 1996 Leslie Katz was elected to the Board of Supervisors after being appointed by Mayor Brown earlier that year. Alice worked tirelessly on Supervisor Katz’s campaign, as Leslie had been a longstanding member of the club who had already shown her strong leadership capabilities over many years. One of her staff, Geoff Kors, would go on to become the Executive Director for Equality California.
Tom Radulovich elected to BART Board:
Tom Radulovich was elected to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors in November 1996 representing the 9th District in San Francisco. An Alice supported candidate over the years and gay official, Tom later made a run for the Board of Supervisors. He has served on the BART Board for a decade while working tirelessly on housing and transit issues, taking a strong leadership role in groups like the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) and the Housing Action Coalition (HAC).
The Equal Benefits Ordinance: San Francisco Flexes its Muscles.
In 1996, San Francisco enacted an ordinance that had a broad impact on the entire nation, and Alice supported leaders were instrumental to passing this legislation. Supervisor Leslie Katz, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, Supervisor Susan Leal, and Mayor Willie Brown together championed San Francisco’s landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance to require that businesses that contract with the City of San Francisco must provide equal benefits to domestic partners that they give to married partners. This law swept the nation in its impact, paving the way for hundreds of businesses to adopt domestic partnership benefits. Some businesses like United Airlines initially fought the ordinance but San Francisco leaders stood firm in demanding equality and the City prevailed. The ordinance became a model for similar laws passed throughout the nation, and the model for Christine Kehoe’s California Assembly Bill 17, signed by Governor Davis, to require businesses which contract with the state of California to provide equal benefits to domestic partners. This is one clear example where a San Francisco ordinance passed by Alice supported legislators managed to change not only the City of San Francisco, but also California and the nation.
Susan Leal Becomes San Francisco City Treasurer:
In 1998 Susan Leal was appointed to become the City Treasurer, where she managed the City’s $3 billion portfolio. Her investment policies and decisions produced a greater return during her period of service than any major county in the state. In 2001 Susan was elected Treasurer for another term with 87% of the vote, due to her reputation as a strong, effective manager of the city’s finances. Alice endorsed Susan’s candidacy and campaigned hard for her victory.
Domestic Partnership: New laws enacted for California.
Alice strongly supported Carole Migden as she went to the Assembly and introduced AB 26, which created a registry for Domestic Partnership and gave Domestic Partners many of the same rights (such as hospital visitation rights) that married couples enjoy. Later, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg would introduce AB 205, an extensive set of rights and responsibilities for domestic partners that almost mirrored marriage, building on Carole’s earlier work.
Mark Leno Elected to the Board of Supervisors
In 1998 candidate Mark Leno won election to the Board of Supervisors after being appointed earlier that year. Leno had spent years prior to his time on the Board of Supervisors working as a lead organizer and fundraiser for the LGBT Center. He was a key player in getting the Center built. Leno was also a longstanding member of Alice before his rise to office. As a Supervisor, Leno led the effort to create a transitional housing facility designed specifically to address the needs of LGBT homeless youth as well as passing the City’s first Inclusionary Housing Ordinance to mandate that developers construct a percentage of affordable housing as they develop in a city with skyrocketing housing costs.
Proposition 22 – The Knight Initiative:
In 2000, California voters were subjected to a divisive ballot measure that was designed to turn back the clock on LGBT rights – Proposition 22, the Knight Initiative. The measure was written to clarify that out-of-state marriages could not impact California marriage law regarding same sex couples. Voters passed the measure, despite the vigorous efforts of Alice and our LGBT leaders. Mark Leno (who would later introduce AB 849, the Marriage Equality Bill) worked especially hard to stop the initiative, traveling as a statewide campaign spokesman against the measure. Alice worked tirelessly to stop the Knight Initiative, and continues to be part of marriage equality organizing.
Robert Barnes deserves special mention because of his work on behalf of Alice, his commitment to LGBT rights, his work at the California Democratic Party, and his often-controversial approach to politics that dominated Alice for much of the late ‘90’s. He was an Alice Co-Chair who became a close advisor to many of San Francisco’s most successful politicians. Carole Migden, Mark Leno, Willie Brown, Dennis Herrera, Leslie Katz, Susan Leal, Tom Radulovich, Natalie Berg, Mabel Teng, Donna Hitchens, Kevin McCarthy, School Board members Dan Kelly, Juanita Owens, Lawrence Wong, and many other San Francisco officials worked closely with Robert Barnes at various points in their careers. 
He grew up in San Francisco in a working class family closely connected to politics. His father was a machinist and labor activist and in 1977 ran for District Supervisor against Dan White. Robert got into politics himself running for the BART Board and the Board of Education, but after losing these races, (one of them being to Tom Ammiano in his race for the Board of Education) Robert got involved in politics behind the scenes. He was particularly involved in Democratic Party activities and was the Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Gay Caucus for many years.
San Francisco has some of the most colorful, bombastic, and sometimes brilliant people in politics. Robert was one of them. He had an incredible sense of humor and got away with controversial jokes that most professionals would never dream of trying. He could say things that were unthinkable, throwing insiders out of their comfort zone, then warming them back up with charm, and closing the deal with masterful delivery. He was an extremely funny person in a somewhat bland professional scene. Robert Barnes, Chair of the Alice B. Toklas Club and Prominent Democratic Party Activist, died on August 9th, 2002 of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, just months before his candidate, Mark Leno, became the first gay man elected to the California State Assembly.
Robert’s work in the Alice B. Toklas Club:
For several years the Alice B. Toklas Club had been struggling during the AIDS epidemic, as members became focused on saving lives and had little time or energy to spare on Democratic politics. People were exhausted. During this vacuum of leadership at Alice, Robert Barnes almost single-handedly resurrected the club to continue political work.
While Robert took on leadership at Alice, he simultaneously developed a business in political consulting specializing in slate mail. The period where Robert took the lead at Alice was controversial because many of the political goals of the club seemed to be designed by Robert with his business clients in mind. Many people in the community felt that Robert was serving his own goals at the expense of the community. This fueled the Alice/Milk longstanding rivalry – the belief that Alice was becoming a front for Robert’s political work. But Robert worked on a variety of projects that were widely supported as well, such as the School Bond campaign and the 1994 Lavender Sweep. He worked relentlessly on the Octavia Boulevard campaign and worked very closely with Alice to promote the San Francisco Women’s Building, supporting their right to remove a bar from the premise and make it a safe space for all women using the facility. Robert also ran the campaigns of many important LGBT candidates and he worked tirelessly as the State Party Chair of the LGBT Caucus. His positioning Alice early with the Clinton campaign also proved to be invaluable for the community.
Perhaps Robert’s most important contribution was to bring numerous young people into politics, showing them how to be professional advocates for the LGBT community. He invited people who had no experience with politics to get involved, teaching them how to manage campaigns, how to work with elected officials, how to put together slate cards, how to design ballot arguments, how to raise money, how to write press releases, how to work with the state party, how to craft a winning message, and how to become successful in advancing the LGBT cause. He taught many people how to be professional leaders.
Alice / Milk Rivalries
The Alice and Milk Democratic clubs have throughout their existence been somewhat at odds with each other by virtue of the fact that the Milk Club formed out of a difference in political orientation and approach from Alice. Sometimes this rivalry has overshadowed any ability of the clubs to work together, and sometimes the two clubs have worked as if there were no rivalry at all. It’s fair to say that having two Democratic Clubs offers checks and balances on whether either club is acting genuinely in the interest of the community. Open dialogue and critique is definitely positive.
The history of tensions between the clubs could be seen from the beginning but grew to a high point in 1995 during the Willie Brown and Roberta Achtenberg campaign for Mayor. Alice endorsed Willie Brown citing his years of leadership and commitment to the community, as well as the desire to unseat Mayor Jordan with a strong, viable candidate at a time when no one could be certain that Mayor Jordan could be beaten. Roberta Achtenberg entered the race later and many members of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club supported her, wanting to see the first lesbian Mayor of San Francisco. Brown beat Jordan and Alice was absolutely critical to his victory.
The Achtenberg/Brown election was only one episode of a long period of division between the clubs. An event that further crystallized the tension was the Mayoral Election of 1999 when Tom Ammiano put himself forward as a write-in candidate late in the election cycle against Mayor Willie Brown. Ammiano waged a spirited campaign with his write-in candidacy, garnering national attention and enthusiasm, but the race exacerbated long-standing tensions between the Alice and Milk Clubs. Alice members were conflicted about the election because the club promotes LGBT empowerment, but Alice members had a long-standing relationship with Mayor Brown and were proud of his important work for the LGBT community, such as the landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance. Alice had already made its commitment to Brown before Ammiano got into the race with his write-in candidacy, so the club would have had to back out of its endorsement of a longstanding ally. Alice’s decision to stick with endorsing Mayor Brown hastened a growing divide between the two clubs.
The next major event that accelerated the rise in tension between the clubs was the 2000 supervisorial race between Mark Leno and Eileen Hansen. District elections had been reinstated that year and the Milk Club endorsed lesbian candidate Eileen Hansen for District 8, while Alice endorsed gay incumbent supervisor Mark Leno. Leno ultimately won the race because of his strong progressive credentials and history of accomplishment on the Board.
A crescendo in the long rift between the clubs came when Supervisor Leno ran for State Assembly in 2002 with the strong endorsement of Alice, while the Milk Club endorsed Harry Britt (who had been retired from elective office for over a decade). Mark Leno went on to pass progressive legislation to protect transgender people in employment and housing (AB 196) and passed the historic marriage equality bill (AB 849).
Healing the Rift
After the 2000 Leno/Hansen race, and after the 2002 Assembly race, leaders from Alice and Milk made a concerted effort to improve relations between the two clubs. Alice Co-Chair Rich Kowalewski, one of many who has been credited with working tirelessly to improve the Alice/Milk relationship, had this to say about the dynamics between the two clubs:
“Through these years, Alice has developed a good working relationship with the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club. This cooperation has been possible because of ongoing dialogue between the leaders of the two clubs. I know I speak for Paul Hogan, Theresa Sparks, and Laura Spanjian when I say “thank you” Jerry Threat, Debra Walker, Robert Haaland, and Michael Goldstein for your leadership in the bridge building. We have learned to focus on the 90% on which we agree rather than the 10% on which we disagree.”
Rich, Paul, Theresa, Laura, Jerry, Debra, Robert, Michael, and Scott Wiener all did an excellent job of changing course in the direction of relationships between our two clubs. The community continues to benefit from Milk and Alice working together.
Throughout Alice’s history, most of the focus on issues and candidates had been on gay and lesbian rights. As the new millennium was ushered in, Alice supported officeholders took a lead in addressing transgender rights, making it a top priority with huge success. Shortly after his election in 2000, Supervisor Leno created the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, which advanced changes in city policy related to transgender people. Following task force identified goals, Mayor Willie Brown named task force member Theresa Sparks to become the first Transgender Human Rights Commissioner. Leno authored the Employer Notification Law signed by Mayor Brown, requiring employers to post anti-discrimination notifications in places of business that specify that the city bans discrimination against transgender people. The Task Force addressed law enforcement issues and a joint task force between the Police and Human Rights Commission was created to address law enforcement treatment of transgender citizens. The Police Departments Office of Citizens Complaints (OCC) also adopted recommendations from the task force to implement sensitivity training and protocols regarding police interactions with transgender people. Theresa Sparks moved on to become San Francisco’s first transgender Police Commissioner, and Cecilia Chung replaced Theresa on the Human Rights Commission, thus maintaining two important commission seats. Cecilia, Theresa and other transgender leaders went beyond the work of this task force to join with community leaders in creating the transgender pride march on LGBT Pride weekend, and participated in the formation of the Transgender Political Caucus among many other remarkable efforts during this time.
The San Francisco Transgender Health Plan – A First and Model for the Nation.
The most historic advancement that came out of the work of the Task Force was a change to San Francisco’s health plan for city employees. Supervisor Leno authored and Mayor Brown signed an ordinance to change the city’s health plan to include sex reassignment surgeries, hormone therapy and other care for transgender people as part of the city health plan. The impact of this change went far beyond city employees. Insurance providers that contract with the city were now required to include transgender care as part of the benefit options available in their health coverage, paving the way for transgender healthcare benefits to be available to businesses around California and the nation. Previously, insurance providers had not even offered these benefits. Task force members were written up in full-page stories in the New York Times and other national newspapers, while Leno appeared on television and talk radio stations throughout the country to discuss the issue. The media coverage reached South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and all over the United States. This is yet another clear example of Alice supported legislators passing legislation that had an impact far beyond the City of San Francisco.
Changing Alice’s name
In 2001 under the leadership of Chair Paul Hogan, Alice made an important change to rename the club “The Alice B Toklas Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Democratic Club.” Alice took the lead in outreaching to the transgender community and was the first of the two major LGBT Democratic Clubs in San Francisco to include “Transgender” in its official name. The vote to change the club’s name was unanimous.
Alice Candidate Dennis Herrera becomes City Attorney
Alice member and Alice’s endorsed candidate for City Attorney Dennis Herrera made a successful run for the job first in 2000, then again in 2005. A close friend of former Alice Co-Chair Robert Barnes, Herrera has been a steadfast ally of the club, continuing his longstanding commitment to LGBT rights. Herrera took the lead in defending the City’s action to marry same-sex couples and never wavered in his commitment to LGBT people.
Mark Leno Elected to State Assembly
Longtime Alice hero Mark Leno became the first gay man elected to the State Assembly, along with John Laird of Santa Cruz. Leno continued his groundbreaking work for the LGBT community with legislation such as Assembly Bill 196, signed by Governor Davis, which banned discrimination against transgender people in housing and employment. The bill protects transgender people in all areas of California from discrimination, and even strengthened protection in localities that previously banned transgender discrimination before the law. San Francisco’s local ordinance banning discrimination against transgender people had few actual remedies for violation of the law. With changes to state law, employers and landlords now face serious charges if they discriminate against transgender people in employment or housing.
California Legislature creates the LGBT Caucus
LGBT statewide activism showed enormous progress in the year 2002 as Assemblymembers Mark Leno, John Laird, Jackie Goldberg, Christine Kehoe and Senator Sheila Kuehl formed the California Legislature’s first LGBT Caucus. The five members saw the passage of crucial legislation signed into law including Leno’s AB 196 to ban discrimination against transgender people in employment and housing; Kehoe’s AB 17 to require companies that do business with the state of California to provide equal benefits offered to domestic partners and married couples; Goldberg’s AB 205 which upgraded domestic partnership legal rights and responsibilities in California to almost equal status to marriage; and Laird’s AB 1400 amending the Unruh Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity to the categories protected from discrimination in public accommodations.
Bevan Dufty Elected to the Board of Supervisors
In 2002, Longtime Alice member and gay candidate Bevan Dufty was elected as the Supervisor for the Castro in District 8. Dufty created an Improvement District for the Castro and worked closely with local neighborhood groups on a series of local changes that were designed to keep the Castro safe, clean and a place we can all take pride in. Bevan has worked with the State Library Commission to pursue funding for the LGBT Historical Society to expand its operations into a Castro facility, and he has been a tireless fighter for LGBT issues at City Hall.
Alice Friend Nancy Pelosi Becomes Democratic House Minority Leader
In 2003 Nancy Pelosi made a successful run for leader of the Democratic Party in Congress, which preceded her becoming Speaker of the House in 2006. The highest-ranking woman in office in American history,Nancy got there largely because of her impressive legislative record, fundraising, tactical skill for the party and with critical help from Alice. In 1987 Pelosi initially ran for Congress as a candidate against Harry Britt, and Alice was vital to her victory, narrowly winning the special election to replace former Congressman Philip Burton. In 1987 Pelosi initially ran for Congress as a candidate against Harry Britt. From Day One, Alice was there to help Pelosi become one of the most powerful leaders in America, and one of the LGBT community’s strongest allies. As a liberal from San Francisco, she would never have won the confidence of the national party if she could not back up her progressive values with financial leadership. Alice’s longtime support was an asset to her rise in power. Nancy has proven to be a true friend of the community for her years of leadership in supporting Ryan White Care Act funding for people with AIDS, her support of domestic partnership rights and other LGBT causes. Nancy is an historic American leader and Alice can be proud of playing a role in her success.
Susan Leal runs for Mayor
Longtime Alice friend Susan Leal made history as the first Latina lesbian to run for Mayor in San Francisco in 2003. Alice endorsed her candidacy and worked hard on her behalf. Leal said about the race in Curve Magazine: “what my candidacy does is it sends a message to women, whether they’re queer or women of color, that the last barriers could be broken.
Alice Candidate Kamala Harris becomes District Attorney
In December of 2003, Kamala Harris was elected San Francisco District Attorney with the overwhelming support of Alice early in her campaign. A longtime advocate for LGBT rights, Kamala has proven to be an effective champion for our issues as the City’s DA. One of her most important fights on behalf of the community has been to combat the gay/transgender panic defense used in California to defend acts of violence against our community. Law enforcement issues such as these have been critical to Alice since it’s beginning. The ‘Twinkie Defense’  used to give Dan White a lenient defense in his trial for the murder of Harvey Milk, and the ‘Transgender Panic’ argument used to defend the murderers of transgender high school student Gwen Araujo  are just two examples where legal arguments have been designed to play upon homo/transphobia in the judicial response to violence against the LGBT community. Our community must demand equal treatment by the judicial system and equal protection from law enforcement, and Kamala has been a very effective leader in fighting for these principles with the support of Alice. 
Former Alice Board Member Jose Cisneros becomes City Treasurer
In September 2004 Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed former Alice Board Member Jose Cisneros to become the city Treasurer. Once again, the work of Alice paid off with an effective city treasurer who is one of our closest allies. Cisneros went on to win a full term as treasurer later that year and continues to be a strong voice working with Alice in local government.
Theresa Sparks becomes first Transgender Police Commissioner in San Francisco
In 2004 former Alice Chair Theresa Sparks was sworn in as San Francisco’s first transgender Police Commissioner and would later become elected President of that Commission. After years of advocacy around police issues, Alice saw one of its chairs take a leadership role directly on the police commission and transgender advocates saw transgender leaders serve as officials in the City.
Alice Candidate Phil Ting Becomes San Francisco’s Assessor / Recorder
In 2005 another close friend of Alice made a successful run for office as Phil Ting won election to City Assessor/Recorder. Mayor Newsom appointed Phil because of his strong progressive credentials, long history of professional work at the Assessor/Recorder’s office, and his reputation as a non-political choice for the job. Phil Ting was the most qualified candidate for Assessor / Recorder and the electorate voted him in with Alice’s strong support.
Alice Joins Coalition Effort – “And Castro For All”
In 2005 Alice participated in a broad campaign to address charges of racism at a Castro business as the community had an important dialogue about racial justice. Many African Americans have felt that the Castro is not an inclusive space for communities of color. In this context, the Human Rights Commission issued a report about a Castro establishment finding the business had engaged in racially biased business practices. During this time, Alice Board Member John Newsome had this to say about the issue:
“Sometimes, the Truth matters most when it’s the most unpopular… Truth and, ultimately, Justice are well worth the effort.”
Marriage, The New Beginning
By 2004, Alice and a broad coalition of allies had spent decades creating a very different world for the LGBT community than when Jim Foster started Alice. On Valentine’s Day, 2004, a time known in San Francisco as “The Winter of Love”, the community of San Francisco was ready to turn the page to a new day in our movement.
Marriage – The New Beginning
Of course Valentines Day 2004, the “Winter of Love,” was not the beginning of the fight for marriage equality. But the rush of people to City Hall where Mayor Newsom started marrying gay men and lesbians certainly did feel like a new beginning. For once, the Milk Club, Alice, the Bay Guardian, the Chronicle, Willie Brown, Tom Ammiano and all of San Francisco could stand together and be proud of our city. Not since the days of Milk and Moscone had there been such hope in San Francisco.
On February 14, 2004, Mayor Newsom directed the County Clerk to recognize same sex marriages, citing the US Constitution, and challenging state law as being unconstitutional. People rushed down to City Hall with their friends and families grabbing flowers and their best outfits to experience the words “I do”, with the blessing of the City. The religious right tried to halt the marriages, but the ceremonies continued for several weeks. There were thousands and thousands of same-sex couples who came from all over California, the nation and the world to be a part of it; and they happily waited in lines wrapped around City Hall with City workers volunteering twelve-hour days to marry as many people as possible while the courts allowed the marriages to continue. It felt like a moment when everything changed for our community and we could never go backwards again.
It would be unimaginable that Mayor Newsom would feel empowered to take that stand for marriage equality without the support of groups like Alice. All the years of work building political support behind the idea that gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are just as deserving of basic dignity as everyone else paid off big when Mayor Newsom made the ‘radical’ act of recognizing our love. Gavin Newsom did not start the fight for marriage, but he boldly ushered in a new day that everyone in San Francisco could be proud of.
Mark Leno carried the torch of marriage equality through the summer in the legislature with Assembly Bill 849, making California the first legislature in the nation to pass a marriage equality bill without the prompting of a court order. Standing up to many who were fearful in his own party that the timing was inappropriate, Leno pressed ahead and through relentless tenacity passed the Marriage Equality bill out of the California Legislature. Leno and Newsom’s efforts helped educate the public and move the issue forward. Polling in California showed that as AB 849 passed the legislature, the California public moved from being decisively opposed to same sex marriage, to being evenly divided over the issue. Despite Governor Schwarzenneger’s veto of AB 849, and despite the rumblings of discontent over Newsom’s act of courage, Leno and Newsom’s efforts, with the work of Alice, Equality California, and countless activists around the state had moved California opinion significantly in our favor. As history continues to move forward, we can be more and more proud of standing up for what is right at a time when others were afraid.
Much can be learned from the work done at Alice. Decades ago after Stonewall signaled a new era for LGBT people, the community was stuck in a conspiracy of silence and a world that despised and misunderstood it. At that time, Alice sought an alliance with the Democratic Party. Over decades of work with allies around the nation, LGBT people were finally able to break the conspiracy of silence. Through years of work, Alice and other political organizations helped coordinate the energy of the LGBT movement into a local, state and national political platform that won systemic changes for the entire nation. Through the support of many leaders such as Mark Leno, Carole Migden, John Laird, Tom Ammiano, Susan Leal, Bevan Dufty, Leslie Katz, Theresa Sparks, Dennis Herrera, Jackie Speier, Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, Bill Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and countless others; Alice helped transform law and sentiment towards LGBT people. San Francisco was at the forefront of change for Consensual Sex Legislation, Domestic Partnership, Equal Benefits, Transgender Health, and Marriage Equality to name just a few of the causes locally championed that went on to have national impact. And thirty years after Harvey Milk told the world “You’ve Gotta Give ‘em Hope,” California declared May 22nd “Harvey Milk Day” in a bill signed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009.
The LGBT community has seized and shaped its destiny over the last few decades. As we in the community look to our future, it’s important to remember how our efforts right now, even the small tasks we do along the way, really do change the world.
Lamberg, Lynne. Soulforce, August 12, 1998. Gay Is Okay With APA (American Psychiatric Association) Story on the history of the American Psychiatric Association 1973 removal of homosexuality from being categorized as a mental disorder.
Wikipedia. Society for Individual Rights (SIR) (the Society for Individual Rights was an organization formed during a period of the gay rights movement called the “Homophile” movement, and SIR would later be renamed and chartered within the Democratic Party as the Alice B Toklas Memorial Democratic Club.
Democratic National Party Platform, 1972 The “Gay Plank” which Jim Foster proposed was removed. The only language the Democratic Party left that remotely relates to homosexuality was under “The Right to be Different” section, and says “Americans should be free to make their own choice of life-styles and private habits without being subject to discrimination or prosecution.”
“Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, Vol. 1. Issue 1. Pg. 3.” Letter from candidate McGovern reprinted from the August 24, 1972 Village Voice.
Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, January, 1978 First issue of Gay Vote, the newsletter of the Gay Democratic Club (later named the Harvey Milk Democratic Club) Cover of newsletter. [See Documents page]
Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, January, 1978 First issue of Gay Vote, the newsletter of the Gay Democratic Club, pg 2 (discusses why the club formed) [See Documents page]
Stonewall Democratic Club, Los Angeles. Newsletter, November 1977, pg. 1 The Stonewall Democratic Club was chartered in Los Angeles by Morris Kight in 1975. This edition of the Stonewall newsletter recounts the formation of the club. Stonewall later became a national alliance of LGBT Democratic Clubs and San Francisco had a Stonewall chapter through much of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but the chapter disbanded. [See Documents page]
Stonewall Democratic Club, Los Angeles. Newsletter, November 1977, pg. 2 Stonewall Democratic Club History continued. [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, August, 1982 “National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs” Founded [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1977 San Francisco Mayor George Moscone makes several public commitments to the gay community [See Documents page]
Moral Majority Coalition, The. “Moral Majority Timeline”
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, May, 1977 Alice helps organize the fight in Dade County Florida [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pgs 1-2 Backlash against consensual sex law. This backlash would build into an organized effort in following years led by State Senator Briggs to place Measure 6 on the 1978 state ballot to ban gay people from being teachers. [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pg 4 More on origins of Briggs Initiative [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, July, 1975, Pg 7 More on origins of Briggs Initiative [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, June, 1979 Recounting the Dan White trial and local upheaval + police incident at “Pegs Place”, a lesbian bar. [See Documents page]
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club. Alice Reports, December, 1978 Death of Harvey Milk, recounting his life and impact on politics [See Documents page]
Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, August, 1979 Story of Police incident at Peg’s Place. (pg 1) [See Documents page]
Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Gay Vote, August, 1979 Story of Police incident at Peg’s Place. (pg 2) [See Documents page]
The Bible has been translated into far more languages than any other book. Yet, as Harry Freedman reveals, the history of Bible translations is not only contentious but bloody, with many who dared translate it being burned at the stake…
In 1427, Pope Martin ordered that John Wycliffe’s bones be exhumed from their grave, burned and cast into the river Swift. Wycliffe had been dead for 40 years, but his offence still rankled.
John Wycliffe (c1330–1384) was 14th-century England’s outstanding thinker. A theologian by profession, he was called in to advise parliament in its negotiations with Rome. This was a world in which the church was all-powerful, and the more contact Wycliffe had with Rome, the more indignant he became. The papacy, he believed, reeked of corruption and self-interest. He was determined to do something about it.
Wycliffe began publishing pamphlets arguing that, rather than pursuing wealth and power, the church should have the poor at heart. In one tract he described the Pope as “the anti-Christ, the proud, worldly priest of Rome, and the most cursed of clippers and cut-purses”.
In 1377 the Bishop of London demanded that Wycliffe appear before his court to explain the “wonderful things which had streamed forth from his mouth”. The hearing was a farce. It began with a violent row over whether or not Wycliffe should sit down. John of Gaunt, the king’s son and an ally of Wycliffe, insisted that the accused remain seated; the bishop demanded that he stand.
When the Pope heard of the fiasco he issued a papal bull [an official papal letter or document] in which he accused Wycliffe of “vomiting out of the filthy dungeon of his heart most wicked and damnable heresies”. Wycliffe was accused of heresy and put under house arrest and was later forced to retire from his position as Master of Balliol College, Oxford.
Wycliffe firmly believed that the Bible should be available to everybody. He saw literacy as the key to the emancipation of the poor. Although parts of the Bible had previously been rendered into English there was still no complete translation. Ordinary people, who neither spoke Latin nor were able to read, could only learn from the clergy. Much of what they thought they knew – ideas like the fires of hell and purgatory – were not even part of Scripture.
With the aid of his assistants, therefore, Wycliffe produced an English Bible [over a period of 13 years from 1382]. A backlash was inevitable: in 1391, before the Bible was completed, a bill was placed before parliament to outlaw the English Bible and to imprison anyone possessing a copy. The bill failed to pass – John of Gaunt saw to that [in parliament] – and the church resumed its persecution of the now-dead Wycliffe [he died in 1384].
Shorn of alternatives, the best they could do was to burn his bones [in 1427], just to make sure his resting place was not venerated. The Archbishop of Canterbury explained that Wycliffe had been “that pestilent wretch, of damnable memory, yea, the forerunner and disciple of antichrist who, as the complement of his wickedness, invented a new translation of the scriptures into his mother-tongue”.
In 1402, the newly ordained Czech priest Jan Hus was appointed to a pulpit in Prague to minister in the church. Inspired by Wycliffe’s writings, which were now circulating in Europe, Hus used his pulpit to campaign for clerical reform and against church corruption.
Like Wycliffe, Hus believed that social reform could only be achieved through literacy. Giving the people a Bible written in the Czech language, instead of Latin, was an imperative. Hus assembled a team of scholars; in 1416 the first Czech Bible appeared. It was a direct challenge to those he called “the disciples of antichrist” and the consequence was predictable: Hus was arrested for heresy.
Jan Hus’s trial, which took place in the city of Constance, has gone down as one of the most spectacular in history. It was more like a carnival – nearly every bigwig in Europe was there. One archbishop arrived with 600 horses; 700 prostitutes offered their services; 500 people drowned in the lake; and the Pope fell off his carriage into a snowdrift. The atmosphere was so exhilarating that Hus’s eventual conviction and barbaric execution must have seemed an anti-climax. But slaughtered he was, burnt at the stake. His death galvanised his supporters into revolt. Priests and churches were attacked, the authorities retaliated. Within a few short years Bohemia had erupted into civil war. All because Jan Hus had the gall to translate the Bible.
As far as the English Bible is concerned, the most high profile translator to be murdered was William Tyndale. It was now the 16th century and Henry VIII was on the throne. Wycliffe’s translation was still banned, and although manuscript copies were available on the black market, they were hard to find and expensive to procure. Most people still had no inkling of what the Bible really said.
But printing was becoming commonplace, and Tyndale believed the time was right for an accessible, up-to-date translation. He knew he could create one; all he needed was the funding, and the blessing of the church. It didn’t take him long to realise that nobody in London was prepared to help him. Not even his friend, the bishop of London, Cuthbert Tunstall. Church politics made sure of that.
The religious climate appeared less oppressive in Germany. Luther had already translated the Bible into German; the Protestant Reformation was gathering pace and Tyndale believed he would have a better chance of realising his project there. So he travelled to Cologne and began printing.
This, it transpired, was a mistake. Cologne was still under the control of an archbishop loyal to Rome. He was halfway through printing the book of Matthew when he heard that the print shop was about to raided. He bundled up his papers and fled. It was a story that would be repeated several times over the next few years. Tyndale spent the next few years dodging English spies and Roman agents. But he managed to complete his Bible and copies were soon flooding into England – illegally, of course. The project was complete but Tyndale was a marked man.
He wasn’t the only one. In England, Cardinal Wolsey was conducting a campaign against Tyndale’s Bible. No one with a connection to Tyndale or his translation was safe. Thomas Hitton, a priest who had met Tyndale in Europe, confessed to smuggling two copies of the Bible into the country. He was charged with heresy and burnt alive.
Thomas Bilney, a lawyer whose connection to Tyndale was tangential at the most, was also thrown into the flames. First prosecuted by the bishop of London, Bilney recanted and was eventually released in 1529. But when he withdrew his recantation in 1531 he was re-arrested and prosecuted by Thomas Pelles, chancellor of Norwich diocese, and burnt by the secular authorities just outside the city of Norwich.
Meanwhile Richard Bayfield, a monk who had been one of Tyndale’s early supporters, was tortured incessantly before being tied to the stake. And a group of students in Oxford were left to rot in a dungeon that was used for storing salt fish.
Tyndale’s end was no less tragic. He was betrayed in 1535 by Henry Phillips, a dissolute young aristocrat who had stolen his [Phillips’] father’s money and gambled it away. Tyndale was hiding out in Antwerp, under the quasi–diplomatic protection of the English merchant community. Phillips, who was as charming as he was disreputable, befriended Tyndale and invited him out for dinner. As they left the English merchant house together, Phillips beckoned to a couple of thugs loitering in a doorway. They seized Tyndale. It was the last free moment of his life. Tyndale was charged with heresy in August 1536 and burnt at the stake a few weeks later.
England was not the only country to murder Bible translators. In Antwerp, the city where Tyndale thought he was safe, Jacob van Liesveldt produced a Dutch Bible. Like so many 16th-century translations, his act was political as well as religious. His Bible was illustrated with woodcuts – in the fifth edition he depicted Satan in the guise of a Catholic monk, with goat’s feet and a rosary. It was a step too far. Van Liesveldt was arrested, charged with heresy and put to death.
A murderous age
The 16th century was by far the most murderous age for Bible translators. But Bible translations have always generated strong emotions, and continue to do so even today. In 1960 the United States Air Force Reserve warned recruits against using the recently published Revised Standard Version because, they claimed, 30 people on its translation committee had been “affiliated with communist fronts”. TS Eliot, meanwhile, railed against the 1961 New English Bible, writing that it “astonishes in its combination of the vulgar, the trivial, and the pedantic”.
And Bible translators are still being murdered. Not necessarily for the act of translating the Bible, but because rendering the Bible into local dialects is one of the things Christian missionaries do. In 1993 Edmund Fabian was murdered in Papua New Guinea, killed by a local man who had been helping him translate the Bible. In March 2016, four Bible translators working for an American evangelical organisation were killed by militants in an undisclosed location in the Middle East.
Bible translations, then, may appear to be a harmless activity. History shows it is anything but.
As the event that dominates the third episode of Season 3 of The Crown, the Aberfan Disaster remains one of the most devastating losses of human life in Welsh history. On the morning of October 21, 1966, the collapse of a soil tip triggered a slurry slide that ended 116 children and 28 adults in the village of Aberfan, Wales.
Located in Southern Wales, Aberfan was devastated by the disaster. Life revolved around nearby mining operations. As Aberfan residents carried out recovery and relief efforts, Queen Elizabeth II issued a statement – resisting the advice of Prime Minister Harold Wilson to visit the site of the tragedy.
The events leading up to and in the aftermath of the Aberfan Disaster ultimately changed the role of royalty, the lives of countless Welshmen and women, and mining safety in Britain.
The Mine Near Aberfan Was Under The Authority Of The National Coal Board Of Britain
The Merthyr Vale Colliery included seven tips, the first of which dated back to 1869. In 1966, the colliery encircled Arberfan, a village that served as home to miners and their families. The Merthyr Vale Colliery was regulated by the National Coal Board (NCB), the overseeing body that was formed in 1947. The NCB nationalized mining in the United Kingdom, promoting the industry and setting production and distribution guidelines.
When Tip 7 of the Merthyr Valley Colliery was begun in 1958, it was built over an underground spring, creating an intrinsic instability. There were several tips at the mine built over these springs, resulting in several slips during the 1960s. In 1963, for example, an engineer at the mine noted, “danger from coal slurry being tipped at the rear of Pantglas School,” but the NCB failed to act on the warning.
Aberfan Experienced Heavy Rains That Caused A Great Amount Of Ground Instability
October 1966 was a particularly rainy month for Aberfan and the surrounding region, with roughly 60 inches falling in the weeks preceding the disaster. As water filled streams and underground springs, the slag heap – where the mine discarded its waste – were susceptible to heavy rain, as well.
Tip 7 began to show signs of weakness during the early hours on October 21, 1966. At around 7:30 am, mine workers observed settlement at the tip, something that increased over the subsequent hours. First 10 feet, then 10 feet more – the top of the tip was slowly giving way. Reportedly, the crew took a break, intent on working to remedy the problem as soon as they were done.
A Collapse At Tip 7 Of The Mine Triggered A Slurry Surge That Struck A Nearby School
The students at Pantglas Junior School arrived for classes on Friday, October 21, 1966, expecting to enjoy the last day of school before their midterm break. The night before, 9-year-old Eryl Jones dreamed that school had been canceled for that day, describing “something black came down all over it” to her mother before she left home that morning.
When the school opened at 9 am, 240 students entered. However, within minutes, they heard what survivor Gaynor Madgewick described as:
A terrible, terrible sound, a rumbling sound. It was so loud. I just didn’t know what it was. It seemed like the school went numb, you could hear a pin drop. I was suddenly petrified and glued to the chair. It sounded like the end of the world had come.
What Madgewick heard was a flood of slurry – a mixture of water, mud, and coal debris – descending the mountain as it approached the school. Other survivors described the sound as akin to, “a jet plane screaming low over the school in the fog.”
As the slide began, one of the workers at Tip 7 observed, “It started to rise slowly at first, sir… I thought I was seeing things. Then it rose up pretty fast, sir, at a tremendous speed. Then it sort of came up out of the depression and turned itself into a wave… down towards the mountain… towards Aberfan village… into the mist.”
Children Later Recalled Struggling To Breathe While Buried Under Waste
When the slurry hit Pantglas Junior School, children and teachers alike were immediately buried under “a [slurry] wave over 12 meters high and 7 meters wide traveling at speed down the valley.”
There had been no warning since the telephone cables leading to the tip had been taken. As it approached the school, it wiped out the entire landscape, eventually leaving 6 to 9 meters of debris. Brian Williams, 7 years old at the time, “watched the classroom wall split from the bottom to the top. The wall came through and stopped. And the next thing I remember was it went very quiet, and then a lot of screaming and crying.” Williams had escaped being under the crumbling wall, having been shifted to another desk across the room moments before.
Survivor Jeff Edwards remembered “waking up [and] my right foot was stuck in the radiator and there was water pouring out of it. My desk was pinned against my stomach and a girl’s head was on my left shoulder. She was dead. Because all the debris was around me I couldn’t get away from her. The image of her face comes back to me continuously.”
Edwards spent the next 90 minutes listening to the “crying and screaming” of his classmates, but “as time went on they got quieter and quieter as children died, they were buried and running out of air.” He, too, struggled to breathe as he lay under the mixture of coal, water, and mud.
Residents And Professional Miners Alike Tried To Dig To Find Survivors
Miners, bystanders, and municipal authorities frantically rushed toward the school. When police officer Yvonne Price, 21 years old at the time, arrived, she “was rigid with shock… you could see doors, tables, kitchen utensils floating in” black water. She witnessed “people from the village passing saucepans and buckets full of debris.”
The New York Times later reported, “Civil defense teams, miners, policemen, firemen and other volunteers toiled desperately, sometimes tearing at the coal rubble with their bare hands, to extricate the children. Bulldozers shoved debris aside to get to the children. A hush fell on the rescuers once when faint cries were heard in the rubble.”
Due to her small size, Officer Price was sent through a hole in the ground to see if she could find any survivors. She found none.
Recovery efforts continued long after cries from under the debris could be heard. Alix Palmer, a journalist at Aberfan, saw, “the fathers straight from the pit… digging… no-one had yet really given up hope, although logic told them it was useless.” Every time a body was found, people would pause as a doctor made his way to check for signs of life. The last surviving child, Jeff Edwards, was pulled to safety at around 11 am.
Men and women continued to dig, pulling 67 bodies out of the rubble on the first day. One of the teachers, David Beynon, was discovered with five children in his arms. He had tried to protect them in their final moments. Nansi Williams, the school’s dinner lady, was collecting money when the slurry hit the school and she, too, lost her life protecting several students. All of the five children she covered with her body survived.
The Bodies Of Children Were Identified By Items They Had In Their Pockets
When Reverend Irving Penberthy arrived on the scene of the Aberfan Disaster, he “stayed with the people who were watching and waiting” before taking his post at the Bethania Chapel. Soon, the chapel became a mortuary, one that received the bodies of children as they were extracted from under the slurry. Penberthy recalled watching as “fathers – it was mainly fathers, of course, not the women – just going around and lifting the blanket, and then going on further, and the shock when they finally found their own child. That was dreadful. And all we did was just cry together.”
As more and more bodies arrived, Charles Nunn, assigned as the senior identification officer at Aberfan, wrote, “a description of each child or adult and detail any possessions in their pockets – a handkerchief, sweets, anything that might help with identification. The little ones were laid on the pews, the adults on stretchers across the tops of the pews – males to the left and females to the right. By about the fourth or fifth day we had to start taking bodies up a difficult winding staircase to the upstairs gallery.”
While many of the children perished as a result of asphyxiation; there were some bodies that were deemed unsuitable for viewing due to extensive injuries. In a letter to her mother, journalist Alix Palmer wrote, “the slag had had time to corrode the skin of the children still buried and many brought out burned could only been identified by the clothing or things in their pockets. One little boy… was identified by a slip of paper with his name on deep inside his wallet.”
The Queen Resisted Efforts To Get Her To Visit The Site
As details of the disaster emerged and bodies continued to be pulled from the debris (dozens on the first day alone), Queen Elizabeth II resisted pleas to visit Aberfan. Just as it was depicted in the third season of The Crown, the monarch opted to send a proxy – her husband, Prince Philip.
In her initial statement, she expressed sadness and sorrow. While the show indicated a lack of emotion on the part of the queen, it’s been asserted that she didn’t want to pull attention and resources away from rescue efforts. She was said to have insisted, “People will be looking after me… perhaps they’ll miss some poor child that might have been found in the wreckage.”
The British government was represented by Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister, and Lord Snowdon Antony Armstrong-Jones, Princess Margaret’s husband. The latter, according to Prime Minister Wilson, “made it his job to visit bereaved relatives… sitting holding the hands of a distraught father, sitting with the head of a mother on his shoulder for a half an hour in silence.”
Prince Philip spent two hours with relatives of victims, surveying the site, and visiting the cemetery where more than 81 children had already been laid to rest.
The Queen Did Make Her Way To Aberfan, Visiting The Day After The Last Body Was Recovered
Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Aberfan more than a week after the disaster struck and only one day after the last body was retrieved from the debris. When she and Prince Philip toured Aberfan on October 29, 1966, they were both visibly moved by the experience. As a young child handed Elizabeth a flower -“From the remaining children of Aberfan” – the stoic queen was said to have been on the brink of tears. According to Jeff Edwards, the last child to be found alive, “We know she did cry, because she went to Jim Williams’ house – and when she came down from the cemetery she was visibly crying.”
When the queen spoke to her subjects at Aberfan, she told them, “As a mother, I’m trying to understand what your feelings must be… I’m sorry I can give you nothing at present except sympathy.” The queen’s former private secretary, Lord Charteris, told author Gyles Brandreth that not going to Aberfan earlier was one of her biggest regrets.
Survivors see her visit differently, however. Edwards, again, noted, “When she did arrive she was visibly upset and the people of Aberfan appreciated her being here. She came when she could and nobody would condemn her for not coming earlier, especially as everything was such a mess.” Marjorie Collins, the mother of one of the victims, similarly saw the visit as a supportive endeavor, observing, “They [Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth] were above the politics and the din and they proved to us that the world was with us, and that the world cared.”
The Disaster Could Have Been Prevented Had Earlier Concerns Been Addressed
In his comments about the disaster at Aberfan, the chairman of the National Coal Board (NCB), Lord Robens, noted the impossibility of knowing “that there was a spring in the heart of this tip [meaning Tip 7].”
The inquest and tribunal into the cause of the slide that took 144 lives thought otherwise, calling the event “a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings, and of a total lack of direction from above.”
The tribunal took place over 76 days, interviewing 136 witnesses and examining 300 exhibits. Earlier concerns about the tips were made very clear, as was the lack of NCB policy when it came to safely installing tips. In his testimony, Lord Robens ultimately admitted fault by the NCB, something with which the tribunal agreed, concluding in 1967:
Blame for the disaster rests upon the National Coal Board. This is shared, though in varying degrees, among the NCB headquarters, the South Western Divisional Board, and certain individuals… The legal liability of the NCB to pay compensation of the personal injuries, fatal or otherwise, and damage to property, is incontestable and uncontested.
No malice or criminality was found, but it was determined that the entire disaster could have been avoided but for “ignorance, ineptitude and a failure in communications.”
New Legislation Was Introduced In 1969 To Tighten The Oversight Of Mines
Mining regulations became increasingly stringent in the years after Aberfan. New legislation was, according to Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1967, “desirable” in light of the recommendations made by the tribunal. When Wilson saw the findings of the Aberfan tribunal, he was shocked and deeply concerned by its “devastating nature.”
In 1969, two years after the tribunal’s findings, Lord Robens headed efforts that resulted in the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, legislation that continues to regulate mining in the United Kingdom. Although Robens had offered his resignation to the NCB, it was dismissed by members of Parliament and Prime Minister Harold Wilson – something that only contributed to Robens’s villainy in the eyes of the victims of the disaster.
In addition to the 1974 act, the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act of 1969 and subsequent Mine and Quarries (Tips) Regulations of 1971 also brought standardization of mine building, construction, and management. According to the latter, any tipping activities required plans “showing all mine workings (whether abandoned or not), previous landslips, springs, artesian wells, watercourses and other natural and other topographical features which might affect the security of the intended tip or might be relevant for determining whether the land on which the tipping operations are to be carried out is satisfactory for the purpose.”
In 1999, additional quarry regulations were put into effect, tightening oversight of waste materials including, “but… not limited to, overburden dumps, backfill, spoil heaps, stock piles and lagoons.”
Families Impacted By The Disaster Were Paid £500 By The National Coal Board
A fund to support Aberfan and its community was established almost immediately after the disaster. A total of £1,750,000 – a sum worth more than £20 million today – was raised to rebuild the village and pay for medical care. Because the National Coal Board (NCB) refused to pay for the removal of the tips that still sat high above Aberfan, the money was used to bring those down, as well. In 1997, the British government repaid Aberfan the £150,000 from the fund that went toward the tip removal.
The NCB offered each of the families impacted by the disaster £50 as an opening payment, a sum that later rose to £500. The Charity Commission of the NCB once considered asking parents, “Exactly how close were you to your child?” before paying out – presumably, parents who were not close to their children would not receive compensation – but decided against that option. The “generous offer” of £500 was paid to the families in 1970.
Money would not cure the psychological scars in Aberfan, however. Survivor Jeff Edwards continues to struggle with survivor’s guilt, while families in Aberfan experienced a “strange bitterness between [those] who lost children and those who hadn’t; people just could not help it.” Post-traumatic stress disorder plagues the entire community and, while psychiatrists were initially brought in, “They didn’t really know how to deal with it and it wasn’t much help. There were sessions and we were offered different drugs.”
Thirty-three years after the disaster, researcher Louise Morgan found that survivors “talked about the fear evoked at the sound of a lorry passing their house, or of an aircraft flying overhead. Intense memories are aroused by the slightest noise or smell. A number now have children the age they were. This seems to arouse new feelings.”
The Queen Made Repeated Visits To Aberfan In Support Of The Community
Queen Elizabeth II may have received criticism for delaying a trip to Aberfan in 1966, but she has made numerous trips to the Welsh town in support of its recovery. In 1973, she visited to attend the opening of a new community center and placed a wreath at a local memorial. While there, she called the community center “a symbol of the determination that out of the disaster should come a richer and fuller life.”
When she returned in 1997, she planted a tree in the Garden of Remembrance, again speaking to survivors and relatives of those who perished.
Another visit in 2012 saw the queen opening a new school, something that, according to Elaine Richards, was part of a promise Elizabeth had made decades earlier. Richards, who lost her daughter Sylvie in 1966, noted, “She kept her promise, she is a very gracious lady… Now we have children playing in the village again.”
There is some research suggesting a link between being closeted and being anti-gay. But while the notion feeds many jokes, it also obscures very real homophobia.
2017 has been a banner year for the armchair psychological theory that anti-gay public figures are secretly gay themselves.
Never mind the long-running jokes and memes about Mike Pence covering up some secret homosexual identity. There have been actual examples this year of outspoken anti-LGBT figures exhibiting behavior that seems to contradict their political ideology.
The same idea emerges every time: The hypothesis is that their bigotry doesn’t just make their sexual behavior hypocritical, it actually functions as a cover for it, consciously or otherwise.
Recently, there has been former Ohio state Rep. Wesley Goodman, who resigned late last week after it came out that he had had sex with a man in his office.
In March, former Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey resigned after being hit with child prostitution charges for allegedly soliciting sex from a 17-year-old boy. Shortey has reportedly decided this week to plead guilty to a child sex trafficking charge.
Both Goodman and Shortey are married men who were clear political opponents of the LGBT community while in office.
After Shortey was arrested, the Associated Press noted that he “routinely” voted for anti-LGBT bills, quoting the director of the LGBT advocacy organization Freedom Oklahoma who said, “He was never vitriolic about it, but he would make the bad votes.”
More strident was Goodman who, as the Columbus Dispatch reported, “consistently touted his faith and conservative values,” with a Twitter bio that read: “Christian. American. Conservative. Republican.”
As more information about their alleged misdeeds emerges—Goodman now stands accused of fondling an 18-year-old man at a conservative event, and of pursuing several young gay men—there is a certain grim catharsis in seeing such hypocrisy exposed.
The LGBT community will never tire of bringing up the long history of Republican gay sex scandals every time new—and increasingly unsurprising—allegations emerge, precisely because they seem to be so predictable in hindsight.
(As GQ sarcastically put it in response to the Goodman news: “Anti-Gay Ohio Republican Resigns After, Surprise, Having Sex with a Man in the State Capitol.”)
A 2012 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology generated a fair number of headlines that year—including The New York Times’ “Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay”—for suggesting that some self-avowed straight people who showed signs of same-sex desire were more likely to hold discriminatory attitudes.
Two authors on the study—psychologists Richard M. Ryan and William S. Ryan—wrote in their accompanying New York Times opinion piece that they had asked 784 college students to rate their sexual orientation on a 10-point scale and then told them to sort “images and words indicative of hetero- and homosexuality” into categories.
The “twist,” as they put it, were subliminal flashes of the words “me” or “other” before each image that can theoretically reveal subconscious bias based on how long it takes the subjects to sort images that don’t match their self-described sexual identity into the right category.
The result: The researchers isolated a “subgroup of participants”—more than “20 percent of self-described highly straight individuals”—who “indicated some level of same-sex attraction,” and who were “significantly more likely than other participants to favor anti-gay policies; to be willing to assign significantly harsher punishments to perpetrators of petty crimes if they were presumed to be homosexual; and to express greater implicit hostility toward gay subjects.”
“Thus our research suggests that some who oppose homosexuality do tacitly harbor same-sex attraction,” they concluded.
The psychological mechanism behind this subgroup’s anti-LGBT vitriol is, in theory, relatively simple: They are taking out their own issues with sexual identity on other people.
As Netta Weinstein, the study’s lead author, said in a press release, they “may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves.” So if you’re an American politician, there may be no more effective way to prove to yourself that you’re straight than to target LGBT people.
The 2012 study is certainly suggestive. It’s continually cited whenever it seems to apply to a homophobic figure, like after Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen was rumored to have frequented the LGBT nightclub in the buildup to the shooting.
There are other studies that have come to similar conclusions. As Science magazine reported after Pulse, there is a “scattering of research” that suggests “some conflicted gay men might indeed be homophobic,” like a small 1996 study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology that measured penile arousal and found a link between “homophobia” and “homosexual arousal.”
But the keyword in all of the above literature is “some.”
There is, at this point, enough research in this area to suggest that there may be something deeper to the armchair psychology. But the “secretly gay homophobe” theory is far from being a complete explanation of anti-LGBT prejudice in American politics.
Twenty percent of people who describe themselves as “highly straight” is still 10 percent fewer than the 32 percent of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage.
Just because that 20-percent subgroup is “significantly more likely” to tout an anti-LGBT ideology doesn’t mean we can assume someone like Mike Pence is likely to be covering up a secret past as a gay clubgoer just because of his anti-LGBT track record. So-called closet cases may be abundant, but there’s no way to prove that every Republican who tries to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination is hiding something.
In fact, overgeneralizing and joking as if that were the case may hurt LGBT people.
On Twitter, comedian Cameron Esposito, herself a lesbian, has criticized the homophobic undertones of the constant Mike Pence jokes—and has called out the media for being seemingly more interested in the salacious “homophobe caught having gay sex” story than in the mistreatment of LGBT people writ large.
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.
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.
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.”
‘Dan White murdered my friend’: When anger boiled over into violence at City Hall and San Francisco police raided a Castro bar
On May 21, 1979, thousands of members of San Francisco’s predominantly gay Castro District community took to the streets to protest the lenient sentence received by Dan White for the murders of local politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Their anger–combined with the actions of police who arrived to quell the scene–soon boiled over into rioting. The resulting violence affected San Francisco’s LGBT community for decades to come.
Harvey Milk rose to prominence as a gay rights activist and became the first openly gay person elected to a public office in the state of California when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. His murder, as well as that of Mayor Moscone, devastated not just the gay community, but the city as a whole.
Dan White was a former member of the Board of Supervisors who had clashed with Milk during their time serving the city together. In November of 1978, White resigned from his post, but changed his mind and asked to be reinstated. Mayor Moscone denied the request–with Milk lobbying against White’s reappointment. On November 27, White entered City Hall through a basement window and shot both men to death in their offices.
Six months later, White was convicted, not of first-degree murder, but voluntary manslaughter. White’s defense team had pointed to his diminished mental capacity and emotional state at the time of the murders, as indicated by the once-health conscious White consuming too much junk food– a ploy that became known as the “Twinkie Defense.” The jury-predominantly white, Roman Catholic and heterosexual—bought into it, recommending the lesser charge, which led to a sentence of just 7 years and 8 months.
When news of the verdict broke on the night of May 21, Cleve Jones–a close friend of Milk’s who would eventually go on to become one of the creators of the AIDS Quilt–spoke to a crowd of about 500 gatherers on Castro Street, and a peaceful march was quickly organized. By the time the crowd of protestors had made its second trip around the block, they were 1,500 strong. They then marched to City Hall, where their numbers expanded to an estimated 5,000.
As the crowd grew, so did the anger. Police soon arrived to try to control the situation, but that only served to enrage the crowd more. The police had raised over $100,000 for White’s defense–he was a former police officer–and many in the community believed the department had conspired to reduce White’s charges and sentencing. Although ordered to simply hold the crowd back, many officers began attacking the protestors with night sticks. Many had even taped over their badges, so as not to be identified.
Chaos erupted, as the crowd fought with police and destroyed a dozen police vehicles, as well as parts of City Hall itself. After three hours, officers moved in to quell the rioting for good, using tear gas in the process, and the crowd dispersed. In all, 59 officers and 124 protestors were injured, with about two dozen arrests made.
Hours later, several police officers gathered on their own to raid the Castro neighborhood, vandalizing a local bar and assaulting patrons. They shouted anti-gay slurs at the victims, and eventually turned their attention to attacking anyone that happened to be out on Castro Street.
After two hours, Police Chief Charles Gain was made aware of the rogue officers’ activities, and he made his way to the Castro to put a stop to it. No officers were reprimanded for the attacks, as officials were never able to determine who had ordered it, but the violence was finally over.
The next day, on what would have been Milk’s 49th birthday, 20,000 San Franciscans gathered to remember him. That October, more than 75,000 people marched for gay rights in Washington, D.C., and gay rights activists from around the country were inspired to continue their fight.
In San Francisco, the riots led to a wave of political changes, as more and more LGBT politicians were elected over the next decades. LGBT presence on the police forced also dramatically increased, and has continued to increase to this day.
Today, if someone is diagnosed with HIV, he or she can choose among 41 drugs that can treat the disease. And there’s a good chance that with the right combination, given at the right time, the drugs can keep HIV levels so low that the person never gets sick.
That wasn’t always the case. It took seven years after HIV was first discovered before the first drug to fight it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In those first anxious years of the epidemic, millions were infected. Only a few thousand had died at that point, but public health officials were racing to keep that death rate from spiking — the inevitable result if people who tested positive weren’t treated with something.
As it turned out, their first weapon against HIV wasn’t a new compound scientists had to develop from scratch — it was one that was already on the shelf, albeit abandoned. AZT, or azidothymidine, was originally developed in the 1960s by a U.S. researcher as way to thwart cancer; the compound was supposed to insert itself into the DNA of a cancer cell and mess with its ability to replicate and produce more tumor cells. But it didn’t work when it was tested in mice and was put aside.
Two decades later, after AIDS emerged as new infectious disease, the pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome, already known for its antiviral drugs, began a massive test of potential anti-HIV agents, hoping to find anything that might work against this new viral foe. Among the things tested was something called Compound S, a re-made version of the original AZT. When it was throw into a dish with animal cells infected with HIV, it seemed to block the virus’ activity.
The company sent samples to the FDA and the National Cancer Institute, where Dr. Samuel Broder, who headed the agency, realized the significance of the discovery. But simply having a compound that could work against HIV wasn’t enough. In order to make it available to the estimated millions who were infected, researchers had to be sure that it was safe and that it would indeed stop HIV in some way, even if it didn’t cure people of their infection. At the time, such tests, overseen by the FDA, took eight to 10 years.
Patients couldn’t wait that long. Under enormous public pressure, the FDA’s review of AZT was fast tracked — some say at the expense of patients.
Scientists quickly injected AZT into patients. The first goal was to see whether it was safe — and, though it did cause side effects (including severe intestinal problems, damage to the immune system, nausea, vomiting and headaches) it was deemed relatively safe. But they also had to test the compound’s effectiveness. In order to do so, a controversial trial was launched with nearly 300 people who had been diagnosed with AIDS. The plan was to randomly assign the participants to take capsules of the agent or a sugar pill for six months. Neither the doctor nor the patient would know whether they were on the drug or not.
After 16 weeks, Burroughs Wellcome announced that they were stopping the trial because there was strong evidence that the compound appeared to be working. One group had only one death. Even in that short period, the other group had 19. The company reasoned that it wouldn’t be ethical to continue the trial and deprive one group of a potentially life-saving treatment.
Those results — and AZT — were heralded as a “breakthrough” and “the light at the end of the tunnel” by the company, and pushed the FDA approve the first AIDS medication on March 19, 1987, in a record 20 months.
But the study remains controversial. Reports surfaced soon after that the results may have been skewed since doctors weren’t provided with a standard way of treating the other problems associated with AIDS — pneumonia, diarrhea and other symptoms — which makes determining whether the AZT alone was responsible for the dramatic results nearly impossible. For example, some patients received blood transfusions to help their immune systems; introducing new, healthy blood and immune cells could have helped these patients battle the virus better. There were also stories of patients from the 12 centers where the study was conducted pooling their pills, to better the chances that they would get at least some of the drug rather than just placebos.
And there were still plenty of questions left unanswered about the drug when it was approved. How long did the apparent benefits last? Could people who weren’t sick yet still benefit? Did they benefit more than those further along in their disease?
Such uncertainty would not be acceptable with a traditional approval, but the urgent need to have something in hand to fight the growing epidemic forced FDA’s hand. The people in the trial were already pressuring the company and the FDA to simply release the drug — if there were something that worked against HIV, they said, then it was not ethical to withhold it.
The drug’s approval remains controversial to this day, but in a world where treatment options are so far advanced it can be hard to imagine the sense of urgency and the social pressure permeating the medical community at the time. AIDS was an impending wave that was about to crash on the shores of an unsuspecting — and woefully unprepared — populace. Having at least one drug that worked, in however limited a way, was seen as progress.
But even after AZT’s approval, activists and public health officials raised concerns about the price of the drug. At about $8,000 a year (more than $17,000 in today’s dollars) — it was prohibitive to many uninsured patients and AIDS advocates accused Burroughs Wellcome of exploiting an already vulnerable patient population.
In the years since, it’s become clear that no single drug is the answer to fighting HIV. People taking AZT soon began showing rising virus levels — but the virus was no longer the same, having mutated to resist the drug. More drugs were needed, and AIDS advocates criticized the FDA for not moving quickly enough to approve additional medications. And side effects including heart problems, weight issues and more reminded people that anything designed to battle a virus like HIV was toxic.
Today, there are several classes of HIV drugs, each designed to block the virus at specific points in its life cycle. Used in combination, they have the best chance of keeping HIV at bay, lowering the virus’s ability to reproduce and infect, and ultimately, to cause death. These so-called antiretroviral drugs have made it possible for people diagnosed with HIV to live long and relatively healthy lives, as long they continue to take the medications.
And for most of these people, their therapy often still includes AZT.
AIDS HOPES DASHED BY TERRIBLE TRUTH ON AZT
It was the drug that held out hope to people carrying the world’s most feared virus. It had the power to move share prices by millions. What it could not do was help people facing AIDS.
This weekend the truth about AZT is in the open: a comprehensive trial, so big it equals all the other research put together, shows that the drug which dominates AIDS treatment has no effect in delaying the onset of the disease. After all the promise and the profits, AZT has nothing to offer people with HIV.
The findings came in the final report on the Anglo-French Concorde trial, published yesterday in The Lancet. Some 1,749 patients with HIV, but who showed no symptoms, were given either the drug or a placebo. There was no statistical difference in the progress of the two groups: after three years 18% had AIDS or were dead.
The results leave a terrible void for the 12m people worldwide said to be infected with the virus, and crush any remaining hopes that AZT might delay the onset of symptoms. They also raise questions as to how those hopes were fuelled in the first place.
Doubts about AZT were first revealed by The Sunday Times five years ago. A painstaking investigation showed that AZT had been rushed to market on the back of a flawed study that was supposed to demonstrate its effectiveness.
The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), responsible for protecting the public from risk, had been aware of flaws in the trial, but gave AZT approval. Documents obtained under the American Freedom of Information Act showed that records compiled during the trial had been altered, giving the drug a more favourable record; “multiple deviations” from the terms of the study had occurred; and FDA investigators had argued for data from one centre to be dropped entirely from the results. A senior FDA official believed AZT should not be granted a licence, but was overruled.
The doubts did nothing to inhibit Wellcome, AZT’s maker, from promoting its drug. Patients with HIV, but without AIDS symptoms, were the new target. They are worth more money because there are more of them and because they have longer to live.
To show the drug’s usefulness to this lucrative group, Wellcome trumpeted a big American trial called Protocol 019. The trial was halted in August 1989, after less than two years, on the grounds that it had already shown such benefit to HIV-positive people it would be unethical not to give the drug to all who wanted it.
Such “benefit” was judged only by time free from disease. A new analysis of the trial data, however, reaches a similar conclusion to Concorde: that AZT is essentially useless.
The original results were announced with a fanfare by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which sponsored it with Wellcome’s support. In London, The Independent newspaper gave its front page to the findings, under the headline “AIDS drug offers lease of life”.
The very different picture painted by last month’s analysis, in the New England Journal of Medicine, comes after investigators paid more attention to the drug’s side-effects. These can include anaemia, liver damage, fatigue, nausea, headaches and sometimes a collapse in white blood cells, making patients more prone to disease.
The researchers looked at the average time patients experienced neither a progression of disease nor an adverse effect. Those treated with low doses of AZT were found to suffer a reduction in quality of life “due to severe side-effects of therapy” that approximately equalled any benefit from slowing down the disease; people on higher doses suffered even greater side-effects, outweighing the supposed benefit.
Dr Peter Duesberg, the American virus expert who has claimed for years that AZT is not a rational therapy, says it is clear that the original claims were completely ill-founded. “The opposite interpretations of the same data lead me to conclude that those responsible are not acting as scientists; they are acting as politicians.
“When the time is ripe to say that AZT is detrimental, that it actually hurts, the interpretation will change again.”
For patients with AIDS-related symptoms, AZT will continue to be prescribed: the consensus remains that it gives a temporary benefit.
For those without symptoms, hope centres on combinations of drugs, or on other approaches such as gene therapy. However, Professor Ian Weller, of the Middlesex hospital in London, who was the principal British investigator in the Concorde trial, is alarmed by the drive to give AIDS patients an AZT drug cocktail as if it were already an established therapy.
“There’s a suspicion of more toxicity if you combine it with other treatment, and we are a long way from showing an important clinical benefit, or that it is safer than AZT on its own,” he said. “There are physicians who are jumping the gun.”
As late as Thursday, Wellcome was insisting that AZT “remains the best weapon we have to slow the progress of the disease”. Dr Trevor Jones, its research director, said: “The question is where in the course of the disease you begin.” *
AIDS and the AZT Scandal: SPIN’s 1989 Feature, ‘Sins of Omission’
The story of AZT, one of the most toxic, expensive, and controversial drugs in the history of medicine
At the end of 1989, two years after we had started the highly controversial AIDS column in SPIN, we published an article by Celia Farber called “Sins of Omission” about the truly bad and corrupt science surrounding promoting AZT as a treatment for the syndrome of diseases.
Celia was the editor and frequent writer of the column and unearthed hard evidence of the cold-bloodedness of the AIDS establishment pushing a drug that was worse than the disease, and killed faster than the natural progression of AIDS left untreated. AZT had been an abandoned cancer drug, discarded because of it’s fatal toxicity, resurrected in the cynical belief that AIDS patients were going to die anyway, so trying it out was sort of like playing with the house’s money. Because the drug didn’t require the usual massively expensive research and trial processes, having gone through that years earlier, it was insanely profitable for its maker, Burroughs Wellcome. It was a tragically perfect storm of windfall profits, something to pacify AIDS activists and the media, and a convenient boom to the patent holders for HIV testing.
Celia — who should get the Congressional Medal of Honor for her brave and relentless reporting, here and throughout the ten years we ran the column — exposed the worthlessness of the drug, the shady studies and deals to suppress the negative findings, and its awful and final consequences. This piece very literally changed the media’s view of AIDS and sharpened their discerning and skeptical eye. And soon after, AZT was once again shelved, hopefully this time forever.
Many times over the years since, people have come up to me and said that reading this article saved their lives, that they either stopped taking the drug and their health improved vastly, or they never took it because of what we reported. Nothing ever made me prouder.
— Bob Guccione Jr., founder of SPIN, October 3, 2015
[This story was originally published in the November 1989 issue of SPIN. In honor of SPIN’s 30th anniversary, we’ve republished this piece as part of our ongoing “30 Years, 30 Stories” series.]
On a cold January day in 1987, inside one of the brightly-lit meeting rooms of the monstrous FDA building, a panel of 11 top AIDS doctors pondered a very difficult decision. They had been asked by the FDA to consider giving lightning-quick approval to a highly toxic drug about which there was very little information. Clinically called Zidovudine, but nicknamed AZT after its components, the drug was said to have shown a dramatic effect on the survival of AIDS patients. The study that had brought the panel together had set the medical community abuzz. It was the first flicker of hope — people were dying much faster on the placebo than on the drug.
But there were tremendous concerns about the new drug. It had actually been developed a quarter of a century earlier as a cancer chemotherapy, but was shelved and forgotten because it was so toxic, very expensive to produce, and totally ineffective against cancer. Powerful, but unspecific, the drug was not selective in its cell destruction.
Drug companies around the world were sifting through hundreds of compounds in the race to find a cure, or at least a treatment, for AIDS. Burroughs Wellcome, a subsidiary of Wellcome, a British drug company, emerged as the winner. By chance, they sent the failed cancer drug, then known as Compound S, to the National Cancer Institute along with many others to see if it could slay the AIDS dragon, HIV. In the test tube at least, it did. At the meeting, there was a lot of uncertainty and discomfort with AZT. The doctors who had been consulted knew that the study was flawed and that the long-range effects were completely unknown. But the public was almost literally baying at the door. Understandably, there was immense pressure on the FDA to approve AZT, considering the climate of fear and anger all around.*
Everybody was worried about this one. To approve it, said Ellen Cooper, an FDA director, would represent a “significant and potentially dangerous departure from our normal toxicology requirements.” Just before approving the drug, one doctor on the panel, Calvin Kunin, summed up their dilemma. “On the one hand,” he said, “to deny a drug which decreases mortality in a population such as this would be inappropriate. On the other hand, to use this drug widely, for areas where efficacy has not been demonstrated, with a potentially toxic agent, might be disastrous.”
“We do not know what will happen a year from now,” said panel chairman Dr. Itzhak Brook. “The data is just too premature, and the statistics are not really well done. The drug could actually be detrimental.” A little later, he said he was also “struck by the fact that AZT does not stop deaths. Even those who were switched to AZT still kept dying.”
“I agree with you,” answered another panel member, “there are so many unknowns. Once a drug is approved, there is no telling how it could be abused. There’s no going back.” Burroughs Wellcome reassured the panel that they would provide detailed two-year follow-up data, and that they would not let the drug get out of its intended parameters: as a stopgap measure for very sick patients.
Dr. Brook was not won over by the promise. “If we approve it today, there will not be much data. There will be a promise of data,” he predicted, “but then the production of data will be hampered.” Brook’s vote was the only one cast against approval.
“There was not enough data, not enough follow-up,” Brook recalls. “Many of the questions we asked the company were answered by, ‘We have not analyzed the data yet,’ or, ‘We do not know.’ I felt that there was some promising data, but was very worried about the price being paid for it. The side effects were so very severe. It was chemotherapy. Patients were going to need blood transfusions, that’s very serious.”
“The committee was tending to agree with me,” says Brook, “that we should wait a little bit, be more cautious. But once the FDA realized we were intending to reject it, they applied political pressure. At about 4 p.m., the head of the FDA’s Center for Drugs and Biologics asked permission to speak, which is extremely unusual. Usually they leave us alone. But he said to us, ‘Look, if you approve the drug, we can assure you that we will work together with Burroughs Wellcome and make sure the drug is given to the right people.’ It was like saying ‘please do it.’”
Brad Stone, FDA press officer, was at that meeting. He says he doesn’t recall that particular speech, but that there is nothing “unusual” about FDA officials making such speeches at advisory meetings. “There was no political pressure,” he says. “The people in that meeting approved the drug because the data the company had produced proved it was prolonging life. Sure it was toxic, but they concluded that the benefits clearly outweighed the risks.” The meeting ended. AZT, which several members of the panel still felt uncomfortable with and feared could be a time bomb, was approved.
Flash forward: August 17, 1989. Newspapers across America banner-headlined that AZT had been “proven to be effective in HIV antibody-positive, asymptomatic, and early ARC patients,” even though one of the panel’s main concerns was that the drug should only be used in a last-case scenario for critically-ill AIDS patients, due to the drug’s extreme toxicity. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was now pushing to expand prescription.
The FDA’s traditional concern had been thrown to the wind. Already the drug had spread to 60 countries and an estimated 20,000 people. Not only had no new evidence allayed the initial concerns of the panel, but the follow-up data, as Dr. Brook predicted, had fallen by the wayside. The beneficial effects of the drug had proven to be temporary. The toxicity, however, stayed the same.
The majority of those in the AIDS-afflicted and medical communities held the drug up as the first breakthrough on AIDS. For better or worse, AZT had been approved faster than any drug in FDA history, and activists considered it a victory. The price paid for the victory, however, was that almost all government drug trials, from then on, focused on AZT — while over 100 other promising drugs were left uninvestigated.
Burroughs Wellcome stock went through the roof when the announcement was made. At a price of $8.000 per patient per year (not including blood-work and transfusions), AZT is the most expensive drug ever marketed. Burroughs Wellcome’s gross profits for next year are estimated at $230 million. Stock market analysts predict that Burroughs Wellcome may be selling as much as $2 billion worth of AZT, under the brand name Retrovir, each year by the mid-1990s — matching Burroughs Wellcome’s total sales for all its products last year.
“Does AZT do anything? Yes, it does. But the evidence that it does something against HIV is really not there.”
AZT is the only antiretroviral drug that has received FDA approval for treatment of AIDS since the epidemic began ten years ago, and the decision to approve it was based on a single study that has long been declared invalid. The study was intended to be a “double-blind placebo-controlled study,” the only kind of study that can effectively prove whether or not a drug works. In such a study, neither patient nor doctor is supposed to know if the patient is getting the drug or a placebo. In the case of AZT, the study became unblinded on all sides, after just a few weeks.
Both sides contributed to the unblinding. It became obvious to doctors who was getting what because AZT causes such severe side effects that AIDS per se does not. Furthermore, a routine blood count known as a CMV, which clearly shows who is on the drug and who is not, wasn’t whited out in the reports. Both of these facts were accepted and confirmed by both the FDA and Burroughs Wellcome, who conducted the study.
Many of the patients who were in the trial admitted that they had analyzed their capsules to find out whether they were getting the drug. If they weren’t, some bought the drug on the underground market. Also, the pills were supposed to be indistinguishable by taste, but they were not. Although this was corrected early on, the damage was already done. There were also reports that patients were pooling pills out of solidarity to each other. The study was so severely flawed that its conclusions must be considered, by the most basic scientific standards, unproven.
The most serious problem with the original study, however, is that it was never completed. Seventeen weeks into the study, when more patients had died in the placebo group, the study was stopped, five months prematurely, for “ethical” reasons: It was considered unethical to keep giving people a placebo when the drug might keep them alive longer. Because the study was stopped short, and all subjects were put on AZT, no scientific study can ever be conducted to prove unequivocally whether AZT does prolong life.
Dr. Brook, who voted against approval, warned at the time that AZT, being the only drug available for doctors to prescribe to AIDS patients, would probably have a runaway effect. Approving it prematurely, he said, would be like “letting the genie out of the bottle.”
Brook pointed out that since the drug is a form of chemotherapy, it should only be prescribed by doctors who have experience with chemotherapeutic drugs. Because of the most severe toxic effect of AZT — cell depletion of the bone marrow —patients would need frequent blood transfusions. As it happened, AZT was rampantly prescribed as soon as it was released, way beyond its purported parameters. The worst-case scenario had come true: Doctors interviewed by the New York Times later in 1987 revealed that they were already giving AZT to healthy people who had tested positive for antibodies to HIV.
The FDA’s function is to weigh a drug’s efficacy against its potential hazards. The equation is simple and obvious: A drug must unquestionably repair more than it damages, otherwise the drug itself may cause more harm than the disease it is supposed to fight. Exactly what many doctors and scientists fear is happening with AZT.
“I personally do not prescribe AZT. I have continued to experience that people live longer who are not on it.”
AZT was singled out among hundreds of compounds when Dr. Sam Broder, the head of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), found that it “inhibited HIV viral replication in vitro.” AIDS is considered a condition of immune suppression caused by the HIV virus replicating and eating its way into T-4 cells, which are essential to the immune system. HIV is a retrovirus which contains an enzyme called reverse transcriptase that converts viral RNA to DNA. AZT was thought to work by interrupting this DNA synthesis, thus stopping further replication of the virus.
While it was always known that the drug was exceedingly toxic, the first study concluded that “the risk/benefit ratio was in favor of the patient.”
In the study that won FDA approval for AZT, the one fact that swayed the panel of judges was that the AZT group outlived the placebo group by what appeared to be a landslide. The ace card of the study, the one that canceled out the issue of the drug’s enormous toxicity, was that 19 persons had died in the placebo group and only one in the AZT group. The AZT recipients were also showing a lower incidence of opportunistic infections.
While this data staggered the panel that approved the drug, other scientists insisted that it meant nothing — because it was so shabbily gathered, and because of the unblinding. Shortly after the study was stopped, the death rate accelerated in the AZT group. “There was no great difference after a while,” says Dr. Brook, “between the treated and the untreated group.”
“That study was so sloppily done that it really didn’t mean much,” says Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, a leading New York City AIDS doctor. Dr. Harvey Bialy, scientific editor of the journal Biotechnology, is stunned by the low quality of science surrounding AIDS research. When asked if he had seen any evidence of the claims made for AZT, that it “prolongs life” in AIDS patients, Bialy said, “No, I have not seen a published study that is rigorously done, analyzed, and objectively reported.”
Bialy, who is also a molecular biologist, is horrified by the widespread use of AZT, not just because it is toxic, but because, he insists, the claims its widespread use are based upon are false. “I can’t see how this drug could be doing anything other than making people very sick,” he says.
The scientific facts about AZT and AIDS are indeed astonishing. Most ironically, the drug has been found to accelerate the very process it was said to prevent: the loss of T-4 cells.
“Undeniably, AZT kills T-4 cells [white blood cells vital to the immune system],” says Bialy. “No one can argue with that. AZT is a chain-terminating nucleotide, which means that it stops DNA replication. It seeks out any cell that is engaged in DNA replication and kills it. The place where most of this replication is taking place is in the bone marrow. That’s why the most common and severe side effect of the drug is bone marrow toxicity. That is why they [patients] need blood transfusions.”
AZT has been aggressively and repeatedly marketed as a drug that prolongs survival in AIDS patients because it stops the HIV virus from replicating and spreading to healthy cells. But, says Bialy: “There is no good evidence that HIV actively replicates in a person with AIDS, and if there isn’t much HIV replication to stop, it’s mostly killing healthy cells.”
University of California at Berkeley scientist Dr. Peter Duesberg drew the same conclusion in a paper published in Proceedings, the journal of the National Academy of Sciences. Duesberg, whose paper addressed his contention that HIV is not a sufficient cause for AIDS, wrote: “Even if HIV were to cause AIDS, it would hardly be a legitimate target for AZT therapy, because in 70 to 100 percent of antibody-positive persons, proviral DNA is not detectable… and its biosynthesis has never been observed.”
As a chemotherapeutic drug, explained Duesberg, AZT “kills dividing blood cells and other cells,” and is thus “directly immunosuppressive.”
“The cell is almost a million-fold bigger target than the virus, so the cell will be much, much more sensitive,” says Duesberg. “Only very few cells, about one in 10,000, are actively making the virus containing DNA, so you must kill incredibly large numbers of cells to inhibit the virus. This kind of treatment could only theoretically help if you have a massive infection, which is not the case with AIDS. Meanwhile, they’re giving this drug that ends up killing millions of lymphocytes [white blood cells]. It’s beyond me how that could possibly be beneficial.”
“It doesn’t really kill them,” Burroughs Wellcome scientist Sandra Lehrman argues. “You don’t necessarily have to destroy the cell, you can just change the function of it. Furthermore, while the early data said that only very few cells were infected, new data says that there may be more cells infected. We have more sensitive detection techniques now.”
“Changes their function? From what — functioning to not functioning? Another example of mediocre science,” says Bialy. “The ‘sensitive detection technique’ to which Dr. Lehrman refers, PCR, is a notoriously unreliable one upon which to base quantitative conclusions.”
When specific questions about the alleged mechanisms of AZT are asked, the answers are long, contradictory, and riddled with unknowns. Every scientific point raised about the drug is eventually answered with the blanket response, “The drug is not perfect, but it’s all we have right now.” About the depletion of T-4 cells and other white cells, Lehrman says, “We don’t know why T-4 cells go up at first, and then go down. That is one of the drug mechanisms that we are trying to understand.”
When promoters of AZT are pressed on key scientific points, whether at the NIH, FDA, Burroughs Wellcome, or an AIDS organization, they often become angry. The idea that the drug is “doing something,” even though this is invariably followed with irritable admissions that there are “mechanisms about the drug and disease we don’t understand,” is desperately clung to. It is as if, in the eye of the AIDS storm, the official, government-agency sanctioned position is immunized against critique. Skepticism and challenge, so essential to scientific progress and so prevalent in every other area of scientific endeavor, is not welcome in the AZT debate, where it is arguably needed more than anywhere else.
The results, finally and ironically, are what damns AZT.
The toxic effects of AZT, particularly bone marrow suppression and anemia, are so severe that up to 50 percent of all AIDS and ARC patients cannot tolerate it and have to be taken off it. In the approval letter that Burroughs Wellcome sent to the FDA, all of 50 additional side effects of AZT, aside from the most common ones, were listed. These included: loss of mental acuity, muscle spasms, rectal bleeding, and tremors.
Anemia, one of AZT’s common side effects, is the depletion of red blood cells, and, according to Duesberg, “Red blood cells are the one thing you cannot do without. Without red cells, you cannot pick up ???gen.”
Fred, a person with AIDS, was put on AZT and suffered such severe anemia from the drug he had to be taken off it. In an interview in the AIDS handbook Surviving and Thriving With AIDS, he described what anemia feels like to editor Michael Callen: “I live in a studio and my bathroom is a mere five-step walk from my bed. I would just lie there for two hours; I couldn’t get up to take those five steps. When I was taken to the hospital, I had to have someone come over to dress me. It’s that kind of severe fatigue. The quality of my life was pitiful… I’ve never felt so bad… I stopped the AZT and the mental confusion, the headaches, the pains in the neck, the nausea, all disappeared within a 24-hour period.”
“I feel very good at this point,” Fred went on. “I feel like the quality of my life was a disaster two weeks ago. And it really was causing a great amount of fear in me, to the point where I was taking sleeping pills to calm down. I was so worried. I would totally lose track of what I was saying in the middle of a sentence. I would lose my directions on the street.”
“Many AIDS patients are anemic even before they receive the drug,” says Burroughs Wellcome’s Dr. Lehrman, “because HIV itself can infect the bone marrow and cause anemia.”
This argument betrays a bizarre reasoning. If AIDS patients are already burdened with problems such as immune suppression, bone marrow toxicity, and anemia, is compounding these problems an improvement?
“Yes, AZT is a form of chemotherapy,” says the man who invented the compound a quarter-century ago, Jerome Horwitz. “It is cytotoxic, and as such, it causes bone marrow toxicity and anemia. There are problems with the drug. It’s not perfect. But I don’t think anybody would agree that AZT is of no use. People can holler from now until doomsday that it is toxic, but you have to go with the results.”
The results, finally and ironically, are what damns AZT. Several studies on the clinical effects of AZT — including the one that Burroughs Wellcome’s approval was based on — have drawn the same conclusion: that AZT is effective for a few months, but that its effect drops off sharply after that. Even the original AZT study showed that T-4 cells went up for a while and then plummeted. HIV levels went down, and then came back up. This fact was well-known when the advisory panel voted for approval. As panel member Dr. Stanley Lemon said in the meeting, “I am left with the nagging thought that after seeing several of these slides, that after 16 to 24 weeks — 12 to 16 weeks, I guess — the effect seems to be declining.”
A follow-up meeting, two weeks after the original Burroughs Wellcome study, was scheduled to discuss the long-range effects of AZT and the survival statistics. As one doctor present at that meeting in May 1988 recalls, “They hadn’t followed up the study. Anything that looked beneficial was gone within half a year. All they had were some survival statistics averaging 44 weeks. The p24 didn’t pan out and there no persistent improvement in T-4 cells.”
HIV levels in the blood are measured by an antigen called p24. Burroughs Wellcome made the claim that AZT lowered this level, that is, lowered the amount of HIV in the blood. At the first FDA meeting, Burroughs-Welcome emphasized how the drug had “lowered” the p24 levels; at the follow-up meeting they didn’t even mention it.
As that meeting was winding down, Dr. Michael Lange, head of the AIDS program at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York spoke up about this. “The claim of AZT is made on the fact that it is supposed to have an antiviral effect,” he said to Burroughs Wellcome, “and on this we have seen no data at all… Since there is a report in the Lancet [a leading British medical journal] that after 20 weeks or so, in many patients p24 came back, do you have any data on that?”
“What counts is the bottom line,” one of the scientists representing Burroughs Wellcome summed up, “the survival, the neurologic function, the absence of progression and the quality of life, all of which are better. Whether you call it better because of some antiviral effect, or some other antibacterial effect, they are still better.”
Dr. Lange suggested that the drug may be effective in the same way a simple anti-inflammatory, such as aspirin, is effective. An inexpensive, nontoxic drug called Indomecithin, he pointed out, might serve the same function, without the devastating side effects.
One leading AIDS researcher, who was part of the FDA approval process, says today: “Does AZT do anything? Yes, it does. But the evidence that it does something against HIV is really not there.”
“There have always been drugs that we use without knowing exactly how they work,” says Nobel Prize winner Walter Gilbert. “The really important thing to look at is the clinical effect. Is the drug helping or isn’t it?”
A physician with extensive experience with AIDS patients who asked to remain anonymous told SPIN, point blank: “I personally do not prescribe AZT. I have continued to experience that people live longer who are not on it.”
“I’m living proof that AZT works,” says one person with ARC on AZT. “I’ve been on it for two years now, and I’m certainly healthier than I was two years ago. It’s not a cure-all, it’s not a perfect drug, but it’s effective. It’s slowing down the progression of the disease.”
“Sometimes I fee like I’m swallowing Drano,” says another. “I mean, sometimes I have problems swallowing. I just don’t like the idea of taking something that foreign to my body. But every six hours, I’ve got to swallow it. Until something better comes along, this is what is available to me.”
“I am absolutely convinced that people enjoy a better quality of life and survive longer who do not take AZT,” says Gene Fedorko, President of Health Education AIDS Liaison (HEAL). “I think it’s horrible the way people are bullied by their doctors to take this drug. We get people coming to us shaking and crying because their doctors said they’ll die if they don’t take AZT. That is an absolute lie.” Fedorko has drawn his conclusion from years of listening to the stories of people struggling to survive AIDS at HEAL’s weekly support group.
“I wouldn’t take AZT if you paid me,” says Michael Callen, cofounder of New York City’s PWA coalition, Community Research Initiative, and editor of several AIDS journals. Callen has survived AIDS for over seven years without the help of AZT. “I’ve gotten the s–t kicked out of me for saying this, but I think using AZT is like aiming a thermonuclear warhead at a mosquito. The overwhelming majority of long-term survivors I’ve known have chosen not to take AZT.”
“I’m convinced that if you gave AZT to a perfectly healthy athlete he would be dead in five years.”
The last surviving patient from the original AZT trial, according Burroughs Wellcome, died recently. When he died, he had been on AZT for three and one-half years. He was the longest surviving AZT recipient. The longest surviving AIDS patient overall, not on AZT, has lived for eight and one-half years.
An informal study of long-term survivors of AIDS followed 24 long-term survivors, all of whom had survived AIDS for more than six years. Only one of them had recently begun taking AZT.
In the early days, AZT was said to extend lives. In actual fact, there is simply no solid evidence that AZT prolongs life.
“I think AZT does prolong life in most people,” says Dr. Bruce Montgomery of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who is completing a study on AZT. “There are not very many long-term survivors, and we really don’t know why they survive. It could be luck. But most people are not so lucky.”
“AZT does seem to help many patients,” says Dr. Bernard Bahari, a New York City AIDS physician and researcher, “but it’s very hard to determine whether it actually prolongs life.”
“Many of the patients I see choose not to take AZT,” says Dr. Don Abrams of San Francisco General Hospital. “I’ve been impressed that survival and lifespan are increasing for all people with AIDS. I think it has a lot to do with aerosolized Pentamadine [a drug that treats pneumocystis carinii pneumonia]. There’s also the so-called plague effect, the fact that people get stronger and stronger when a disease hits a population. The patients I see today are not as fragile as the early patients were.”
“Whether you live or die with AIDS is a function of how well your doctor treats you, not of AZT,” says Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, one of New York City’s first and most reputable AIDS doctors, whose patients include many long-term survivors, although he has never prescribed AZT. Sonnabend was one of the first to make the simple observation that AIDS patients should be treated for their diseases, not just for their HIV infection.
Several studies have concluded that AZT has no effect on the two most common opportunistic AIDS infections, Pneumocystic Carinii Pneumonia (PCP) and Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS). The overwhelming majority of AIDS patients die of PCP, for which there has been an effective treatment for decades. This year, the FDA finally approved aerosolized Pentamadine for AIDS. A recent Memorial Sloan Kettering study concluded the following: By 15 months, 80 percent of people on AZT not receiving Pentamadine had a recurrent episode of pneumocystis. Only 5 percent of those people who did get Pentamadine had a recurring episode. “All those deaths in the AZT study were treatable,” Sonnabend says. “They weren’t deaths from AIDS, they were deaths from treatable conditions. They didn’t even do any autopsies for that study. What kind of faith can one have in these people?”
“If there’s one resistance to AZT in the general public at all, it’s within the gay community of New York,” says the doctor close to the FDA approval, who asked to remain anonymous. “The rest of this country has been brainwashed into thinking this drug really does that much. The data has all been manipulated by people who have a lot vested in AZT.”
“If AIDS were not the popular disease that it is — the money-making and career-making machine — these people could not get away with this kind of shoddy science,” says Bialy. “In all my years in science I have never seen anything this atrocious.” When asked if he thought it was at all possible that people have been killed as a result of AZT poisoning rather than AIDS he answered: “It’s more than possible.”
August 17, 1989: The government has announced that 1.4 million healthy, HIV antibody-positive Americans could “benefit” from taking AZT, even though they show no symptoms of disease. New studies have “proven” that AZT is effective in stopping the progression of AIDS in asymptomatic and early ARC cases. Dr. Fauci, the head of NIH, proudly announced that a trial has been going on for “two years” had “clearly shown” that early intervention will keep AIDS at bay. Anyone who has antibodies to HIV and less than 500 T-4 cells should start taking AZT at once, he said. That is approximately 650,000 people. 1.4 million Americans are assumed HIV antibody-positive, and eventually all of them may need to take AZT so they don’t get sick, Fauci contended.
The leading newspapers didn’t seem to think it unusual that there was no existing copy of the study, but rather a breezy two-page press release from the NIH. When SPIN called the NIH asking for a copy of the study, we were told that it was “still being written.”
We asked a few questions about the numbers. According to the press release, 3,200 early ARC and asymptomatic patients were divided into two groups, one AZT and one placebo, and followed for two years. The two groups were distinguished by T-4 cell counts; one group had less than 500, the other more than 500. These two were then divided into three groups each: high-dose AZT, low-dose AZT, and placebo. In the group with more than 500 T-4 cells, AZT had no effect. In the other group, it was concluded that low-dose AZT was the most effective, followed by high-dose. All in all, 36 out of 900 developed AIDS in the two AZT groups combined, and 38 out of 450 in the placebo group. “HIV-positive are twice as likely to get AIDS if they don’t take AZT,” the press declared.
However, the figures are vastly misleading. When we asked how many patients were actually enrolled for a full two years, the NIH said they did not know, but that the average time of participation was one year, not two.
“It’s terribly dishonest the way they portrayed those numbers,” says Dr. Sonnabend. “If there were 60 people in the trial those numbers would mean something, but if you calculate what the percentage is out of 3,200, the difference becomes minute between the two groups. It’s nothing. It’s hit or miss, and they make it look like it’s terribly significant.”
The study boasted that AZT is much more effective and less toxic at one-third the dosage than has been used for three years now. That’s the good news. The bad news is that thousands have already been walloped with 1,500 milligrams of AZT and possibly even died of toxic poisoning — and now we’re hearing that one third of the dose would have done?
With all that remains so uncertain about the effects of AZT, it seems criminal to advocate expanding its usage to healthy people, particularly since only a minuscule percentage of the HIV-infected population have actually developed ARC or AIDS.
Burroughs Wellcome has already launched testing of AZT in asymptomatic hospital workers, pregnant women, and in children, who are getting liquid AZT. The liquid is left over from an aborted trial, and given to the children because they can mix it with water — children don’t like to swallow pills. It has also been proposed that AZT be given to people who do not yet even test positive for HIV antibodies, but are “at risk.”
“I’m convinced that if you gave AZT to a perfectly healthy athlete,” says Fedorko, “he would be dead in five years.”
“This is such shoddy science it’s hard to believe nobody is protesting.”
In December 1988, the Lancet published a study that Burroughs Wellcome and the NIH do not include in their press kits. It was more expansive than the original AZT study and followed patients longer. It was not conducted in the United States, but in France, at the Claude Bernard Hospital in Paris, and concluded the same things about AZT that Burroughs Wellcome’s study did, except Burroughs Wellcome called their results “overwhelmingly positive,” and the French doctors called theirs “disappointing.” The French study found, once again, that AZT was too toxic for most to tolerate, had no lasting effect on HIV blood levels, and left the patients with fewer T-4 cells than they started with. Although they noticed a clinical improvement at first, they concluded that “by six months, these values had returned to their pretreatment levels, and several opportunistic infections, malignancies, and deaths occurred.”
“Thus the benefits of AZT are limited to a few months for ARC and AIDS patients,” the French team concluded. After a few months, the study found, AZT was completely ineffective.
The news that AZT will soon be prescribed to asymptomatic people has left many leading AIDS doctors dumbfounded and furious. Every doctor and scientist I asked felt that it was highly unprofessional and reckless to announce a study with no data to look at, making recommendations with such drastic public health implications. “This simply does not happen,” says Bialy. “The government is reporting scientific facts before they’ve been reviewed? It’s unheard of.”
“It’s beyond belief,” says Dr. Sonnabend in a voice tinged with desperation. “I don’t know what to do. I have to go in and face an office full of people asking for AZT. I’m terrified. I don’t know what to do as a responsible physician. The first study was ridiculous. Margaret Fischl, who has done both of these studies, obviously doesn’t know the first thing about clinical trials. I don’t trust her. Or the others. They’re simply not good enough. We’re being held hostage by second-rate scientists. We let them get away with the first disaster; now they’re doing it again.”
“It’s a momentous decision to say to people, ‘If you’re HIV-positive and your T-4 cells are below 500, start taking AZT,’” says the AIDS doctor who wished to remain anonymous. “I know dozens of people that I’ve seen personally every few months for several years now who have been in that state for more than five years, and have not progressed to any disease.”
“I’m ashamed of my colleagues,” Sonnabend laments. “I’m embarrassed. This is such shoddy science it’s hard to believe nobody is protesting. Damned cowards. The name of the game is to protect your grant, don’t open your mouth. It’s all about money… it’s grounds for just following the party line and not being critical, when there are obviously financial and political forces driving this.”
When Duesberg heard the latest announcement, he was partially stunned over the reaction of Gay Men’s Health Crisis President Richard Dunne, who said that GMHC now urged “everybody to get tested,” and of course those who test positive to go on to AZT. “These people are running into the gas chambers,” says Duesberg. “Himmler would have been so happy if only the Jews were this cooperative.”
* = This sentence was changed to correct an error in the original version of this article, which wrongly stated that the FDA had approved Thalidomide.
The rise and fall of AZT: It was the drug that had to work. It brought hope to people with HIV and Aids, and millions for the company that developed it. It had to work. There was nothing else. But for many who used AZT – it didn’t
RUMOURS about the drug had been circulating since early 1985 when word came from America that a company in Carolina had found a compound that was effective against HIV – at least in a Petri dish. Two years later, by the time AZT had been licensed for use, demand for it had grown to gigantic proportions.
By then, Aids patients had grown so desperate that they would sample any of the bootlegged underground therapies, some of which were probably life-threatening. With the arrival of AZT, doctors who had been powerless for so long against a syndrome about which they knew so little, at last had something they could give their patients that had passed stringent official tests.
In March 1987, when AZT was available on prescription for the first time, almost everyone with Aids wanted to take it, as did many who had tested positive for HIV. One of these was Michael Cottrell, a gay Englishman. He had tested positive for HIV in 1985 at the age of 22. He took AZT for several months in the late Eighties and suffered severe side-effects from the drug: chronic headaches and nausea, debilitating muscle fatigue. Cottrell felt much worse on AZT than he did off it. But he persevered because it seemed AZT was the only anti-Aids drug there was.
So Cottrell took it early in his infection: after all, if AZT was judged to be effective in treating Aids, then perhaps, it was thought, it would also benefit those who took it before they became ill. AZT spelt hope: psychologically it served to dispel despair. It was never claimed to be a cure, but it did claim to keep you alive longer, and in that extra time it bought, who knew what would happen? Maybe a cure would be found. Maybe a vaccine. Maybe other drugs would be developed to fight the disease, too.
Cottrell still has boxes of AZT capsules at home. He gave up on it after several months, because he couldn’t stand how ill he was feeling on the drug; he felt as though his immune system was being damaged rather than strengthened; he believed he had never encountered a drug as toxic as AZT.
Cottrell knew the drug didn’t work for him, but he believed he might have been one of the unlucky ones, like people who react badly to penicillin. Then a month ago he woke up to the news that the drug didn’t work on HIV at all, and that all his suffering had been avoidable.
Concorde, an Anglo-French programme, was the biggest clinical trial of AZT ever conducted: 1,749 patients over three years. It did not examine how effective AZT was in treating people who were seriously ill with Aids but, just as important, it looked at how effective the drug was in treating the millions of people with HIV, before they became unwell and showed Aids symptoms. Preliminary results of the trial were published in a letter in the Lancet, and made headlines worldwide. The results suggested that early intervention with AZT – for people who were HIV but had not yet developed any symptoms of Aids – was a waste of time. The study, organised by the British Medical Research Council and the equivalent body in France, reported that it made no difference to either mortality rates or disease progression if one took AZT before the onset of Aids.
In a ‘blind’ test, AZT was given to 877 people and 872 were given a placebo. As soon as a patient developed any Aids symptoms, he or she (15 per cent were women) would be offered ‘open-label’ AZT. The mortality rates appeared to be shocking: over the three years of the trial, there were 79 Aids-related deaths in the AZT group, but only 67 in the placebo group. The researchers explained that among so many patients this figure was not statistically significant, but if you were HIV-positive and read of this in the newspapers, you were bound to question all the great claims that had been made for AZT. More people got Aids and died on Concorde than on any previous trial.
There were other causes for concern. Those on AZT developed more side-effects than those on the placebo. The results of the tests also cast doubt on one of the fundamental ways we measure a person’s immunity to disease. Those given AZT early increased their ‘CD4’ or ‘T4’ cell count; these are the cells attacked by HIV, and their numbers drop as the disease spreads. But the fact that, even with this higher count, patients did not live longer or develop the disease more slowly, struck at one of the basic tenets of Aids research.
Cottrell told the news to his 28-year-old partner Karl Burge, who had been diagnosed as HIV-positive four years ago, and they decided to take action. But what could they do? They had already joined protests against Wellcome plc, the British company that made AZT and had reaped millions in sales and share profits. Wellcome executives had listened to their complaints, and had admitted to certain levels of toxicity in AZT, but claimed that their product still had great beneficial effects. They were not readily going to halt production of the drug that last year made them pounds 213m, their second biggest earner.
So Cottrell and his friends selected a new target, the Terrence Higgins Trust. This was a strange choice: the trust, Britain’s most prominent Aids charity over the past 10 years, is staffed by dedicated professionals and volunteers providing a large range of support and information about all aspects of Aids and HIV; it developed the caring ‘buddy’ system; it produced information for schools; it sat on many Aids research panels and often met government departments.
So what had it done wrong? It had taken money from Wellcome plc and included positive information about AZT in its many leaflets and documents. Cottrell and his friends felt they were being betrayed by the very organisation that they had believed existed to act in their best interests; they felt that what was once an invaluable institution was acting as a mouthpiece for a multinational pharmaceuticals company.
Last week, Cottrell and Burge were still pitched outside the Terrence Higgins Trust office in central London, four weeks after their protest began. On Wednesday they were arrested and charged with a public order offence after a member of the trust called the police. The protest is growing by the week. They have been joined by John Stevens, diagnosed HIV- positive more than eight years ago, and who also had bad experiences with AZT, and Pierre Hardy, diagnosed HIV-positive four years ago when he was 27 and had felt devastated by its effects. Many other protesters carry placards, collect signatures, hand out leaflets. You will not find a more potent symbol of the complex story of AZT, a story of how the struggle to find a ‘magic bullet’ to help millions of people has degenerated into a saga of distrust, confusion, and anger. It is a story of health and illness, but it is also a story of scientific ambition, secrecy and political pressure, and of the amounts of money that can be generated when a lethal virus turns into a worldwide epidemic.
IN 1964, Jerome Horwitz was working in his laboratory at the Michigan Cancer Foundation when he had what he hoped was a brilliant idea. At 45, Dr Horwitz was the foundation’s director of chemistry, and although not in the scientific premier league, was a respected local researcher with his own lab and assistants. He had spent much of the previous decade doing what many of the world’s leading scientists had done – working on a cure, or at the very least an effective treatment, for cancer.
He developed a theoretical solution: what was needed was a chemical that would insert a ‘phoney’ compound into the DNA ‘building block’ of a cell to prevent its replication. After years of research, Dr Horwitz came up with
He tried his new compound on leukaemic mice, but it had no effect. Horwitz didn’t know why, but AZT didn’t work.
Horwitz never became famous. Recently he said AZT ‘was a terrible disappointment . . . we dumped it on the junkpile. I didn’t keep the notebooks.’ The compound remained ‘on the shelf’, occasionally tried by other researchers but always found to be useless. There was no reason to patent it. But 20 years later, Burroughs Wellcome brought it back to life.
THE WELLCOME group was founded in London by two Americans in 1880. Its first significant achievement was the creation of the tablet – previously most medication had been administered in powder form. In the 1930s the group was split into two distinct parts: the Wellcome Trust, a large charity which devoted its income to scientific research and the maintenance of an institute and library concerned with the history of medicine; and the Wellcome Foundation Ltd, a profit-making pharmaceuticals company that was called Burroughs Wellcome in the United States. In the course of its research, Wellcome employees have won five Nobel prizes.
By 1980, Wellcome had specialised in the treatment of viruses for more than 15 years, and its anti-viral drugs accounted for the bulk of its income. In that year, David Barry, a leading researcher at Burroughs Wellcome in the US, noticed that demand for its drug Septra – a drug that Wellcome had helped to develop a few years earlier to combat a rare form of pneumonia – was suddenly on the increase. Previously this pneumonia, known as PCP, was prevalent only in children with leukaemia, but now many doctors were requesting it for adult males. Most of these men were gay, and living in New York and San Francisco.
Two years later, another new Wellcome drug, Zovirax, was in great demand among the same group of people. Zovirax was an anti- herpes treatment. Dr Barry was very disturbed by the sudden demand for these two drugs.
Aids (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was first classified as a new disease in 1981, but it was not until 1984 that the cause was identified as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). This cause has since been challenged by several prominent molecular biologists, but it remains the cornerstone of Aids research. And if any company was ideally equipped to conduct research into combating a new virus, it was Wellcome.
It was only natural for Barry to devote much of the company’s research resources to fight HIV. No one knew how widespread the virus or Aids was or would become. In 1984, only about 3,000 people had been diagnosed with Aids, but some early forecasts were terrifying: millions of people might already be infected, and hundreds of thousands could die within the next few years. Any scientist could see that Aids was potentially a career-making race to the Nobel prize. Millions might be made from a successful treatment.
After a few years of government inactivity – shameful years in which this new disease was virtually ignored – political ambition added to the desire to find a treatment. Health departments noticed that it wasn’t just homosexuals who were being struck down, but also hundreds of haemophiliacs and drug users. A certain amount of official panic took hold: by the time Rock Hudson died in the summer of 1985, it was clear that anyone – even film stars – could be in the frontline.
According to Wellcome’s own three-page account, research into HIV began in June 1984. During mass testing of scores of anti-viral
compounds, a substance known at first only as Compound S was found to inhibit viruses in animal cells. Compound S was AZT, a resyn- thesised version of what Horwitz had made 20 years before (Wellcome credits Horwitz in its account, but spells his name wrong).
In November 1984, according to the Wellcome account, the company sent samples of AZT to Duke University in North Carolina, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Cancer Institute for independent testing, and within a few weeks the results confirmed what Wellcome already believed: that the stuff worked against HIV in test-tubes under laboratory conditions. Wellcome had already progressed further than Horwitz, but the real test – its effect on humans – was fraught with danger.
But first there is another account of the development of AZT to consider. A US government official named Sam Broder believes he has far more claim to being ‘Mr AZT’ than anyone at Burroughs Wellcome. Broder, the director of the National Cancer Institute, claims that Burroughs Wellcome showed little interest in developing an anti-Aids drug.
Broder went on a tour of pharmaceuticals companies towards the end of 1984, imploring them to send any possible anti-viral compounds to his lab for testing in safe conditions. ‘I went to one prestigious company, hat in hand,’ he told the business writer Bruce Nussbaum, whose book, Good Intentions, traces a history of the search for anti-Aids drugs. ‘I got about one minute and thirty seconds of a high-ranking officer’s time. It was very disappointing for me. It was emblematic of the issue. There was no real interest in it.’
Broder then went to Burroughs Wellcome. He says: ‘They made it clear that on the basis of 3,000 patients, there was no way they could practically get involved.’ Broder says he then became abrasive. ‘As I left, I said, ‘You know, we’re going to have more than 3,000 cases. It is going to be commercially viable for you . . .’ ‘
Whoever pushed who, the drug came through. When Broder found that the AZT sent to him by Burroughs Wellcome in November 1984 worked against the virus, he assured the company that every effort would be made to get this great new drug to dying patients as soon as possible. The FDA’s stringent testing requirements mean that most new drugs take between eight and 10 years to pass from development to the marketplace. AZT was pushed through in just 20 months.
This could have been the early history of almost any drug; the difference is, during what would normally have been an eight-year test period, for six of those years the drug was already on the market. At a time of desperation, this drug looked like the one that would restore hope. The National Cancer Institute had previously tried one other therapy, Suramin, which proved to be toxic in early tests, but AZT appeared to be far less poisonous. And so it was put on the ‘fast track’: the testing of some other drugs for less life-threatening illnesses was put aside; AZT was given top priority, an all-or-bust thing. But could any drug live up to the boundless hopes pinned on AZT?
THIS IS how AZT is supposed to work against HIV. HIV enters body cells, usually T4 white blood cells that play a crucial role in the orchestration of the body’s immune system. HIV is one of a group of viruses known as retro- viruses, which means that, unlike most living things that store their genetic information as DNA, HIV stores it as RNA. Before HIV can replicate, it must convert its RNA code to DNA by use of a special enzyme. It is during this conversion process that AZT works. When AZT enters the body, it is transformed into a molecule that closely resembles one of the building blocks of DNA. During the process of HIV conversion, this molecule is incorporated mistakenly into the DNA. The addition of this ‘phoney’ molecule makes the addition of further building blocks impossible and halts replication of the virus. It’s a form of chemotherapy. It worked fine under a microscope.
The first human tests were in two phases. The first examined whether AZT could be tolerated in the body at all, and whether it entered the brain, crossing the ‘blood-brain barrier’; to know this was important, because a common Aids symptom is dementia. The first Aids patient was injected with AZT in July 1985. This test concluded that the blood-brain barrier was crossed, and that although there were levels of toxicity detected, these were deemed to be safe.
The second phase of the tests, the final hurdle to the granting of a licence for mass production, was a shambles. It was set up six months later to establish whether AZT would combat Aids. This test, overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, involved 282 patients, all of them already ill with Aids or Arc (Aids-related complex). It was to be a placebo test, conducted over 24 months. It was to be a ‘double-blind’ study in which neither patient nor doctor knew whether the capsules being taken were AZT or starch. (But before the tests could begin, Wellcome had to produce large quantities of AZT, and found it couldn’t do it. It had run out of one crucial ingredient: herring sperm. Finally, Wellcome bought it in bulk from another company.)
At a press conference after the tests in September 1986, Wellcome reported that they had been a considerable success, such a success that the 24-week trial had been halted after 16 weeks for ‘ethical’ reasons. Mortality rates for people taking AZT were staggeringly lower than those taking the placebo; there had been 19 deaths in the placebo group of 137 people, but only one in the AZT group of 145. Those on AZT also had a decreased number of opportunistic infections and showed improvement in weight gain and T4 cell counts. Wellcome agreed in response to pressure from some sectors of the gay community that if AZT was effective, then dying people should be taken off the placebo at once.
No one claimed it was a cure, but there was huge relief that a breakthrough had been made. There had been much embarrassment when it became known that Rock Hudson had attended the Pasteur Institute in France for treatment; now at last America was showing those foreigners a thing or two. Robert Windom, assistant health secretary, said that ‘treatment with AZT prolongs survival of persons with Aids’. The results were ‘exciting’.
It was not suitable for everyone, but it was the best thing yet. In fact, it was the only thing. Last year, interviewed in the Wellcome in- house magazine, David Barry said that ‘the staff at Wellcome can tell our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that we were there, that we made a difference’. When it was shown that AZT worked, ‘we . . . first had a frenzied, cheerful celebration, and then a very quiet one. The longer we considered the global implications, the greater the accomplishment we realised Wellcome had made in the control of the HIV epidemic.’
But a few months after AZT was made available, John Lauritsen, a journalist working on the gay newspaper New York Native, obtained test documents through the Freedom of Information Act that suggested that many rules had been broken in the trials. The trial had been ‘unblinded’ within weeks: some patients claimed they could tell what they were taking by taste; others were so keen to have AZT that they pooled their treatment with other patients to increase their chances of receiving the drug. The documents showed that almost half the AZT patients had received numerous blood transfusions in the course of the trial, because of damage to their bone marrow and immune systems; and that a few had to be taken off AZT altogether.
What happened after the trial ended suggested something more alarming about AZT. After 16 weeks, one AZT patient was dead, compared to 19 placebo patients; a week later two more patients on AZT had died, compared to four more on the placebo. The ratio had switched from 19:1 to 23:3, which suggested AZT might only be effective for a limited time.
If the trial had continued, the ratio might have narrowed even more. The tests would probably still have shown that AZT has some benefits for very ill patients, but with hindsight it is alarming that a new drug was allowed to be
released with so much left to prove. People at Wellcome now put it down to the mood and the severe pressure of the times. Dr Trevor Jones, Director of Research at Wellcome, who has been involved in their development of AZT from the beginning, acknowledged that the trials were subject to extraordinary pressures. ‘Much of these accusations (about the breakdown of trial protocol) took place, not at that stage, but later on, when the drug was showing benefit in a less sick population.
All sorts of things we heard stories about, and some of them I think we can confirm from our data. Patients would go to their doctor, get their treatments, and rather than risk the uncertainty (or receiving the placebo), they’d put the two together, mix them and divide them by half. We know this, because people who were supposed to be on the placebo already had drug levels in them.’
Much of the pressure came from people with HIV and Aids, and their carers, who wanted the drug released immediately. It was unacceptable to administer a placebo, they argued, if AZT worked. And there was no point having a drug released on the market in 10 years – by that time hundreds of thousands would be dead.
Burroughs Wellcome and many other independent research institutions would spend every subsequent year trying to supplement their data on AZT, trying to find out all the things that would normally be known about a drug before it hit the market. In these later years AZT was to become for many people the symbol of all that was wrong with Aids research. Once AZT was shown to have worked, almost all available funds were channelled to support its development and other potential treatments, along with any doubts that HIV was the cause of Aids, were swept aside.
BUT IN 1986, AZT was unstoppable. It suited the FDA, because it showed the administration was doing something. It suited Wellcome, because it now had a patent on AZT (and by 1986, with the epidemic increasing alarmingly, there was no doubt that the financial rewards would be enormous). It suited doctors, because they believed they could help their patients. And it certainly suited people with Aids. Some people had doubts, but hell, if you were ill and dying you wanted to believe. After all the despair and uncertainty, people in authority were saying ‘take this, it’ll do you good’.
Cottrell was one of the first people to take AZT in Britain. He was prescribed it in 1986, before it was widely available, when he was 23.
‘I had recently been diagnosed HIV-positive, and I went into a panic. I thought I was going to die. I remembered something about this drug coming from America and everyone clamouring to get it. I was perfectly healthy. My boyfriend’s blood count was quite low, and he was prescribed it by St Stephen’s Hospital, and I took it too. Intuitively, I didn’t think it was doing me any good. I was prescribed it three times over a period of three years, and I took it out of fear. I was first prescribed 1,200mg a day, and then 500mg, but I still felt bad, even on the lower dose. I had nausea and headaches and muscle fatigue.’
Cottrell took it every four hours, which meant he had to have a bleeper that woke him at three or four o’clock every morning. (People joked that the real Aids money lay in making these bleepers; in New York in the late Eighties, opera performances were punctuated by bleeps.) Cottrell stopped taking AZT after a few weeks, but then he got scared, and began taking it once more. ‘I got my drugs every two weeks – a big plastic bagful. I felt that I was carrying my life around in that bag.’
His friend, Pierre Hardy, was diagnosed HIV in 1989, when he was 28. At a specialist clinic he was given a sheet of paper which explained that AZT was the most efficient treatment, but also that it hadn’t been around long enough for anyone to know the long-term effects. Like most people in his position, he said he’d try anything, and he was prescribed 500mg a day.
‘My T4 count went up along with my general health in the first year, and everything settled down. I had been on AZT for three years, and my T4 count was levelling between 400 and 600 (an average T4 count in healthy adults is between 800 and 1,000). And then last year I started to get sick. I had repeated chest infections, and in November 1992 I had a stroke. I was hospitalised in a specialist ward. I asked them for my T4 count, and when they came back, they were were uncomfortable about it. My T4 count was 90. I thought I was finished.
‘When I got home and started to review the whole thing, the whole HIV theory. I threw away all the pills I was taking – I was taking seven every morning and evening. I started to change my diet, and then I went back to my doctor. When I had my new T4 count it was 545. I’ve had three migraines since January, a little bit of asthma coming back, but basically I feel much better. If I’d continued to believe in the traditional medicine sytem I would have been dead either this year or next year.’
Two weeks ago Hardy met a volunteer with the Terrence Higgins Trust, who told him that he and his boyfriend were taking AZT and it was working like a dream.
‘I asked him how long they were on it. He said four months. I said that that was the trap that everyone was falling into. The AZT will work for you for a little while, for the maximum of one year, as it did for me, and afterwards the damage became visible.’
Most people with Aids, and many with asymptomatic HIV, take or have taken AZT. Other drugs have emerged in the past few years that work in a similar way – DDC (produced by the Swiss company Hoffmann-La Roche) and DDI (made by the American company Bristol-Myers Squibb), but AZT is still the market leader. It is hard to think of another product that is so dominant in its field. You read the showbiz autobiographies and those three little letters snap out of the page.
Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, the basketball star who tested HIV-positive in October 1991, was advised to take AZT immediately. He agreed. ‘There was a lot of public interest in the fact that I was taking AZT, which was originally used only in the later stages of the illness,’ he explained in My Life, his autobiography. ‘These days it’s used as a preventative, but not everybody knew that. That may be why some people, including a few reporters, concluded that I was sicker than I actually was.’ People wrote to Johnson telling him that AZT was not the answer. Somebody advised him to drink all his blood and replace it with new blood. ‘Even now I can’t go anywhere without somebody coming up and saying, ‘I know this friend who knows this doctor who has a cure’.’
Rudolf Nureyev, who died in January, began taking AZT in 1988. ‘AZT was just beginning to be used in France,’ said Michel Canesi, his doctor. ‘I didn’t want to give it to him straight away, because I was worried that the side-effects would hamper him (Nureyev was still dancing at this time). Rudi lost his temper and said: ‘I want this medicine.’ I replied that there hadn’t been long enough to judge the results. But I had to give in and prescribe it – he was so insistent. But he didn’t take it regularly. He went off every time with tons of drugs, and every time I went to see him I found unused packets all over the place.’
The film-maker Derek Jarman, who was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1986, has found AZT beneficial. ‘It works – it holds everything up. It stops the virus replicating. At the beginning they gave people much too massive doses, which affected us physically. I had no recognisable toxic side-effects from it. I began taking it in September 1990, I think, and I came off it last August.
‘I was invited by my doctor to make up my mind whether I took the drug or not, so I rang up various people in America and the general advice was to take it – and this was advice was from quite radical people, not people in with the Wellcome Foundation.
‘I came off it because my doctor said that my (T4) count was down. We’ve never discussed it since. He just suddenly said, ‘I think you’ve had enough AZT, Derek’, and I very much trust him, he’s a brilliant doctor. The whole thing is so complicated, because I took a lot of other drugs as well. I had to have suppressants for TB, toxoplasmosis and PCP. And then obviously if I got an infection there was fluconazole and all of that area. And then at a certain point they added hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone to keep my energy up.’
Jarman has recently been in hospital. ‘At the moment I’m actually on nothing. I’ve had a skin complaint and they decided it would be very sensible to take me off all my pills, and then go back on the drugs to see if they were causing the skin complaint. They can obviously play around with the drugs.
‘My feeling about AZT is that I’m glad I took it, even though I can’t prove to you that it did anything. You can say that if it helps someone psychologically then it must be doing some good. I think the doctors generally feel that it does some good. But how do you know?’
FINANCIALLY, Wellcome plc has done extremely well out of AZT. Retrovir, the drug’s brand name, accounts for more than 13 per cent of its total income, and yielded pounds 213m last year. As the only big earner to have been launched by the company in the past decade, the continued success of AZT is crucial to its growth. The company will be well aware that at the end of last year the World Health Organisation estimated that about 13 million men, women and children have been infected with HIV since the start of the pandemic. (A large proportion of these cases are in sub-Saharan Africa and South and South-east Asia, where AZT and other anti-Aids treatments are unlikely to be available or affordable; the figure for HIV infection in the Americas and Western Europe is estimated at 2.5 million.)
Part of the Wellcome Foundation was floated on the stock market in 1986, the year of the AZT breakthrough. Subsequent rises in share prices have been directly linked to the fortunes of the drug and the results of new trials. In February 1987, the share price jumped 73.5p to 374.5p on the news that AZT would be widely available in the US at dollars 188 for 100 capsules, an extremely high price for a new drug, and one that would yield large profits (this translated to about dollars 10,000 a year for every user). By November 1989 the share price had almost doubled to 724p; year-on-year pre-tax profits were up 28 per cent to pounds 283m. In early 1993, the share price was at 810p; last year’s pre-tax profits were pounds 505m.
‘In terms of the emotive quality of the demand, there’s never been a drug like it,’ said Martin Sherwood, a Wellcome spokesman, shortly after AZT’s launch. It was just this emotive demand that led to the picketing of the Wellcome shareholders’ meeting in January 1990. Act Up (the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power, co-founded by the playwright Larry Kramer) picketed the AGM at Grosvenor House in London, describing it as ‘a gathering of Aids profiteers’. Activists complained about the price of AZT, and what they saw as Wellcome’s reluctance to provide all available information on the drug.
Wellcome shareholders were irritated by this intrusion, not least when Act Up members interrupted the meeting and insisted on talking to Sir Alfred Shepperd, the outgoing chairman. But Wellcome executives were baffled: they believed they had done everything they could to benefit people with HIV and Aids, certainly more than any other pharmaceuticals company. Was it not these very same activists who had celebrated when AZT was launched three years earlier? At first Wellcome defended its pricing on the grounds that AZT took dollars 80m to develop and produce (later revised to dollars 30m), but it soon bowed to pressure (and its economies of scale) and cut the price. The recommended dosage was also reduced for medical reasons, which meant many more people could tolerate its toxicity. Today AZT costs about dollars 3,000 per person per year, or about pounds 2,000.
As would be expected, Wellcome plays up the good news. When, in 1989, two double- blind placebo trials of the effects of AZT on asymptomatic and less seriously ill patients showed that it could delay the progression of the disease, much was made of the results and the share price rose by 30p. But when, four months later, the company admitted that AZT had caused cancer in rodents, it explained that the rats and mice were given 10 times the dose prescribed to humans, and that several other drugs in use by humans had also produced tumours in animals when administered over long periods. Wellcome’s share price went down one penny.
Wellcome’s PR machine is an impressive force, and much money is spent on convincing the media of AZT’s worth. You go and see them and you get a lot of bumph: how AZT works, why it is more effective than other anti- retrovirals. Wellcome house-magazines talk of the extra 400,000 productive years of life it has made possible through the drug, about how many thorough and independent studies have stressed AZT’s efficacy.
‘The number of people who have shown agression against us concerns us no end,’ says Trevor Jones. ‘Normally the company tries to distance itself from the patient / physician interaction – it must do. The day-to-day therapy of the patient is not our responsibility. But about three years ago we started to open our labs to people with HIV and their carers, contrary to the advice of my security and other colleagues. You then realise the uncertainty and the frustrations involved in that act of taking a tablet for the very first time. When people with HIV came through the door of the lab I could almost touch their anger. But I realised that the anger was not really about Wellcome or me, but about their mortality. They were frustrated, and saying, ‘Please, please what can I do?’ These were genuine cris de coeur.’
Dr Jones is one of the few pharmaceutical industry representatives on Britain’s Medical Controls Agency. Wellcome has clearly selected its spokesman with care. ‘People say we’re purely acting out of commercial interests, but it is not in our commercial interests to do anything else but get this drug right,’ Dr Jones says. ‘We wanted to show people that we are working night and day, weekdays and weekends trying to develop better medicines. Otherwise we look like ogres and robber barons all the time. That’s the whole history of our business; if you’ve got a problem with a product, you must, you must, you must tell people. The criticism hurts a lot; our integrity as a scientific body is important to us. I don’t take too kindly to people saying, ‘Oh, you don’t want to listen to Wellcome, because they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ You can’t hide anything in this business, because otherwise who will trust us when we develop another drug, like the new epilepsy drug we’ve got now? You have to believe that the integrity of science is good.’
Jones has had a bad few weeks. Wellcome’s share price was hammered by last month’s Concorde trial report, falling 10 per cent to 670p, before rallying to 692p. Five days after the report appeared, Wellcome staged a damage limitation exercise, at which Jones told a press conference that he was unhappy with the way the results were released, without peer review or advice to patients, and saying it had caused panic among those with HIV. He said that the full results had yet to be released, and hoped that a more beneficial picture of early intervention with AZT would emerge at the ninth International Aids Conference in Berlin in June. He also outlined that the protocol of the study had changed from that agreed in 1988. When an American study reported in 1989 that AZT did have beneficial effects on people with asymptomatic HIV, the Concorde officials decided that people on its trial could switch to AZT if they wanted to; this may have led to a diluting of the results.
Last week, Jones reiterated why AZT may still be beneficial, and why doctors should continue to prescribe the drug early. ‘We have gathered together 10 studies on asymptomatic patients. Five of these are control studies with placebos, and five are cohort studies, in which we simply give the drug and observe what happens. These studies involved more than 6,500 patients and ranged from one to four years in duration. We believe we have accrued sufficient data to show that taking the drug when you’re asymptomatic does delay the onset of further symptoms.’
WELLCOME has a presence at all the chief Aids conferences, and will occasionally organise gatherings of its own. In June 1992 it launched Positive Action, ‘an international intiative’ in support of those with HIV and Aids. For the launch conference in London, journalists flew in from all over Europe to hear Wellcome executives describe how pounds 1m was being distributed to many educational organisations. An emotional climax of sorts was provided by Jerry Breitman, the company’s US director of professional relations. He was there to present the ‘workplace initiative’, and his speech contained a little surprise at the end. Like the wig salesman whose coup de grace is to rip off his own toupee, Breitman declared himself HIV-positive. ‘I thought long and hard before deciding to tell my management,’ he revealed. ‘But . . . when you are part of an enlightened organisation such as Wellcome, I am absolutely convinced that communicating your HIV infection is a positive action . . . It is, truly, one of the best decisions I have made in a very long time.’ A few journalists felt distinctly queasy at the theatricality of it all.
One of the initiatives raised was Wellcome’s involvement with the Terrence Higgins Trust. This first surfaced in 1991, with the publication of four information leaflets. Two months ago staff at the Trust and volunteers read in their newsletter that the link had been strengthened. The newsletter explained that ‘THT, along with the Wellcome Foundation, is about to begin producing an important new medical information series. THT are providing a series of medical updates for all staff and volunteers. We will be providing them on a regular basis every two months in the evening. Costs will be met by the Wellcome Foundation, which also funds our series of general booklets.’
Nick Partridge, chief executive of the trust, is dubbed ‘Nick the Sick’ on the placards carried by the protesters outside his office. Partridge, in reply, calls them ‘New Age flat- earthers who have a naive hope that Holland & Barrett will produce a herbal tea that will be effective against HIV.’ Partridge said that the trust actively pursued funding from a wide range of companies and government agencies, and that it was ‘quite clear that none of that funding involves an ability by those companies to influence the information we produce. We would be neglecting our duty if we were not in regular contact with Wellcome, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche, arguing for greater investment in HIV research and fair and balanced information. The leaflets are not about treatment issues.’
But once they were. In 1991 the trust produced a 24-page booklet on HIV and its treatment; nine pages were devoted to AZT, but only half a page was given to other therapies. The copyright on the leaflet was held by the Wellcome Foundation, which also paid for its printing. ‘It was only available for eight months,’ Partridge says. ‘Information changes quite rapidly. The main fault of that leaflet is that it is too hopeful. By 1991 the hopes around early intervention had probably gone further than we realise, in retrospect, was wise. The desire by many people with HIV to say, ‘Yes, we can live with this infection’ meant that a lot of hope was invested in the theory of early intervention. For all its faults, our leaflet was still a lot more realistic than the material that Wellcome was putting out on its own. Remember that over the years, there have been many stories of breakthroughs that proved to be wildly optimistic.’
FOR MOST people with HIV, the AZT dream is over. AZT is the future that was; no one believes in the ‘magic bullet’ any more. It does have benefits for some patients who are seriously ill, but there is now severe doubt over its other uses. This, after the drug has been subjected to more tests, and has been the subject of more post-launch research papers, than perhaps any other modern therapy.
The future for HIV and Aids treatment appears to be in combination treatment – the use of AZT and DDC and DDI and many other compounds used in all manner of variations. Several trials are in progress. Two weeks ago it was announced that Wellcome has joined forces with its competitors Hoffman-La Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo, SmithKline Beecham and 15 other companies, in an attempt to pool their research knowledge and find an effective treatment.
Wellcome is also developing some other anti-Aids drugs on its own. We won’t hear about these for a while; the company doesn’t want to raise any hopes.
Jerome Horwitz, the man who created AZT in 1964, is still active in medical research. He’s 74 now, but you can still reach him most days at the Meyer L Prentis Cancer Center in Detroit. Occasionally he does a little Aids work, but most of his time involves cancer chemotherapy.
Horwitz believes AZT is not the answer to HIV and Aids, but has hopes for combination therapies (he was also the first to synthesise DDC). He concludes that AZT ‘buys time’.
‘We were certainly on the cutting edge,’ he says of his work in the mid-Sixties. ‘When the pharmacologist said, ‘Look, Dr Horwitz, your compounds are not effective against leukaemias and I see no future for them’, that was like a blow to the solar plexus. We had great hopes. ‘I remember one of my students saying at the time that we had a great series ofcompounds just waiting for a disease totreat. It took 25 years before our beliefs were vindicated.’
The first Horwitz heard of AZT’s use against HIV was when he read about it in the Wall Street Journal. Burroughs Wellcome established a chair in his name at the Michigan Cancer Foundation, but he has received no financial reward.
‘My wife sits across from me at the
breakfast table and reminds me of all the
money that Burroughs Wellcome has got out of it and I haven’t got a dime. I keep telling her about the legacy I’m leaving. But I wouldn’t be being absolutely straight with you if I hadn’t thought that I should have gotten something out of it.’-
For years, Rosemary Kennedy’s story was kept secret after her lobotomy was botched, leaving her unable to walk or talk.
Though John F. Kennedy and Jackie might be the most recognizable members of the family, the Kennedys were famous long before John became president.
Their father, Joe Kennedy Sr., was a prominent businessman in Boston and his wife, Rose, was a noted philanthropist and socialite. Together they had nine children, three of whom went into politics. For the most part they lived their lives in the open, almost like America’s version of a royal family.
But, like every family, they had their secrets.
Born in 1918, Rosemary Kennedy was the third child of Joe and Rose and the first girl. During her birth, the obstetrician who was supposed to be delivering her was running late. Not wanting to deliver the baby without a doctor present, the nurse reached up into Rose’s birth canal and held the baby in place.
The actions of the nurse would have lasting consequences for Rosemary Kennedy. The lack of oxygen delivered to her brain during her birth caused lasting damage to her brain, resulting in a mental deficiency.
Though she looked like the rest of the Kennedys, with bright eyes and dark hair, her parents knew she was different right away.
As a child, Rosemary was unable to keep up with her siblings, who would often play ball in the yard, or run around the neighborhood. Her lack of inclusion often caused “fits,” which were later discovered to be seizures or episodes relating to her mental illness.
However, in the 1920s mental illness was highly stigmatized. Fearing repercussions if her daughter couldn’t keep up, Rose pulled Rosemary out of school and instead hired a tutor to teach the girl from home. Eventually, she sent her to a boarding school, in lieu of institutionalizing her.
In 1928, Joe was named an ambassador to the Court of St. James in England. The entire family moved across the Atlantic and was presented at court to the public. Despite her disabilities, Rosemary joined the family for the presentation.
Of course, no one knew the extent of her disability, as the Kennedys had worked hard to keep it quiet.
In England, Rosemary gained a sense of normalcy, as she had been placed in a Catholic school run by nuns. With the time and patience to teach her, they were training her to be a teacher’s aide and she was flourishing under their guidance.
However, in 1940, when Germany marched on Paris, the Kennedys were forced back to the states, and Rosemary’s education was abandoned. Once back stateside, Rose placed Rosemary in a convent, though it didn’t last long. According to the nuns, Rosemary would sneak out at night and go to bars, meet strange men and go home with them.
At the same time, Joe was grooming his two oldest boys for a career in politics. Rose and Joe worried that Rosemary’s behavior could create a bad reputation not just for herself but for the whole family, and eagerly searched for something that would help her.
Dr. Walter Freeman was the answer.
Freeman, along with his associate Dr. James Watts had been researching a neurological procedure that was said to cure the physically and mentally disabled. The procedure? The lobotomy.
When it was first introduced, the lobotomy was hailed as a cure-all and was widely recommended by physicians. Despite the excitement, however, there were many warnings that the lobotomy, though occasionally effective, was also destructive. One woman described her daughter, a recipient, as being the same person on the outside, but like a new human on the inside.
Despite the warnings, Joe needed no convincing, as it seemed like this was the Kennedy family’s last hope. Years later, Rose would claim that she had no knowledge of the procedure until it had already happened. No one thought to ask if Rosemary had any thoughts of her own.
In 1941, when she was 23 years old, Rosemary Kennedy received a lobotomy. Two holes were drilled in her skull, through which small metal spatulas were inserted. The spatulas were used to sever the link between the pre-frontal cortex and the rest of the brain. Though it is not known whether he did so on Rosemary, Dr. Freeman would often insert an icepick through the patient’s eye to sever the link as well as the spatula.
Throughout the entire procedure, Rosemary was awake, speaking with doctors and reciting poems to nurses. They knew the procedure was over when she stopped speaking.
Immediately after the procedure, the Kennedys realized that something was wrong.
Rosemary could no longer speak or walk. She was moved to an institution and spent months in physical therapy before she regained movement, and even then it was only partially in one arm.
Rosemary Kennedy spent 20 years in the institution, unable to speak, walk, or see her family. It wasn’t until after Joe suffered a massive stroke that Rose went to go see her daughter again. In a panicked rage, Rosemary attacked her mother, unable to express herself any other way.
At that point, the Kennedys realized what they had done and began to champion rights for the mentally disabled.
John F. Kennedy would use his presidency to sign the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendment to the Social Security Act, the precursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which his brother Ted pushed for during his time as a senator. Eunice Kennedy, JFK and Rosemary’s sister also founded the Special Olympics in 1962, to champion the achievements and abilities of the physically and mentally disabled.
After being reunited with her family, Rosemary Kennedy lived out the rest of her life in Saint Coletta’s, a residential care facility in Jefferson, Wisconsin, until her death in 2005.
In 1942, the exposure of a Brooklyn townhouse where wealthy men had sex with members of the armed services led to an anti-gay witch-hunt and heated political scandal.
n the early part of the 20th century, brothels were commonplace in many neighborhoods in New York City, but in 1942 an inconspicuous two-story redbrick town house at 329 Pacific Street—a run-down block near the border between Brooklyn Heights and downtown Brooklyn—would become the most famous “house of assignation” in the entire country.
The proprietor, a fifty-five-year-old, “moon-faced” Swedish immigrant, Gustave Beekman, specialized in providing wealthy men with members of the armed services.
He had previously run a similar house a few blocks closer to the water at 235 Warren Street, but had relocated after being busted in a police raid in November 1940. At that time, he was charged with running a disorderly house, fined, and quickly released.
However, when the police raided his establishment on Pacific Street on the evening of March 14, 1942 (accompanied by members of the Office of Naval Intelligence), they would uncover a scandal that would rock the nation, consume newspaper headlines for months, and get hotly debated on the floor of the US Senate.
Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they would invent one. It would be Walter Winchell, then the gossip columnist for the New York Daily Mirror, who would give this strange episode in Brooklyn history its enduring name: “The Swastika Swishery.”
This was one of the stories I’d heard about early in my research for my new book, When Brooklyn Was Queer, but I never suspected that I would uncover new information that would answer many of the lingering questions about this so-called scandal.
The initial story, which was primarily reported in the New York Post, went something like this: Beekman ran a “house of degradation” where German spies hired American servicemen to pump them over pillow talk for information about troop movements.
From there, the story quickly spiraled. Not only were there spies at Beekman’s house, a notorious “Senator X,” who was well known as a closeted gay man and opposed America’s entry into World War II, was also a regular habitué of Beekman’s. By early May, Beekman wasn’t just accused of hosting any old spy; rather, he was catering to “one of Hitler’s chief espionage agents in this country.”
For all of April and May, papers kept readers riveted with headlines such as “Service Men Lured to ‘Den’ Called Spy Nest,” “Senator Linked to Spy Nest Which Lured Service Men,” “Den Keeper Withholds Source of Cash,” and “Leibowitz Pushes Spy Ring Probe: Tells Convicted Morals Offender to Talk or Get 20-Year Term.”
News bulletins eagerly broadcast every new tidbit of information in the case, including the four separate (and contradictory) official statements Beekman gave to the police and the FBI.
The senator in question was soon revealed as David Ignatius Walsh, a Catholic “confirmed bachelor” from Boston, who—although liberal on many social issues—was a strong isolationist, believing America had no place in the affairs of Europe.
Time magazine called his connection with the Beekman case “one of the worst scandals that ever affected a member of the Senate.” When the Senate majority leader opened discussion of the issue on the Senate floor, he called the FBI’s report on the case “disgusting and unprintable” and refused to have it entered into the Senate’s official record.
“To this day, numerous authors have speculated about what actually happened at Beekman’s house in the middle of World War II, with most concluding that it was ultimately unknowable”
Another isolationist senator from Missouri called Dorothy Schiff, the publisher of the New York Post, an “old hussy” and demanded an investigation on the charge that she was part of a secret cabal that was trying to gin up public sentiment in favor of the war by making antiwar politicians look bad.
To this day, numerous authors have speculated about what actually happened at Beekman’s house in the middle of World War II, with most concluding that it was ultimately unknowable.
However, Dorothy Schiff was so concerned that Senator Walsh might sue the Post over its reporting that she secretly commissioned a team of six private investigators and attorneys, led by Daniel A. Doran, to discover the truth.
Their report, which took five months to prepare, ran over 150 pages and included everything from interviews with the major players in the case (including Beekman and all of his lawyers), to a detailed analysis of Senator Walsh’s travel schedule for the times he was supposedly in Brooklyn.
For years, this report has been publicly available, along with the rest of Dorothy Schiff’s papers, at the New York Public Library, but no historians seem to have referenced it. As far as I know, I am the first to read its findings.
Local police had had Beekman under watch at least as far back as January 1942, having noticed an unusual number of sailors and soldiers coming and going from his building. In the two years since they had last busted Beekman, the war had begun, and no one wanted to arrest a bunch of men who might be needed in Europe or to impugn the morality of the military in general.
The police had no plans to raid his house until they were contacted by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which had secretly set up a spy post on the fourth floor of a nearby hospital, from which they were recording the license plate numbers of everyone who entered the building.
The ONI wasn’t interested in Beekman; rather, it was trailing William Elberfeld, a German national whom it believed to be a spy for Hitler. Together, the police and the ONI raided the establishment, arresting not just Beekman, but some of his clients (including noted composer Virgil Thomson), and some of the men who worked there.
“The prosecution seemed convinced that Beekman couldn’t be making much money from running a house of male prostitution, and so he had to have some other source of income—perhaps from Elberfeld or another spy”
One of the sex workers arrested was a Brooklyn merchant mariner named Charles Zuber, who was also one of Beekman’s lovers.
The assistant district attorney (ADA) on the case, eager, perhaps, to make a name for himself, questioned Zuber at length about any particularly wealthy clients. The prosecution seemed convinced that Beekman couldn’t be making much money from running a house of male prostitution, and so he had to have some other source of income—perhaps from Elberfeld or another spy.
Zuber furnished the ADA with the name “Walsh,” saying he believed the man to be a doctor. The ADA, aware of the long-standing rumors that Senator David Walsh was gay, jumped to the conclusion that these two men were one and the same. He offered Zuber a deal: if he flipped on Beekman and testified against him on sodomy charges, Zuber would get off scot-free.
The ADA then passed the information about Walsh on to the judge in the case. When Beekman was found guilty on charges of sodomy, largely thanks to Zuber’s testimony, the judge told Beekman that if he came clean about the extent of the spy ring, he would be lenient; otherwise, Beekman was facing a twenty-year sentence.
“He seemed willing to say whatever was necessary to avoid going to prison, which for a fifty-five-year-old gay man whom the nation now believed to be a Nazi sympathizer might well have been a death sentence”
According to the lead investigator hired by Dorothy Schiff, Beekman was “ingratiating, well-mannered, well spoken and plausible.” He was also terrified and rather loose with the truth. He seemed willing to say whatever was necessary to avoid going to prison, which for a 55-year-old gay man whom the nation now believed to be a Nazi sympathizer might well have been a death sentence.
Elberfeld had been a regular at Beekman’s place, but he also ran a rival brothel in Manhattan and had no need to go to Brooklyn if he wanted to question sailors. Moreover, Beekman had banned him from his house around Thanksgiving of 1941, when Elberfeld told Beekman that Sweden was next on Hitler’s list, and that after it was invaded, Beekman wouldn’t be so “uppity-uppity.”
The police literally tore apart both Beekman’s home and Elberfeld’s apartment and found nothing except a shortwave radio at Elberfeld’s, which was technically contraband when owned by a foreign national.
Elberfeld was placed on indefinite detention on Ellis Island—where he would remain for the rest of the war—but no charges were ever brought against him, and the police and the ONI no longer seemed interested in him at all. Instead, they leaned on Beekman to identify Walsh, once grilling him for over seven hours until he collapsed.
A few of the men arrested in the initial raid were also asked about Walsh, with some saying he was there, others saying he wasn’t, and a few saying they had no idea.
With no evidence other than a series of contradictory statements on whether Walsh had ever been at Beekman’s home, there was no case. Yet the government still believed that Beekman was hiding some source of income, which the judge seemed to believe would have linked Walsh to the story.
When Beekman refused to name his (nonexistent) financial backers, he received a twenty-year sentence to Sing Sing, the maximum-security prison in Ossining, New York.
By making a detailed analysis of Walsh’s travel schedule, investigator Doran conclusively proved that Walsh could not have been at Beekman’s establishment on any of the dates he was supposed to have been present.
“No one seemed interested in using that evidence to exonerate Beekman, who would serve out the entirety of his twenty-year sentence before emerging from prison (where he was called ‘Mother Beekman’) and disappearing from public records entirely”
Moreover, Doran tracked down a Connecticut doctor, Harry Stone, a regular at Beekman’s who bore a distinct resemblance to Senator Walsh. By presenting photos of Walsh and Stone to various witnesses (including Beekman), Doran concluded that Stone was almost definitely the man mistaken for Walsh.
Yet no one seemed interested in using that evidence to exonerate Beekman, who would serve out the entirety of his twenty-year sentence before emerging from prison (where he was called “Mother Beekman”) and disappearing from public records entirely.
As for Walsh, although his fellow Senate members congratulated him on his aplomb during the entire affair, the airing of his gay laundry (plus, no doubt, his opposition to the war) seemed to sour voters on him. He was ousted from the Senate in 1946 and died the next year.
After months of wild accusations, sting operations, and endless denunciations to the press, all the government got was the pointless destruction of the lives of two gay men and a witch hunt that sent innumerable others into hiding.
Today, the quiet red-brick building still sits at 329 Pacific Street as a private residence, with no trace of its infamous past showing in its innocuous façade.