Over the weekend I finally got around to watching How to Survive a Plague (available on Netflix), a wonderful documentary about the AIDS activism group ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The film makes heavy use of archival footage from the ’80s and ’90s. One particular moment that I found illuminating was a clip from Crossfire featuring an exchange between Peter Staley, a prominent ACT UP activist, and Pat Buchanan. The first half of the segment is available on YouTube, but I haven’t been able to find the full clip. However, you can see it in the film at the 30-minute mark. Here’s a transcript of the segment:
: Peter Staley, you have the AIDS virus, and I am sorry. But, don’t you think that the Federal Drug Administration [sic] has a responsibility not to let people such as you have quacks that could cause even more harm than you already have?
: The problem is, is that the FDA is using the same process to test a nasal spray as it is to test AIDS drugs. And it’s a 7-10 year process.
: You have the FDA giving you a drug. So far you’ve got AZT. Why would—
: Which I can’t take because it’s far too toxic, and over half the people that have HIV can’t take it.
: OK, but the FDA says there is nothing else that is worth anything.
: Mr. Staley, this is gonna astonish you, but I agree with you a hundred percent. I think if someone’s got AIDS and someone wants to take a drug, it’s their life, and if it gives ’em hope, you oughta be able to take it. What I wanna ask you is whether you know of anything that you think might be some kind of miraculous cure that you think they’re sittin’ on at FDA.
: There are over one hundred and forty drugs out there that the FDA has identified as possibilities, and are in some stage of being looked at right now.
: Why are they holding back—
: Among that one hundred and forty, there’s gotta be one or a combination thereof that can slow down this virus or halt it in its tracks.
: You’re just simply carrying the virus, is that correct?
: I have a few very minor symptoms, and my immune system is virtually shot.
: What would you like to take?
: I would like to be able to take dextran sulfate, legally. I’m taking it on the underground right now.
: Well why not, Mr. Braden?
: Because for—I don’t know anything about dextran sulfate, and neither do you–
: Well I’ll tell you this: it’s an over-the-counter drug in Japan, and has been for twenty years.
: Over the counter.
: Over the counter in Japan?
: But if the FDA says—
: Mr. Staley–
: I’m only asking that they be released after there’s a minimal amount of efficacy, not a one hundred percent test.
: Well, a final question to you. Let me get something here. You’ve got the pink triangle on your shirt.
: I gather that means you’re a homosexual.
: Lookin’ in the camera, what would you tell some kid—say you had a younger brother, twenty-one years old, who also might have homosexual tendencies—What would you tell him if you wanted him to live a long life?
: Use a condom. And also to use a lubricant by the way that has a medicine that can—
: But aren’t you, this is Russian roulette.
: It is not Russian roulette. It is Russian roulette to not give people this information when human nature dictates that they’re gonna go out there and they’re gonna have sex.
: You mean celibacy is impossible?
: It’s just not gonna work. People aren’t gonna do it and lots of people are gonna die. Now would you rather have a lot of people cheating under celibacy with thousands of people dying or would you rather save those lives and let them have sex?
: Well I think that uh, well. Thank you very much Peter Staley, thanks for being in our studio, Mr. Braden and I’ll be back in a minute.
Some things never change.