Grandstanding By Michael Weinstein? Never!
a OP/ED by Michael Whiteacre
You Can Always Trust Michael Weinstein
On June 14, 2009, Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), published a moving anecdote in a story entitled, “Where Have All the Condoms Gone?“
“Ten years ago my picture was wheat-pasted across West Hollywood with the words ‘condom Nazi’ scrawled across it. Needless to say, as my Jewish and gay brethren had suffered the most at the hands of Hitler, I was deeply offended. The poster in question arose from AHF sponsoring an initiative to require bars in WeHo—both gay and straight—to have condoms available.”
A December 2000 POZ Magazine article entitled, “Tales of the (Safer Sex) City” by Douglas Sadownick, detailed Weinstein’s attempts to put the condom-distribution initiative, the Safer Sex City Act, to a March 2001 vote.
The plan was to force bars and restaurants in West Hollywood, one-third of whose patrons are gay, to display / distribute condoms on the premises. The article noted that the measure would “increase city-purchased condoms to 500,000 per year.”
It all began with a proposed February 1999 Safer Sex City Ballot Measure that “sought not only to force bar owners to stock condoms in visible locations, but to exempt nonprofits from city parking regulations, and also limit city funding for nonprofits based outside West Hollywood.”
Council member Jeff Prang opposed the measure. “It included too many unrelated issues, and I thought that the most prudent way to effect public policy was through a legislative alternative rather than the ballot.” In July 1999, Prang and fellow Council member Paul Koretz instructed city staff to draft a condom “giveaway” plan to present to the Council.
While Weinstein’s initial proposal did indeed “require bars in WeHo—both gay and straight—to have condoms available”, this new plan it exclusively targeted “high risk” establishments, which everyone understood to mean “gay.”
Nonetheless, Weinstein signed on.
Model Tony Valenzuela noted, “Gay men don’t skip condoms because they’re not available. They choose not to use them because it has an emotional and intimate erotic meaning. And gay men need to be respected that they are mature enough to use them when they feel appropriate and not be parented by AHF.”
In January 2000, the City Council, responding to the complaints from local bar owners, dropped the word “mandate” and voted 5 to 0 for a voluntary condom distribution plan.
Weinstein, a man who can’t stand to lose and always doubles down, went out and gathered 4,634 signatures (twice the required number) by to put something called the Safer Sex City Act up for a vote in the March 2001 election. This version omitted the “high risk” language, but required that any establishment that makes more than 50 percent of its revenue from alcohol be required to make free, city-purchased condoms available to their patrons.
According to the POZ article, Michael Niemeyer, a prominent West Hollywood bar owner “charged that Weinstein and Prang were playing into the hands of the right wing, making political hay by thrashing the gay community. ‘Bars have traditionally organized gays and have also been targeted by homophobes,’ he said. ‘Every time you divide lists based on sexual orientation, you are on a bad footing….’ And he accused Weinstein of being an opportunist (Weinstein ran for LA City Council in the ’90s), whose organization, AHF, stood to gain from condom-handout handouts.
“Within a week of Weinstein’s second proposal, discussions in AOL Internet chat rooms began to suggest that Weinstein was dangerous, worse than Dr. Laura or Jesse Helms. And then the posters appeared. With an unflattering portrait of Weinstein and the captions ‘CONDOM NAZI’ and ‘enemy of the gay community, they materialized on the walls of bars and restaurants throughout West Hollywood.”
The posters, which included the demand, “Stay out of our bedrooms, AIDS Healthcare Foundation,” asserted that the actual purpose of Weinstein’s condom campaign was “so his organization can make money off of AIDS.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that, “Weinstein, whose organization could be in the running for a future city contract to distribute the condoms, called that a ‘big lie.’”
Weinstein also complained to the Times that the posters were “an ugly act of anti-Semitic and homophobic hate,” and called a press conference to denounce the attacks and “condemn this act of hate speech.
“As a gay man and a Jew, my people were double victims of the Holocaust,” Weinstein said. “Nazis committed mass murder. Using that term not only insults me as a Jew and a gay man but it degrades the lessons of history.”
However, in March 2010, nine months after Weinstein published his touching memoir about how “deeply offended” he felt being called a Condom Nazi, he received the following email (part of a large dump of documents recently leaked to media and government officials):
From: Agapito Diaz
Sent: Friday, March 19, 2010 12:11 PM
To: Michael Weinstein
Subject: FW: Condoms in Porn: media coverage
Like Joey, I heard the story on KCRW. I applaud you and staff, I know you have been working on this issue for a while. However, I can’t resist thinking that you are earning your West Hollywood name, “Condom Nazi”!
Sent: Friday, March 19, 2010 12:24 PM
To: Agapito Diaz
…and proud of it.
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