Published Nov. 27, 1997, in The Miami Herald

Circuit party planners meet to discuss unsafe sex, drugs

By DOROTHY ATCHESON
Herald Writer

As the muscular masses descend on Miami for this year's White Party Week, a national controversy continues over the perceived hazards of ''the circuit'' -- the ever-expanding succession of gay dance parties held around the world, mostly as AIDS fund-raisers.

On one side are authors/activists like Michaelangelo Signorile and Gabriel Rotello, whose recent books Life Outside and Sexual Ecology raise alarms about unsafe sex and drug use in the gay community, especially on the circuit.

On the other is a newly formed group called Sex Panic, espousing freedom of choice, and dubbing Signorile and Rotello ''neo-conservatives'' whose anti-sex moralizing has led to police crackdowns on gay clubs.

With the debate increasingly moving into mainstream media, gay culture as a whole is newly subject to public scrutiny, and many in the community -- in and outside the circuit -- are nervous.

''My fear,'' said Richard Seigler, administrative director of the South Beach AIDS Project, ''is that if the people who are organizing events and participating in discussions don't find solutions to the problems, a third-party pterodactyl will swoop in and say, 'OK, you're not going to do this anymore.' ''

So the project organized a panel called ''Boy Toys with Brains: Making Circuit Parties Smarter for the Millennium,'' -- the first such community discussion in Miami.

Moderated by journalist Eugene Patron, the panel pitted Steve Kammon, editor of the glossy party guide Circuit Noize, against Dr. Stephen Fallon, education director of Center One, Broward's oldest AIDS service center. Scheduled panelist Signorile backed out amid the negative backlash of his book tour.

The panel wasn't as contentious as expected, with both Kammon and Fallon agreeing that circuit parties should not be demonized, but that attention should be paid to the behavior that takes place there.

''Sex happens everywhere we congregate,'' Kammon said. ''Any time gay men get together, we have sex. And some percentage of that sex in all places is unsafe.''

But many fear the risk of unsafe sex increases when partygoers, attempting to enhance the circuit's tribal bonding experience, take euphoria-producing drugs like Ecstasy, Crystal Meth, Special K, and the relatively new and frightening GHB -- an anesthetic that has caused several well-publicized overdoses.

''Drug abuse and HIV infection are big problems on the circuit,'' Kammon acknowledged. ''But [condemnatory] books like Signorile's are the wrong message for changing this culture.''

Instead, both Kammon and Fallon agreed, the answer lies in better education. To this end, said Kammon, party promoters across the country have begun meeting with one another.

''The meetings started because of a liability concern over GHB at the parties,'' Kammon confirmed, ''but they have evolved into a group talking about education,'' and in particular how to convey to partygoers that ''it is less acceptable to be a mess.''

The South Beach AIDS Project recently launched a provocative poster campaign in both English and Spanish that warns against mixing recreational drugs with sex, and identifies the perilous impact such drugs can have on popular AIDS medications.

Yet Seigler pointed to an inherent conflict in drug education. ''If someone's already doing drugs, you want to tell them how to do so safely. But you can't ignore that drugs are in fact illegal. If someone's never done them before, to educate about how to do them safely rather than not to do them at all is irresponsible at best.''

Referencing an oft-cited 1997 FIU study showing a 24 percent HIV infection rate among gay men in Miami-Dade County, Dr. Fallon said, ''Guys, I don't know what's going on in the gay community, but we must be kidding ourselves. Do we really believe steroids are no problem? Drugs are no problem?

If it was straight people,'' he continued, hypothesizing a circuit-like atmosphere in a heterosexual setting such as Hooters, ''wouldn't we find it just a little bit embarrassing and pathetic?''

Arc of Gadyva

Women turned out in droves last Saturday for the opening of Gadyva Bar in Coconut Grove.

An ambitious new venture by the venerable Lisa Cox of All Girl Productions, Gadyva is also the first women's establishment to be an official bar at this year's White Party.

Boasting a restaurant, coffee bar, cigar bar and more than 10,000 square feet of space, Gadyva represents Cox's long-held dream to provide weeklong entertainment for lesbians. Offering additional nights for men, and other special events, she hopes to franchise the concept to New York and Atlanta by the year 2000.

Call 1-800-691-4784 for more information.

EVENTS

  • Beginners kayaking: At Urban Trails Kayak, Haulover Beach Marina, 10 a.m. Dec. 7. $20-$25. Sponsored by Southeastern Great Outdoors. Bring lunch in plastic bag and sunscreen. Reservations: (305) 538-0960.

  • Gift baskets: Sunshine Athletic Association is raising money to buy gift baskets for people with HIV and AIDS. Donations of food and toiletry items sought. Fund-raiser for the project is Dec. 6. Call (954) 428-0287 for more information.

  • Holiday social: Southeastern Great Outdoors sponsors a gathering Dec. 6, 4312 Royal Palm Ave., Miami. $3 for food and drink. Reservations, (305) 538-0960.

  • Patti LaBelle: Benefit concert for Health Crisis Network, Saturday, 8 p.m., James L. Knight Center Auditorium, 400 SE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets $25 and $35 through Knight Center Box office, (305) 372-4634, or Ticketmaster. VIP packages available that include reception and dinner hosted by Madonna, $2,500 donation, (305) 759-6181.

  • Thanksgiving celebration: Fun, friendly atmosphere and great food. Today from 2 to 6 p.m., Body Positive Resource Center, 175 NE 36th St. (305) 576-1111.

  • World AIDS Day vigil: Memorial service and candlelight vigil to remember loved ones and friends who died of AIDS. 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Olympic Park, Southwest 152nd Avenue and Kendall Drive. Free. Please do not bring food or drink; bring a candle.

    Outlooks is a column about gay and lesbian life in South Florida. To contact any of the writers call (305) 376-3770, or fax them at (305) 532-3009. Notices can be mailed to: Outlooks, 407 Lincoln Rd., Suite 9-D, Miami Beach, FL 33139. The e-mail address is
    outlooks@herald.com

    At Tamiami, You Won't Get Stuck With The Sticker -- Click Here!

    [IMAGEMAP]

    [an error occurred while processing this directive]