Posters Anger Condom Advocate
A dispute over safe sex turned personal Monday as a health advocate complained of being labeled a “Condom Nazi” on posters displayed in the restrooms of gay bars in West Hollywood.
Signs claiming that AIDS activist Michael Weinstein is “an enemy of the gay community” for demanding mandatory distribution of condoms at bars and restaurants throughout the city began appearing on restroom walls last week, officials said.
Weinstein, who is gay and Jewish, is accused on the unsigned posters bearing his photograph of having “betrayed us to make condoms the law of the city of West Hollywood.”
That prompted an angry response from Weinstein and others who complained that the posters were “an ugly act of anti-Semitic and homophobic hate” because of the Nazi reference.
Some bar owners, meanwhile, began taking down the posters Monday afternoon.
Weinstein, president of the Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, filed petitions calling for a citywide vote on his condom giveaway idea earlier this month after the City Council approved a scaled-down, voluntary distribution plan.
According to Weinstein, the city’s request that gay bars, coffeehouses and adult businesses make free condoms available to customers falls far short of dealing with what he calls “a public health emergency.”
The posters, which include the demand, “Stay out of our bedrooms, AIDS Healthcare Foundation,” assert that Weinstein’s condom campaign is geared “so his organization can make money off of AIDS.” Weinstein, whose organization could be in the running for a future city contract to distribute the condoms, called that a “big lie.”
City Councilman Paul Koretz was among those who condemned the poster at a City Hall news conference Monday afternoon. Others included a Jewish leader and one of the city’s most experienced gay rights activists.
Koretz described himself as “saddened and outraged at the anti-Semitic and homophobic poster,” warning that “words of hate speech lead to hate crimes against individuals.”
Rabbi Haim Dove Beliak, who leads a Downey congregation and is active in social justice programs, said the Nazism reference was “offensive and ugly . . . a verbal hand grenade.”
Veteran gay rights advocate Morris Kight blamed gay bar operators for what he termed a “psychological crisis” in the 2-square-mile city. “These bar owners have taken advantage of ignorance to advance ignorance,” he said.
Weinstein urged the poster’s author to “step forward and debate the issue, not in the restroom of a bar but in the light of day.”
Foundation spokesman Ged Kenslea said it is unknown how many bars have the posters. He displayed photographs taken at three Santa Monica Boulevard gay bars that show the “Condom Nazi” sign.
The poster was still up Monday afternoon at two of the three sites.
Jerry McCarthy, co-owner of the Mother Lode bar, said he was unaware that one was pasted on his men’s room wall until he peeked inside. He immediately began peeling it off.
“I have nothing against this guy,” McCarthy said, pointing to Weinstein’s photo. “I’ve never seen him in my life.”
Down the street at the Trunks bar, owner Bill Holland ordered an employee to use a razor blade to scrape one of the posters from his restroom mirror. He said it was placed there without permission.
But Holland said the city condom distribution plan is flawed because it singles out gay businesses.
He said West Hollywood gay bars are already suffering a decline in business because of anti-smoking laws, parking problems and on-going construction work along Santa Monica Boulevard. In addition, some men have begun using their computers to meet other men through the Internet instead of visiting bars, he said.
The manager of the third bar cited by Weinstein’s group, Rage, was unavailable for comment. But an employee said the poster has been removed.