On March 27, GLAAD, in partnership with ACT UP NY, descended on the New York headquarters of Simon & Schuster in opposition to the March 28 distribution of “The Real AIDS Epidemic: How The HIV Tragic Mistake Threatens Us All,” by author Rebecca V. Culshaw. A digital billboard with the messages “Shame on Simon & Schuster,” “HIV Is Real. Treatment & Prevention Saves Lives,” and “ACT UP! FIGHT BACK! FIGHT AIDS!” is displayed on the truck parked at 1230 Avenue of The Americas (6th Avenue entrance) of Simon & Schuster. Employees and spectators first caught a glimpse of the truck at the start of the work day, where it will remain until the close of business.
“We want everyone to know that AIDS denialism exists in 2023 and is just as deadly in 2023,” said Jason Rosenberg, a member of ACT UP NY and one of the protest’s lead organizers. “We have so many needless deaths from HIV AIDS due to pharmaceutical greed, stigma, and misinformation such as this. And it’s a shame,” he added.
Rosenberg tells GLAAD that Culshaw’s book and Simon & Schuster’s decision to distribute it facilitates misinformation and HIV stigma.
“We want the public to know, and we want Simon & Schuster to know that AIDS denialism kills,” said Rosenberg.
Anthony Feliciano, Vice President for Advocacy and Mobilization at Housing Works, tells GLAAD that Simon & Schuster has a moral obligation to present the truth about HIV in the books the company distributes.
“You [Simon & Schuster] have not only a professional but moral obligation as a publisher to verify facts,” Feliciano said. “And you don’t need to read a book. You don’t need to go to a website. It is clear this is an outright denial of HIV/AIDS. Words kill. And when words kill, policies end up being created around those words that kill people.”
The in-person protest by members from ACT UP NY follows an open letter to Jonathan Karp, President and Chief Executive Officer of Simon & Schuster, released on March 20. A coalition of over 500 organizations and notables have signed the letter demanding that Simon & Schuster stop the distribution of Culshaw’s book.
In the letter, members of ACT UP NY listed three demands of the publishing house:
Simon & Schuster immediately end plans for distribution of the book, “The Real AIDS Epidemic: How the Tragic HIV Mistake Threatens Us All by Rebecca Culshaw.”
Simon & Schuster reassess other future releases to ensure that other books won’t assist similar damage to public health.
Simon & Schuster create a public health working group to assure community members that this will not happen again.
In a press release, Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD, reacted to Simon & Schuster’s decision to distribute Culshaw’s book.
“It is unimaginable that Simon & Schuster, one of the largest and most respected publishing companies in America, would distribute a book by an author with a history of spreading false and scientifically disproven beliefs regarding HIV,” said Ellis. “In an era where misinformation spreads faster than truth, Rebecca V. Culshaw’s rhetoric has the potential to result in devastating consequences for people living with HIV. While HIV is now manageable, it is still an epidemic, particularly in the South, where racism, homophobia, HIV stigma, and the lack of access to high-quality healthcare continue to fuel an HIV crisis in communities of color,” she added. “With the release of Culshaw’s book, Simon & Schuster is choosing profit over public health in an alarming partnership that should concern us all.”
Culshaw’s latest release is not her first published material espousing AIDS denialism, nor the first time medical professionals and HIV advocates have challenged her dangerous rhetoric publicly. Dr. Kenneth Whitaker Witwer of John Hopkins Medicine and Dr. Ruy Ribeiro of the University of New Mexico dismantled Culshaw’s “egregious errors” in a four-page critique after the release of her 2007 book “Science Sold Out: Does HIV Really Cause AIDS?”
“AIDS denialism poses a real health risk to people living with HIV and their sexual partners,” said ACT UP NY. “We know that patients who fall into AIDS denialism are more likely to experience HIV-related symptoms of illness and have higher, detectable viral loads, meaning the virus (which is real) can be transmitted to their sexual partners. By releasing an AIDS denialist book, Simon & Schuster would encourage vulnerable people to ignore medical directions and stop their medications, which is dangerous to their health and is likely to lead to a higher amount of virus in their bodies.”
A few facts about HIV/AIDS:
More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV.
650 000 [510 000–860 000] people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2021.
People living with HIV today, when on effective treatment, lead long and healthy lives and cannot transmit HIV.
Medications like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) protect people who do not have HIV from contracting HIV.
While the number of new HIV acquisitions has decreased since the 1980s, new infections have remained at about 50,000 per year for more than a decade.
Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men of all races and ethnicities remain the population most profoundly affected by HIV.
African Americans continue to experience the most severe burden of HIV compared with other races and ethnicities.
A snapshot of organizations and individuals that have signed the letter to Simon & Schuster:
Act Now: End AIDS (ANEA)
Seven Stories Press
Southern Tier AIDS Program/Southern Tier Care Coordination
Treatment Action Group (TAG)
My Fabulous Disease
New York City AIDS Memorial
Disability in Publishing
Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research (FIAR)
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Oni Blackstock, MD, MHS
Julianna Catania, MPH
Rebecca Cohen MD, MPH
Tyler Fuller, MTS, MPH, CHES
Ellen Isaacs, MD
Journalists reporting on HIV/AIDS can find resources here.
Watch footage from the protest in the video below: