By Michael E. Miller
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Siclari sighs at mention of the words circuit party. Does it bother him that everyone in the world who knows the circuit exists thinks of the White Party as part of it?
"Yes, actually it does," he says. "Because everything I understand, and know, and have experienced at the White Party tells me that it's a really magical experience, and it clearly is presented as a party with a purpose. If people saw these events, saw the efforts of education and outreach we do at them, these are characteristics that don't in the least conjure up the same things I think of when I hear the term circuit party." He points out that the party itself only lasts until 11:30 p.m., not until sunrise. "I think we do a really good job setting this event apart in that way, but I guess it's inevitable that we'll be called a circuit party.
"We make every effort to say to folks that we don't want the overuse of alcohol or the use of drugs at any of our events, and we have serious security at all of these events to ensure that everyone basically is staying on track," he insists.
But the question of whether or not it's appropriate for an AIDS charity to raise money by worshipping Bacchus continues to vex many in the gay community, including some prominent intellectuals. "The problem is we have increasing levels of drug use at these events," says Michelangelo Signorile, a New York City-based author and columnist for the Advocate who doesn't hesitate to lump White Party Week in with the rest of the circuit when it comes to sex and drugs. "We have increasing incidence of overdoses, and also drug use is connected to unsafe sex, which is on the rise as it is. We also have a decline in the efficacy of protease inhibitors and development of drug-resistant strains of HIV.
"There's entire culture -- the circuit culture, not the gay culture -- built around supposedly helping to solve the AIDS epidemic by raising money that is actually exacerbating the AIDS epidemic," he continues. "And on top of that, there's the idea that AIDS is over to many people. I see it as something that is a time bomb in a way.
"AIDS groups are going for the quick fix, the money these parties raise, and not looking at the larger picture. And the general apathy to AIDS makes their hunger even greater. These charities need to pull away from these events, and certainly not be supporting and promoting these events, where you have this intense drug use. You don't create a problem to solve a problem."
This point echoes one Marc Lichtman made as a parting shot when he quit Health Crisis Network. At the time he told New Times he didn't want to be a part of a fundraiser that simply created more clients for the agency.
Another former HCN employee agrees. "The drawback is who the party caters to: It's another circuit party, and we all know what," Arthur Ackerman relates. "People come from Minnesota where everyone's fat, and they see all beautiful guys running around. A lot of these guys have HIV, but they're not the typical person with AIDS -- skinny, with cane or crutch, you know? Now obviously between the cocktails and the steroids [which often are prescribed to AIDS patients to combat wasting syndrome], you can get even bigger than you were when you were negative. Some people still say, 'I know that guy's safe; just look at him!' And it's even easier to talk yourself into it if you're rolling on Ecstasy."
One ex-HCN staffer, who asked not to be identified, is blunt. "The board of directors has stuck its head in the ground about the drugs and the sex," he declares.
White Party Weekend chairman Alain Berrebi disagrees. "Our policy on drugs is zero tolerance," he says. He notes that WPW had some 250 volunteers this year specifically on the lookout for that sort of behavior. "But you can only do so much," he concedes. "It is a problem, but it's a problem in society as a whole," he comments. "We've been lucky, but we've been lucky because we've been proactive."
Don Jones, the former associate director of development for Community Research Initiative, doesn't see what's so wrong about raising money by giving circuit people a place to whoop it up. "Personally I don't have a problem with that," he says. "I debated that guy Signorile about this at a conference down here three years ago. The way I look at it, these parties are a way for affluent gay men to tax themselves."
Siclari might be uncomfortable with the term circuit party, but he seems to accept the "if it walks like a duck" argument. At Friday night's Snowball, the metaphorical duck in question is walking, quacking, and shaking his Lycra-clad tail feathers all over the Miami Beach Convention Center.
In the foyer outside Hall C, the better part of the scattered revelers indeed are shirtless, some sporting a theme costume: a brace of shirtless sailors over here; a cluster of rhinestone cowboys complete with cap guns, silvery vinyl pants, and Christmas lights in their ten-gallon hats over there. Now clad in an iridescent silver shirt, Wally Mahar offers a wave and a smile. The mood is festive, undimmed by the fact that Miami Beach Fire Rescue has just carted someone away on a stretcher.