A gay and lesbian group denounced on Thursday what it called irresponsible reporting about alleged hysteria in Hollywood over AIDS. It said that there is no such hysteria and that it is forming a "media watch committee" as part of its effort to ensure that "fact will prevail over fiction" in news coverage of the incurable disease.
"It is time to stop the sensationalism. It is time for truth to come out of the closet," said Chris Uszler, chairman of the Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Artists (AGLA), a group that says it has 300 members who work in the entertainment industry.
He and other AGLA officials spoke at a press conference at the Los Angeles Press Club the day after the death of actor Rock Hudson. The actor, 59, died from complications arising from acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Hudson stunned the world last July when he revealed that he had the disease, which in this country primarily afflicts homosexuals, intravenous drug users and hemophiliacs.
Uszler emphasized that medical experts say that there is no evidence that AIDS can be transmitted by casual contact or proximity. However, he said, many news reports rarely note this and instead have emphasized rumors of widespread discrimination against gays in the entertainment industry because of the possibility that they may have AIDS.
Asserting that "many members of the news media have been seduced into sensationalism," he cited as a prominent offender a recent People magazine article on the AIDS issue in Hollywood. He said it is not true, as People said, that fear of AIDS has turned Hollywood into " 'a town near hysteria . . . .' "
Nor, he said, does his organization find "truth in recent reports that the entertainment industry is shunning gays because of AIDS." Instead, he said, "what we are saying is that the press has been irresponsible in describing Hollywood as rampant with (antihomosexual) discrimination because of AIDS."
What his 6-year-old group is trying to do, he said, is combat the possibility that reports of such discrimination will turn into "a self-fulfilling prophecy."
He said that one prominent Hollywood couple--actress Bo Derek and her director-husband, John--already have been quoted as saying they would require a blood test for AIDS of any actor before he would be hired to act in love scenes with Bo Derek.
Such tests as a pre-condition for employment are prohibited by California law, Uszler said. But, instead of noting that prohibition, he added, "many news accounts took the highly speculative tack that this was just the beginning of a general movement by all actresses in Hollywood to require such testing."
Derek, reached by phone Thursday at her ranch near Santa Barbara, emphatically denied that she or her husband ever said that they would require a blood test for AIDS as a pre-condition for hiring an actor. She said that a wire service last August erroneously quoted them as saying that, but later retracted the story.
"We've never said that," the actress said. However, she said, "we're not ruling it (such a test) out" when she and her husband start casting for actors to play opposite her in a new film, "Eve and That Damned Apple," due to begin filming early next year in New Zealand.
She said she hopes that before casting begins, research on AIDS will be able to show, without qualification, that the disease cannot be transmitted in such scenes or contracted by being in proximity to a person suffering from AIDS.
No decision on a blood test will be made until casting for the film begins, she said, "and at that time we will do whatever is the most intelligent thing to make everybody feel better."