Update, 10:34 a.m.: This post was updated with quotes from Anthony Losquadro, executive director of Intaction.
Surely, President Clinton was a little freaked out last night when in the middle of his event -- a Clinton Foundation Millennium Network talk in New York featuring the former president, Chelsea Clinton, and actor Ed Norton -- a whistle blew and a group of men stood up, held hands, and chanted, "Stop exploiting Africans; circumcision does not stop AIDS!"
The protesters were self-described "intactivists" -- those who believe that circumcision is actually a mutilation of the genitals.
Although circumcision is routinely performed on infants in the United States, it is not in other developed countries. Germans even moved to outlaw the practice last year (though Jews stopped the law on religious grounds), and it is banned in some Australian hospitals. Circumcision became widely popular as a means to prevent males from masturbating. Today's medical establishment generally supports circumcision, arguing that it has preventive effects for penile cancer and other diseases, though some studies say it leads to erectile dysfunction and other problems.
Last night's protest was led by a group called Intaction and promoted by "The Barefoot Intactivist" -- a University of Florida graduate who gives his name as Kevin and who runs barefoot to promote awareness of the anti-circumcision cause.
Protesters targeted Clinton because he has been a huge supporter of programs that seek to circumcise hundreds of thousands of African men in an attempt to slow the spread of AIDS.
Protesters say this is misguided -- that the research is flawed -- and that Africans are being used as pawns in science experiments.
Anthony Losquadro, executive director of Intaction, said that he and seven other activists had been planning the protest for a month. They each bought $100 tickets to the event, and had actually intended to put on white suits with bloodstains on the crotches before standing up, but the rows were packed too closely together to maneuver without sending the audience into a panic.
Losquadro said it was about midway through the program, when Norton was interviewing the Clintons about their foundation's initiatives, that his group interrupted. Clinton coolly said, "OK, you guys had your chance to speak, now its my turn" and "attempted engage us in a little bit of a dialogue. He mentioned the three studies in African countries that show circumcision results in a 60 percent reduction in the transmission of AIDS." These three studies are the basis upon which millions of dollars are funneled into circumcision campaigns, though anti-circumcision activists say they research is flawed. "But it's kind of difficult to do a dialogue [about such a complicated subject] in the middle of the event," Losquadro said, "so we changed out chant to 'Condoms, no cutting' because we believe that condoms, education, and antiretrovirals are much more effective [in stopping the transmission of AIDS/HIV]. Then Chelsea Clinton interjected and said, 'The two are not mutually exclusive,' and we were escorted out of the building and the Secret Service questioned us."
Losquadro says he became an activist because "I see circumcision as the wrong thing to do to babies because they can't consent," he said. "It's just a matter of right and wrong, and we believe we're on the right side of this issue."
A statement by Intaction called African circumcision campaigns "exploitative and racist health policies," explaining:
The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Clinton Foundation, and the Gates Foundation jumped on the circumcision bandwagon to demonstrate their effectiveness to their stakeholders and their donors. However, these organizations were either misguided or blinded by their quest to increase goodwill and donations by hyping circumcision. Male circumcision is a dangerous mistake in the fight against HIV, and it endangers both men and women. Recent studies examining circumcision rates and HIV prevalence found that circumcision did not significantly the reduce rate of infection in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and America.
See the full statement by Intaction here.
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