"Bug chasers" film debuts at Berlin festival

BY Advocate.com Editors

February 13 2003 1:00 AM ET

A controversial film about gay men who deliberately contract HIV or recklessly risk doing so debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival on Tuesday. Louise Hogarth's film The Gift is a collection of interviews with gay men, mostly from the West Coast of the United States, who talk about the phenomenon of "bug chasing"--deliberately seeking infection with HIV--and "gift giving"--intentionally infecting an HIV-negative person.

The men interviewed said they sought the virus because they were tired of practicing safer sex, felt guilty that they had remained negative while their friends and lovers were HIV-positive, or simply decided to take control over becoming infected instead of worrying about if or when they might be exposed to the virus. At least one man interviewed said he now regrets having been infected. "I've made a terrible mistake, and there's no fixing that," said Doug Hitzel, a 21-year-old from San Francisco. "There is no benefit in this, and that's what needs to be said."

The documentary's debut comes on the heels of an article in Rolling Stone magazine that quoted a San Francisco physician as estimating that at least 25% of gay men newly infected with HIV deliberately sought it out. That article quickly came under fire from AIDS activists as being misleading and sensationalistic, and two of the sources in the piece have said information attributed to them, including the percentage of gay men seeking HIV infection, is untrue.

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