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RE: “SWEETLAND SOUR” (The Mail, 7/28) and “Barking Up the Wrong Research Tree” (The Mail, 8/11).

Some people would call it ironic, but it was because of AIDS that I first became involved with animal rights. When my dearest friend, Robert Redding, who helped me develop the Elvira character, found out he had AIDS, I was determined to keep him going until a cure was found. I was always on the lookout for anything that would make him feel better, and one of the things I heard about was a macrobiotic diet. But the only way I could talk Robert into it was to do it with him! After a while we lapsed from the macrobiotic diet, but Robert and I both stayed vegetarians, and I began reading more about vegetarianism. That’s how I slowly got pulled into the animal rights movement. I joined People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and started educating myself about the issues.

I was shocked when I found out about the government’s response when the doctors who were treating the first AIDS cases in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco requested federal funding so they could do basic clinical studies with their patients to learn how the disease was transmitted. Those studies went unfunded, and the government chose to spend taxpayers’ money to overdose rats on “poppers,” an over-the-counter drug believed to be popular in the gay disco community, while the virus spread to doom generations.

Although it is in the interest of the animal experimentation industry to tell us otherwise, everything of importance we have learned about AIDS has come from human clinical and epidemiological studies, not from tests done on animals. This includes our knowledge of how the disease is transmitted, how it progresses, and how it can be prevented. Empty promises from those who get rich promoting animal experiments distracts us from our best defense against AIDS—prevention—and our most promising pathway to a cure—human clinical studies. Yet only a small fraction of the billions spent trying to infect and kill animals is used to educate and save people.

Some people, like my friend Robert, didn’t get the AIDS prevention message in time. For them, we must offer care and support and a vigorous fight not to let opportunistic career experimenters pour precious funds down the drain on fruitless and cruel animal experiments. Hope in AIDS research lies in more studies of long-term survivors, HIV inhibitors in human saliva, in human cell and tissue cultures, and in ethnobotany studies. These may not put money into the pockets of animal breeders, dealers, and the medical companies who profit from repetitious animal experiments, but they hold a far brighter promise of results.

Back before AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and other major support groups developed, I packed myself into my Elvira dress and hosted benefits for any struggling AIDS group that asked. I still do, but I always make sure the money goes to educating people about the prevention of AIDS and helping those already afflicted, instead of lining the pockets of those who make a living by killing animals.

“Elvira, Mistress of the Dark”, Los Angeles, Calif.