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The Riddled Death Of Spencer Cox



Chivas Sandage writes a profound tribute to Spencer Cox and challenges us to question why the man who wrote the breakthrough drug trial protocol that saved millions of lives likely died because he didn’t take his medication.

I wanted to write a tribute titled “Didn’t We Get Arrested Together?”—Spencer’s favorite pick-up line—but hit a wall of questions. How could a key activist and spokesman for the pivotal organization ACT UP, a co-founder of the Treatment Action Group, and the director of the HIV Project for TAG—a self-taught “citizen scientist” who passionately fought and won the battle against AIDS for himself and for all of us for almost twenty-five years—so quietly succumb to AIDS-related pneumocystis pneumonia at the age of 44?

If Spencer Cox wrote the controversial, groundbreaking drug trial protocol that saved millions of lives, why would he stop taking the medication that he helped make available and which had already saved him, ultimately gambling with and finally inviting his own death?

Why would key AIDS activist Mark Harrington and others claim that Spencer had returned to using methamphetamines when some of his closest friends counter that’s not true—not the man they knew in his last years?

How could Spencer’s significant contribution to AIDS research—co-designing and personally writing the drug trial for the early protease inhibitor that was approved in only six months, making AIDS no longer a death sentence—go unattributed to him in David France’s recent Academy Award nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague? He’s a handsome face in numerous frames and a felt presence. He has a few lines. The addition of a single brush stroke could have helped define Spencer’s role (and notable character) in a film that understandably focuses on the more prominent activists. In fact, France made a powerful clip of Spencer’s last interview for the documentary available on YouTube and Facebook but it isn’t in the film. That haunting footage is just an outtake. How ironic for a man who had been an actor and playwright to see himself so faintly sketched into the story of his life. After the filming and screenings and parties, how did he feel about having a minor part in his legacy, while he was dying of the disease he so victoriously fought?

After defending his controversial protocol in Barron’s made him, as France says, “briefly, the most-hated AIDS activist in America,” how is it that he came to be considered a friend by thousands in the gay community in addition to friends from college and high school and countless people who never met him in person yet corresponded with him frequently—even daily—on Facebook and other social networking sites?

Even some of those closest to Spencer through the years are struggling to understand the mystery of this brilliant, generous, devilishly quick-witted, charismatic, and complex man’s death. When obits claiming Spencer died of AIDS-related illness were followed by others linking his death to drug addiction and/or not taking prescribed medications, Internet discussions flared. More obits and articles and blog posts about him (and comments on all of the above) continue to roll out. Strangers, fellow activists, colleagues, exes, old friends, mentors, and conservative trolls all have something to say.

Spencer500The scroll of his Facebook wall is full with weeks of remembrances, links and photos. In one Bennington-era snapshot, a gorgeous, dark-haired boy wearing a disheveled, untucked, deeply unbuttoned white shirt carries a long-stemmed red rose between his teeth and looks right into you.

Follow Spencer’s tracks and you’ll be reminded and/or learn: AIDS is #6 among leading causes of death for Americans between the ages of 25-44; gay and bisexual men of all races account for the majority of those with HIV; Black and Latino communities are significantly and disproportionately affected; half of the 1.1 million who are HIV positive in this country do not have health care; one out of every five people with HIV is unaware they are infected; depression and risk-taking behaviors including substance abuse and unsafe sex amongst middle-aged gay men are all diagnostic symptoms of PTSD.

Spencer was a veteran of the war we don’t call war; he was a hero amongst heroes that are largely unknown to most of the nation. His death makes every bit as much terrible “sense” as my combat photographer father’s death from a “war-related” illness called alcoholism-induced cirrhosis of the liver. Spencer just lasted a little longer than my dad after returning home from the front lines. Combat veterans like Spencer struggle to ever fully return. When you’ve fought that hard and seen the faces of men you love—so many still just sweet-faced boys—collapse around you, one after another, slowly or quickly dying, some in your arms while others live but are never the same again, it changes you.

How can day-to-day life ever compare to the steady, cyclic adrenaline rush of literally fighting for your life and the lives of those around you, or the deep-seated camaraderie of surviving, eating, drinking, and partying with men who you share a bond with like no other you’ve known, or working harder than you know how to, doing work that makes a difference—even makes history. How, after all that, how do you settle and stay settled in the “civilian” life year after year, decade after decade?

Spencer Cox_1The meetings, support networks, protests, and actions that punctuated Spencer’s days as a younger man simply don’t exist in the same way or to the same degree as they once did. In the minds of many, the AIDS epidemic is supposedly “over.” But we’ve got half a million people taking a handful of relatively expensive drugs every day. And no cure. And no vaccine.

Yes, it appears that what we have is a pharmaceutical dream—continual demand with no end in sight.

The person I most want to ask about Spencer is Spencer. So I went to him—went to his words—looking for clues.

Nothing I’ve read prepared me for what he had to say about his last months.

I happened upon his outed Gawker alias “FrenchTwist40.” About two and a half months before he died, he got caught up in a volley about class issues in America. The article in question was about one percenter Westgate CEO David Siegel who threatened his employees with closure if Obama were to be re-elected. Someone made a random comment about a perceived welfare queen standing in line at the grocery store with six kids supposedly holding IPods. A discussion about benefits and fraud started up. As FrenchTwist40, Spencer challenged the other commenter to “try living on it.” Suddenly, he began to speak very personally:

Look, I have a disabling illness. It won’t last forever, but for the moment I’m stuck with it. And the thing about it is, it’s not constantly disabling. Some days, I’m fine, and get around with no problem. Other days, I’m curled in fetal position in bed the whole day (and more often, several days), racked with pain the whole time. Some days I’m on the subway getting the stink-eye from some old or pregnant lady who clearly wants my seat, and can’t tell just by looking at me that I’m sitting because I’m on my way home from a doctor’s appointment, and if I stand for one more minute, I’m going to fall on the ground.

And the biggest problem in terms of getting work? I don’t know in advance which day is gonna be which. Which makes me an undependable employee. If you saw me on one of the good days, you’d assume I was gaming the system. Why? Because you don’t know what else is going on. And you also don’t know about the choices between things like food and medicine that I’m making. And whenever some zero-tolerance wise-ass decides I need to recertify, that means I have to haul OUT of bed, no matter how sick I am, and go sit for hours in a waiting room, or run all over town trying to collect various papers from doctors, etc., which yes, is often mind-bogglingly awful if, say, it’s a nausea day. So your zero-tolerance for fraud policy? It’s actually a less-than-zero tolerance, because some people simply aren’t going to be able to get through all that. They won’t be able to pull the bullshit together until they’re forced to, when their benefits get cut off, and by then who knows how many days that means without food, medicine, or what penalties for late rent. So MY point is, mind your own damned business. There’s enough oversight that we know fraud is NOT, despite what you say, terribly rampant. And if you’re busy judging someone else’s haul at the checkout, then guess what? Maybe you need another hobby, but you’ve got too much time on your hands.

And P.S. It’s not just YOUR tax dollars going to fund these programs, any more than it’s MY premium dollars going to pay your medical bills whenever you file an insurance claim. I paid taxes for a lot of years in this town to ensure that programs like this WOULD exist for people who need them. I now need them, and feel not the slightest compunction about using them. Nor do I need some busy-body balefully eyeing my grocery cart trying to decide what I deserve and what I don’t. And if you tried to tell me directly, I would quite rightly tell you to mind your own fucking business.

Which is what I’m telling you now. Mind your own fucking business.

Spencer let his opponent have the last word. But his own final comment on the subject reminds me that the name he chose for his organization—“Medius”—can be traced back to the Latin for “the middle finger.” Spencer had the ability to give it while being intensely intimate and making himself entirely vulnerable to the kindness—or lack thereof—of strangers.

Perhaps our questions can lead us toward greater understanding and inspired action. I’m also reminded of what he said in his outtake clip about the breakthrough protease inhibitors that have saved the lives of millions: “What I learned from that is that miracles are possible. Miracles happen.

May Spencer’s death disturb us enough to do something. Something big, like he did. May we find the courage to restart and support the Medius Institute for Gay Men’s Health—the legacy he intended to leave his community and the world. May we break the silence that isolates people living with HIV/AIDS and cultivates depression, feeding PTSD and its myriad symptoms. May we demand universal health care in this nation so that no one has to choose between food and medicine. May we break the silence that still equals death.

If Medius had received the funding it needed and deserved, Spencer might be alive. May his death haunt us long enough that we learn to understand and solve the riddles that killed him, before they kill us.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to make certain facts clearer.

Image of Spencer Cox (top) courtesy of Other images courtesy of Facebook with the exception of the Bennington-era photo by Debra Eisenstadt Morgen.

Chivas picChivas Sandage’s first book of poems, Hidden Drive (Antrim House, 2012), places Ada with Eve in Eden and explores same-sex marriage and divorce. Her essays and poems on gay marriage have appeared in Ms. Magazine,The Naugatuck River Review, Upstreet, Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate (Prometheus Books, ‘04) and are forthcoming in Knockout Magazine. Her work has also appeared in Artful Dodge, Drunken Boat, Evergreen Review, Hampshire Life Magazine, The Hartford Courant, Manthology: Poems on the Male Experience (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2006) and Morning Song: Poems for New Parents (St. Martin’s Press, 2011). Sandage holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA from Bennington College. She lives in Connecticut with her wife and daughter and blogs at

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‘No Longer the Lord’s Chicken’: ‘Christian Woman’ Says She’s ‘Grieving’ Over ‘Woke’ Chick-fil-A Hiring a Diversity Officer



A self-described “Christian woman” who is a contributor to the far-right wing students organization Turning Point USA, is being widely mocked for posting a video attacking Chick-fil-A over claims the conservative, privately-owned, faith-based fast food restaurant chain recently hired a diversity officer.

“So I’m grieving,” the video, apparently by Morgonn McMichael (below), begins. “It’s lunchtime. I’m here with Aubrey. And we really wanted some Chick-fil-A but because they decided to hire a diversity, equity and inclusion corporate position, and also bow down to the woke lord because their ESG scores, and also I found out do you know their chicken is funded by BlackRock and Vanguard? Yeah their farms, they use Tyson and this other farm, BlackRock and Vanguard funded chicken.”

If you think that’s a mouthful just wait, there’s more.

“Chick-fil-A,” Morgonn continues, “you are no longer the Lord’s chicken. You’re actually the woke chicken and I’m really upset about it as a Christian woman. All we wanted was some good fried chicken so now we’re gonna go to Cane’s, we’re going to try it out.”

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Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers is a Louisiana-based fast food restaurant with 600 locations in the U.S. and Western Asia.

“This is really difficult because there’s a Chick-fil-A is across the street. Now eating chicken fingers instead of chicken nuggets. I know, first world Christian woman problems, but no one will ever understand the love that I had for Chick-fil-A.”

“You know, we’re taking this boycott Chick-fil-A thing seriously, and it’s really difficult.”

The video was posted to Twitter by the anonymous group PatriotTakes, which has been described as a liberal political action committee. It quickly went viral, garnering over 2 million views in just eight hours. Late Friday afternoon Morgonn tweeted, “sarcasm and satire are things the left doesn’t seem to understand.”

For those who don’t know, Turning Point USA, a far-right Christian nationalist organization, was founded by the ultra-MAGA Charlie Kirk, now a member of the highly-secretive Council for National Policy.

CNP’s membership list also includes former Trump attorney, ally, and advisor Cleta Mitchell, and Ginni Thomas.

“CNP members range from the leaders of the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, to the Southern Poverty Law Center designated anti-LGBTQ hate groups Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom,” Documented reported last year.

Turning Point USA was in the news last week after Rolling Stone reported: “Charlie Kirk’s TPUSA Teamed Up With a Registered Sex Offender.”

Meanwhile, over at TPUSA, Morgonn McMichael’s bio says she is “a Gen Z social media influencer from Texas whose effort to empower and inspire America’s next generation of young conservative female leaders through patriotic online video content has amassed over 100,000 unique social media impressions every week on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and more.”

READ MORE: ‘I Don’t Want Reality’: Senate Republican Explodes Over Origin of Concept of Race – Calls to Teach ‘Jesus Loves Me’ Instead

“Morgonn has dedicated the last year promoting freedom of speech, religious liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government both online and across TPUSA campus chapters. Morgonn has also reached tens of thousands of viewers of all ages with her articles and appearances on Newsmax, Real America’s Voice, OAN, and Breitbart, offering insightful cultural commentary into the most pressing issues concerning young conservatives today.”

Apparently, Chick-fil-A’s diversity officer (more on that next) is one of “the most pressing issues concerning young conservatives today.”

Morgonn did claim Chick-fil-A “decided to hire a diversity, equity and inclusion” officer.

Well, stunningly, the company – long known for its hate-filled attacks on same-sex marriage – did, over a year ago.

A USA Today fact check found Chick-fil-A hired Erick McReynolds, its vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, more than a year and a half ago. The company even has a DEI page featuring him on its corporate website.

PatriotTakes also tweeted, “TPUSA Contributor Morgonn, who is now calling for a boycott of Chick-fil-a, previously said, Cancel culture is toxic’ and ‘needs to be canceled.'”

As some social media users pointed out, Cane’s Chicken Fingers is very pro-LGBTQ.

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“Since its inception in the early 2000s, Raising Cane’s has been a strong supporter of the LGBT community,” San Diego Gay & Lesbian News (SDGLN) reported in November. “The chicken chain was one of the first companies to offer domestic partner benefits to its employees and has been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. In 2015, Raising Cane’s was named one of the best places to work for LGBT Equality by the Human Rights Campaign.”

In response to Morgonn’s video, Mississippi Free Press editor Ashton Pittman posted this screenshot from a Raising Cane’s tweet:

Over at TPUSA, Morgonn has written content including a piece titled, “Disney’s Male Employee in a Dress Sparks Outrage,” that begins, “At Disney, anyone can be a princess — even a grown man.”

Also, “Disney in Decline: Company Loses Billions Due to Woke Agenda.”

Noted actor and activist George Takei weighed in, tweeting simply, “They’ve lost their goddamned minds.”

Watch Morgonn below or at this link.

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Watch Live: President Biden to Deliver Rare Address to the Nation on Bipartisan Debt Ceiling Agreement



President Joe Biden will make a rare address to the nation Friday evening, to share with the American people the results of successful negotiations with Republicans to avert what could have been not only a national but global economic disaster had the debt ceiling crisis not been averted.

Biden is being credited for smart and savvy negotiations while keeping out of the public eye and allowing Republicans to control the narrative, while steering the agreement to one best for the American people.

Even Speaker Kevin McCarthy “conceded that he had been impressed with Biden’s negotiating team during the talks, calling them ‘very professional, very smart’ and ‘very tough at the same time,'” HuffPost reported Wednesday.

Many extremist House Republicans were hoping for a default, and over the past several weeks they made clear they did not understand what the consequences would have been.

RELATED: ‘Objectively Amazing’: Economists Cheer ‘Extraordinarily Robust’ and ‘Close to Unprecedented’ Jobs Report

Watch President Biden below at 7 PM ET, or at this link.

RELATED: ‘Republicans Got Outsmarted by a President Who Can’t Find His Pants’: GOP Congresswoman Throws Debt Ceiling Tantrum

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FBI Agrees to Brief Top House Oversight Leaders on Unsubstantiated Allegation Against Biden



Under threat of a contempt of Congress referral against FBI Director Chris Wray, the Bureau has agreed to allow a briefing for the top Republican and top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee on a years-old unsubstantiated allegation, which has been called a second-hand tip, accusing then-Vice President Joe Biden of a supposed wrongful act.

The existence of the lone, unclassified document, called an FD-1023 form, until recently was not even verified by the FBI.

Chairman Jim Comer (R-KY) and Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) “will receive a briefing from the FBI and review the FD-1023 form behind closed doors in a secure SCIF, a sensitive compartmented information facility at the Capitol rather than going to FBI headquarters, as the bureau had initially offered,” CNN on Friday reported.

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“While the document contains the allegations made by an unnamed whistleblower, it doesn’t provide proof that they are true, people briefed on the matter said. The FBI and prosecutors who previously reviewed the information couldn’t corroborate the claims.”

Chairman Comer, who has been accused of using his position on the powerful Oversight Committee aid Donald Trump’s efforts to regain the presidency, late last month appeared to validate that accusation.

The unverified FD-1023 form “has origins in a tranche of documents that Rudy Giuliani provided to the Justice Department in 2020, people briefed on the matter said,” CNN notes.

“According to Comer,” CNN adds, the FD-1023 form, “dated June 30, 2020, says [a] foreign national allegedly paid $5 million to receive a desired policy outcome, based on unclassified and legally protected whistleblower disclosures.”

On Thursday, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who has teamed up with Chairman Comer, came under fire for admitting he does not care whether or not the accusations against President Biden are true or not, he wants to pursue them regardless.

READ MORE: Classified Pentagon ‘War Plans’ Document Trump Bragged About in Audio Recording Is Missing: Report

CNN earlier this week reported that even then-Attorney General Bill Barr questioned the validity of the alleged document.

“The allegations of wrongdoing by the then-vice president, many originating from sources in Ukraine, were dubious enough that Attorney General William Barr in early 2020 directed that they be reviewed by a US attorney in Pittsburgh, in part because Barr was concerned that Giuliani’s document tranche could taint the ongoing Hunter Biden investigation overseen by the Delaware US attorney.”

Ranking Member Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, in a statement this week characterized the FD-1023 as containing “unsubstantiated, second-hand claims,” and called it a “tip.”

Raskin has also accused Comer of being determined to send a contempt of Congress referral for Director Wray to the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

“It is increasingly clear that Committee Republicans have always planned to hold Director Wray in contempt of Congress to distract from the obvious fact that they do not have evidence to support their unfounded accusations against President Biden. This latest political maneuver underscores Chairman Comer’s determination to use the Committee to help former President Trump’s reelection efforts and pander to extreme MAGA Republicans.”

Last month, The New Republic reported, the “House GOP accused Joe Biden and his family … of engaging in business with foreign entities—but were unable to provide any actual evidence linking the president to any wrongdoing.”

“House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer released a 65-page memo detailing a sprawling investigation into Biden and some of his relatives, particularly his son Hunter Biden. Nowhere in the massive document was there a specific allegation of a crime committed by Biden or any of his relatives.”


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