A fund-raiser held at Babe's prompts a curious response from an anonymous letter-writer. 

Spreading Fear

When Scott Dickens, owner of Glass and Powder in Carytown, suffered a snowboarding accident that left him in a wheelchair, fellow merchants stepped in to help defray the varied and costly medical expenses that followed. It was the neighborly thing to do.

And Babe's restaurant, at 3166 W. Cary St., was the right place to do it. An event April 16th drew nearly 80 people and raised close to $1,800.

By all accounts, the weekend-long benefit, also hosted at Cheers, was a success, raising nearly $4,000 for Dickens. But Lisa Montgomery, owner of Lex's and one of the benefit's organizers was stunned by what she got in return.

Just weeks later, Montgomery received an anonymous letter marked "personal and confidential" from "A Richmond Physician" claiming to have been consulted by a "patient" who had attended the Sunday night event at Babe's. She was worried she may have exposed herself to "possible health risks" after learning that Babe's was a "GAY BAR."

In the letter, the "physician" claims to have assured the woman that the risk of contracting HIV was virtually nil but that herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV) could be of concern since they are much more easily transmitted.

Although the letter-writer claims his or her missive is not intended to "cause waves" it seems to strongly suggest that places like Babe's should be avoided because the risk of herpes and HPV is "higher among Gays than in the general population."

According to Barbara Lea-Kruger, public relations coordinator for the divisions of HIV and STD at the state health department. the letter's suggestions just don't add up to proven fact. The only way Lea-Kruger says HIV can be transmitted is through sex, and the transmittal of herpes and HPV almost always require sexual contact. "It's not like you could rub up against an arm and get herpes," says Lea-Kruger. "People may say that theoretically it's possible."

The anonymous "physician" encourages Montgomery to "take this into consideration when planning future similar events."

A copy was sent to Jo Ann Drucker of the Carytown Merchants' Association. Drucker could not be reached for comment. So far, Montgomery's copy has been passed sparingly throughout Carytown.

"At first it hurt my feelings," says Vicky Hester, who has owned Babe's for nearly a year. "It's the first time for this kind of ignorance," she says.

"You can do any kind of [public health] research and in my knowledge of all the things that go around bars, this singles' bar - of mostly women - would be the least likely place to catch anything."

The letter won't stop Hester from hosting another benefit again, especially, she says, if one of her neighbors needs it.

"It's a little shocking," says Montgomery, "but it would never deter me from picking a gay bar or even a place that looks like a gay bar."

And if that prompts "A Richmond Physician" to write again, she hopes the sender at least will have the courage to use a real name. S

For more information about HIV, herpes or HPV call the state's toll free hotline: 1-800-533-4148.

Contact Brandon Walters at
brandonw@styleweekly.com or 358-0825, ext. 349.


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