by Dominic Hamilton-Little
Dominic is all ears when it comes to Playboy's Christie Hefner
It is easy to dismiss Playboy as a misogynist dinosaur. But
before tossing the bunny out with the bathwater, it’s worth listening to
Christie Hefner, chairman and chief executive officer of Playboy
Enterprises Inc. In her most recent role as chair of the CORE Foundation
board, this one-woman dynamo raised $25 million to build the CORE
Center in Chicago which, upon its completion in the fall of 1998, will
be the nation’s first freestanding, specialized outpatient facility for
Dominic Hamilton-Little: Does Playboy have a particular responsibility regarding AIDS awareness?
Christie Hefner: Absolutely. We’ve been writing about AIDS
since 1983, and the Playboy Foundation has long supported AIDS service
organizations [ASOs]. Playboy is historically a credible and
prominent source of information about sex. We’ve always been very
pro-sex, but pro-responsible sex. We’ve walked a fine line, very
successfully, in that Playboy resisted much of the media-induced
hysteria – yet discussed the ramifications of unsafe sex. We’ve always
felt that people shouldn’t overreact but be informed.
I must confess to not reading Playboy, so I’m not sure who you appeal to.
We have a monthly circulation of 10 million, and it is the most popular magazine among college guys.
Have you ever had an openly HIV positive model?
Yes. Rebekka Armstrong is a Playmate who has dedicated herself to promoting AIDS awareness, most of all among women.
What direction do you think AIDS education should take?
We must acknowledge the tragic failure of our government to address
AIDS in the early years. We lost time and people that will never be
Still, we have so far to go: There are no condom ads on TV, which is
ludicrous. It should not be so hard for young people to access condoms.
America has one of the highest rates of teen-age pregnancy in the world;
just because we are not giving our kids condoms is not stopping them
from having sex.
And needle exchange cannot be denied. So what if it is a political hot button? We have no excuse for not doing what is right.
What do you think of the recent surge of unsafe sex, namely barebacking?
This is alarming. I hope it’s not a real trend and not representative
of a major shift in behavior. On an emotional level, I understand it. I
mean, if you had lived for the last 10 to 15 years under a quasi-death
sentence, being told that human sexuality is off-limits and fatal, at a
certain point you just rebel. And with the notion of a morning after
pill and advances in HIV treatment, I am not surprised this is
On a purely human level, it reminds me of the violence that came out
of the Black Power movement. I may not have liked it, but I understood
it. We cannot demonize sex just because there is no cure for AIDS. Not
all forms of sexual activity carry equal risk, and AIDS educators must
draw clearer distinctions between levels of risk. And, people in the
community where this is happening need to talk to each other.
What is the CORE Center’s mission?
To revolutionize health care for people with HIV and AIDS. It’ll be a
state-of-the-art clinic combining research, education and care in an
outpatient setting. Anyone in the area – regardless of who their doctor
is or whether they have insurance – will benefit from it. I like to
think of it as the hub of a wheel in HIV treatment. By providing care,
including alternative therapies like acupuncture and massage, the Center
will hopefully become a model to be replicated.
Was it hard to raise $25 million?
harder than I thought, but I’ve been gratified by how few people said
no. I made a point not to go after money that would go to other ASOs,
like Ryan White funding. I believe that in raising these funds we needed
to raise awareness as well. I’ve gone to McDonald’s, the Tribune
Foundation and even Sears, and people did listen. Frankly, the notion of
the Center is so compelling and relevant that it is difficult to say no
I can see why. Your candor and passion are invigorating.
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