Chicago Free Press - October 15, 2009
An article that appeared last week in the New York Times, "Debate
on March Exposes Split in Gay Rights Movement"
(nytimes.com/2009/10/10/us/10march.html), described various
controversies surrounding the Oct. 11 National Equality March and
the difficulties GLBT activists have had in determining what
would work best: advancing our agendas state-by-state or on a
larger, national scale.
What most caught our attention, however, was the article's
flippant attitude towards HIV/AIDS. The article first stated
that, "as the AIDS crisis has receded, gay activists have had a
more difficult time mobilizing around a more diffuse agenda,
including issues like same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination
A quote from gay historian Dudley Clendinen follows. He adds, "We
can be thankful that the threat of AIDS has ebbed and is no
longer the death warrant it was, but that also turns down the
flame of consciousness."
The references to the "ebbing" of the AIDS crisis are sloppy
journalism at best and set a bad precedent at worst. Many in the
mainstream media look to the Times for their standards on how
certain subjects are reported. References like these send signals
to readers and other, less-informed journalists that AIDS no
longer poses a threat.
Few can deny that we know much more about HIV/AIDS today than we
did when the disease first made national news in 1981. Drugs have
allowed patients to lead long, healthy lives. New vaccines are
being tested. Stigma, at least in many locales, has eroded.
But a person with the infection is unable to obtain an insurance
policy in most states. Government funding for programs that help
infected men and women get housing, medication and other
necessities is drying up. Infections amongst young people are
climbing at frightening levels, as they are in African American
and Hispanic populations. The disease is still very much in our
Worst of all is that many scientists have predicted that, at the
current rate of infection, by mid-century we will reach
catastrophic numbers of people with the disease.
Numerous organizations remain dedicated to working on behalf of
men and women with HIV/AIDS, but it no longer seems to put fire
in the bellies of as many activists as it once did.
To be fair, we should point out that the Times also reported last
week on Sean Strub, a man with HIV whose life had changed for the
better thanks to these advancements in HIV medications. That
article clearly illustrated this shift in the community's
attitudes and perceptions.
We are not trying to inspire fear and panic over the infection,
but we must not act as if HIV/AIDS is going away because it has
become more manageable. Educating people about prevention and
getting them the tools they need to cope with the disease remain
as huge challenges.
This is not the time to drop the ball on HIV/AIDS. Though many in
the gay community are, unfortunately, moving on, there are still
people living with the disease who need them.