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Miscellaneous News
Editorial: AIDS, the Times and the 'Flame of Consciousness'

October 15, 2009
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" (, 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 laws." 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 community.

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.