The more Eric Sawyer spoke about his challenges of being a gay man in a time period when that lifestyle was particularly frowned upon, the more I felt for his particular situation. I was so surprised at the amount of opposition he faced when advocating for the rights of individuals who were HIV/AIDS positive and the blatant disregard of his advocacy by the US government. I was also marveled by the fact that he conquered so much, even in the face of this opposition. Sawyer started his own advocacy group, ACT UP, which has made strides in gaining support in fighting the AIDS crisis and started a housing program for homeless people fighting AIDS. Seeing as how the government or President Reagan did not even mention the term “AIDS” until the last year of his presidency, it is so surprising to me that Sawyer and his colleagues were even able to get their programs off of the ground.

In addition, the 1970s were not a great time for the understanding of the effects of certain diseases (particularly AIDS) on the human population. Public health seemed to be a foreign concept to some agencies, seeing as how their solution for housing homeless AIDS patients was to put them up with patients suffering from Tuberculosis. Today, as we now know that AIDS is an immuno-deficiency virus, we can conclude that housing them with a TB patient would almost surely result in certain death. However, some argue that this was the goal of government officials, to weed out those with AIDS by infecting them with other life-threatening diseases. This mirrors other “genocide-type” practices, but people didn’t notice because it was happening behind closed doors. The fact that the US government was ostracizing a certain group of people as recently as 50 years ago is very unsettling. One thinks of these practices as happening to an ignorant, uninformed societies in far off places when it has in fact happened here on our very own soil.

-Meredith Light

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