Archives for posts with tag: Eric Sawyer

I had never taken a large amount of time to think about the AIDS epidemic until I watched Eric Sawyer’s interview. Sawyer made a very good point and the end of his interview that related to my life perfectly. He talked about the generational divide that separates his generation from teens and young adults that were born in the late 80’s and 90’s. “Most young people grew up after HIV was discovered” and it is not seen as a chronic illness, it isn’t seen as a crisis anymore. It is seen as a sickness that can be taken care of with a cocktail. Unfortunately, the drugs did not work for everyone. There are side affects that can cause disability as well as kill people. The dangerous nature of HIV and AIDS was something that I knew existed, but Sawyer put a much better perspective on its effect on the population, more specifically the LGBTQ community.

One of the issues that Sawyer brought up in the present day gay community is barebacking. People participate in barebacking because it is new and dangerous, it is more exciting because you shouldn’t do it. This causes great issues with keeping HIV from spreading. Along with barebacking, gay men that are bug chasers and gift givers make the spreading of HIV even more likely, as well as mutation.  Some people believe that once you have HIV having sex with someone else isn’t a problem. Unfortunately if two people have sex, and each is carrying a different strain of HIV, the disease can mutate as the two strains mix. The present day understanding of HIV and AIDS as not being the epidemic that it once was, is something that should be re-considered. The mutation of any virus or disease means that it needs further research and funding.

Though the subject matter is not the same, Contagion gives a perspective on the medicalization of disease and the hoops that have to be jumped through to create a cure and get it distributed to the public. In this film the world is struck by an epidemic and the audience is introduced to the process that the CDC and WHO have to go though to discover the R-knot of the disease and come up with a cure. The difficulty that the doctors in the CDC and the WHO have with this disease is the same issue that bare backers, bug chasers and gift givers will perpetuate if they continue to mix HIV strains together. The disease kept mutating as it moved from host to host, and until the doctors found the R-knot the disease was as uncontrollable as AIDS in its time. This modern perspective on disease gives those that don’t know much about epidemics a good understanding of what HIV and AIDS was like back in it’s time.

– Sarah Klapperich

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

Watching the Video with Eric Sawyer reminded me about how AIDS not only is a serious and fatal disease but also one that for some ridiculous reason makes people think that people with the disease are sexual deviants. Especially back when knowledge of the disease was new it was thought to be an illness associated with homosexuals participating in sexual activities not considered to be socially acceptable (i.e. homosexual intercourse).

After watching the video about how people with AIDS were represented and written about in society. The only two examples that came into my head were Rent the Musical and the incredibly long but beautiful play Angels in America. Angels seemed to connect to the story Sawyer was telling in the video we watched in class. In Angels in America, two characters Prior and Louis have a homosexual relationship. The two characters are very much in love and seem to have a wonderful relationship. It all changes when Prior finds out that he has AIDS. Louis realizes that he does not have the strength to watch Prior die and leaves him. Louis then begins a sexual relationship with a married Mormon named Joe. Joe is very uncomfortable with his sexuality and the play implies that before his relationship with Louis, Joe had a sexual relationship with his boss Roy Cohn who has AIDS but tells his friends that he actually has liver cancer in order to save his reputation. This play brought me back to Eric’s video because both address how having AIDS and being a homosexual greatly affects relationships and even one’s job. They also both discuss how society’s negative stereotypes on homosexuals with AIDS can keep people from being themselves in public and can also greatly damage a person’s self esteem.

Megan Taub

While listening to Eric Sawyer (co-founder of ACT UP and AIDS activist), I couldn’t help but think that the whole situation was strikingly similar to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. There wasn’t a movement to actually imprison people with HIV/AIDS, but the social and political ostracism wasn’t much different. Unfortunately, people in our society tend to point fingers without a second’s hesitation. If you’re not sure exactly where the hasty unlawful imprisonment of thousands of American citizens got us the last time, check out Koramatsu v. United States.

Basically, the U.S. argued that forcing thousands of people (the vast majority of whom were American citizens!) with Japanese heritage into concentration camps was “OK” since the safety of many was more important than the dignity and rights of the few. Nevermind the fact that this violated the Bill of Rights: we were at war with Japan at the time, so I guess they figured that anyone who even looked Asian was probably going to go on a random killing spree in the name of Japan. Great logic at work here…

 Sounds a lot like the AIDS epidemic, doesn’t it? After all, only the worst of our society (gay men, drug users, Haitians) were at risk, so addressing the rapid spread of the disease was obviously not on the priority list. Better yet, why not blame these people? They probably deserved it anyway… Same stellar logic…

In 1990, the Supreme Court ordered that monetary reparations be paid to the survivors (and families) of the Japanese internment. So, not only did the U.S. government look terrible, they were now out millions of dollars, too. Again, the parallels are clear. While nobody has stepped up thus far and made reparations to the victims of the refusal to attack the HIV virus, there is at least a general consensus that the government’s actions (or lack thereof) were awful.  

They say history repeats itself, and it seems they’re right. The AIDS epidemic broke out 40 years after the Japanese internment, and now 30 years after the initial outbreak we’re still not past the stigma and treating those with HIV/AIDS with dignity and respect. When are we ever going to learn?

-Mika Baugh