Archives for posts with tag: HIV/AIDS

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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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