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