Monday, October 02, 2006

Who's saying, "HIV is a gay disease"?

According to Saturday's L.A. Times, who is currently running billboard ads in Southern California blaring out the message: "HIV is a gay disease"?

Is it . . . Door Number 1: James Dobson; Door Number 2: Jerry Falwell; Door Number 3: Pat Robertson; or Door Number 4: the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center?

Click here for the answer to see if you are the lucky winner.

Frankly, when I see stuff like this, I already have a hunch I know what's going on. I am aware that people who have long been involved in AIDS activism are disappointed at the apparent complacency of gay men toward the issue of HIV in recent years, especially since AIDS medication has been so effective in keeping new infection rates at a fairly stable number each year. So when I saw this story in Saturday's paper, I kind of guessed that someone is trying to galvanize the gay community and return to the glory days when everyone cared a lot more about fighting this disease.

That said, isn't it ridiculous to be using the same catch phrase that the religious right has used to stigmatize people who have HIV? I mean, duh. I spent a number of years of my life detoxing from the religious right mindset. It is not just about knowing the right facts about homosexuality. These issues are highly emotional, and you have to navigate your way through so much of your own bigotry and fear. "AIDS is the judgment of God on homosexuals." "Romans 1:27 says homosexuals are 'receiving within themselves the due penalty of their error.'" "God AIDS those who AID themselves." Then I see an ad campaign like this, and I wonder if these activists are even in touch with where other people are at.

What's more, the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center admits that most of the gay men who are currently infected or at risk of being infected are men of color. Yet their ads feature white men, for one thing. And for another the communities that most need to be educated and involved in fighting AIDS because their members are so much at risk, are the highly religious black and Hispanic communities. I can tell you that they are not going to rally in support of their HIV-infected members around the campaign message that "HIV is a gay disease." According to the Times article,

Activist Cynthia Davis, who has labored for years to ease the stigma of HIV in the African American community, said the Gay & Lesbian Center's campaign could erase years of progress in a community that is skittish about homosexuality but at high risk for the disease.

"This is ludicrous. It's ridiculous," Davis said. "It's going backward."

I feel for that poor woman. Fortunately there are still some people out there who are making sense.

"I applaud the desire to have more personal responsibility in the gay community, but this is not the way to achieve it," said Michael Weinstein, head of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

"AIDS is not a gay disease . . . It is a disease of the immune system."