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Semantics
Jul 18, 2013

I contracted HIV in 1978 - three years before Dr. Gottlieb reported the first officially recorded death from AIDS - so I experienced it all from the beginning. Back in the day a huge brouhaha erupted within the Community over whether we should refer to our Gay brothers who were dying of the grotesque disease as "AIDS victims." The disagreement appeared trivial and meaningless, and seemed to me to be more of an attempt at distracting ourselves from impotently confronting the immersion in helpless horror that held us all in its grip. But the idea that people could be carping about mere words in the midst of such appalling suffering was, to me, unthinkable. I never understood what the argument was about or what the point was, but it became necessary, for the sake of political correctness, to refer to lovers, best friends, acquaintances, business contacts, co-workers, et al., as "Persons With AIDS" or lose our âGay in Good Standingâ card. The word âvictimâ is defined in my computerâs (inadequate) dictionary as âa person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of [an]âevent or action.â I was around to watch while scores of my baffled, panic-stricken, frantic loved ones succumbed to miserable, horrific, ugly, painful and mysterious deaths, to die from maladies that affected only animals before there was even an accurate diagnosis or even the most scant palliative treatments. But oh no, they werenât âvictims!â

Now, 32 years later I read that you âchallenge the notion that people living with HIV should be classified as sufferersâ on the basis that you believe it is an incorrect characterization and perpetuates stigma and victimization. The stigma is already there, and victimization follows hot on its heels!!! Do you honestly believe that if we infected were referred to as âHIV Experiencersâ or âHIV Affectedâ or even âPersons With HIVâ that the HATERS would be tricked by the nomenclature into behaving civilly and humanely toward us? I donât think so, and I beg to differ with your challenge.

Response from Dr. Young

Hello and thank you for your thoughtful rebuttal.

I'm not deluded to think that a single word, alone will change hatred. But, respectfully disagree with your notion that words don't matter. They do.

Reversing stigma will take many efforts from many quarters. Calling out stigmatizing or criminalizing language is a part of this effort.

In the end, I think we largely agree on goals, though perhaps disagree on specific methods. Let me quote our friend and professor, Dr. Julio Montaner from University of British Columbia (from the IAS2013 conference):

"We want all those in need- wherever they live, whoever they love, whatever their drug use history, however they identify and however they earn a living- to have supported access to the best HIV treatment and care, and the most effective prevention strategies, in a stigma and discriminatory free society."

BY



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