The Homophobic Response to AIDS
By Aless Piper
July 9, 2011
I spent a recent week rereading Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, and there is an exchange between Ned Weeks and his brother Ben that sticks out in my mind as I write this. Ben says, "My agreeing you were born just like I was born is not going to help save your dying friends." and Ned responds, "Funny -- that's exactly what I think will help save my dying friends." Ned, of course, is right.
In the play, the mayor won't meet with them, the mayor's assistant won't commit to anything, even the saintly doctor who is overworked and underfunded won't put her name to what she wants Ned to do (tell gay men to stop having sex), and the people surrounding Ned aren't exactly the people he thinks they can be. "... I thought I was starting with a bunch of Ralph Naders and Green Berets, and the first instant they have to take a stand on a political issue and fight, almost in front of my eyes they turn into a bunch of nurses' aides." By the end of the play, Ned has been ousted from the organization he helped found, and his lover, Felix, is dead.
Tony Kushner wrote in the Foreword to the copy I'm reading that "Kramer has declared the homophobia behind the wide world's response to the AIDS epidemic a crime against humanity ..." In the next paragraph he goes on to write that "Kramer is telling us we must save ourselves. He is forcefully reminding us that being the object of hatred for millennia will make any subject hate her- or himself."
Sadly, homophobia continues to inform the world's response to the AIDS epidemic and LGBT community. Even with overwhelming evidence that homosexuality is not a mental illness, and certainly not a choice, and also that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate and is not, as previously thought, a gay disease, our politicians continue to make decisions based on the assumption that HIV/AIDS will not and does not happen to upstanding citizens, them, or anyone they know. In 2006, a politician in Toronto went so far as to say that "... I personally think it's a preventable disease. From what I know, if you're not gay and you're not an IV drug user, you probably won't get AIDS."
In the United States, funding cuts to AIDS programs and AIDS organizations have left a record number of people on waiting lists for services that could save their lives. A tip for politicians? If statistics are dropping across the board from the number of people contracting HIV/AIDS to the number of people dying from the disease or from complications, some of those programs and services you are so desperate to cut funding to must be working. But, as Larry Kramer said, AIDS has a tough time breaking people's hearts.
You can make a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS; sign a petition encouraging Congress and states to stop funding cuts to ADAP and other HIV/AIDS programs.
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Aless Piper is a 20-something office assistant by day, world-changer by night. She is a voracious reader, and addicted to iced caramel correttos from her favorite coffee shop. She has been reading TheBody.com for more than half her life.
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