Today is World AIDS Day. It has been
observed every December 1st for twenty years, although the
pandemic is in its twenty-seventh year. Students at Emory University
will display 800 panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, former U.S.
Surgeon General David Satcher will be the keynote speaker at a prayer
breakfast in Atlanta, and South Africa, a country widely criticized
for its AIDS policies, will mark the day with a moment of silence.
But few of the press releases we reviewed actually discussed how to
World AIDS Day is politicians and
clergy orating, while organizations and governments soul search.
But AIDS is neither; AIDS is sex and
drugs, mainly the gay kind and the injectable version. It clusters
around three high-risk groups: gay men, prostitutes and IV drug
AIDS is stigma. Because the disease
first appeared in gay men, homophobia stigmatized HIV in the first
AIDS is political. From the onset of
the disease, homophobia parallelized prevention, research and
government funding efforts. Former North Carolina Senator Jesse
Helms opposed funding for AIDS on the sole basis that it would help
Gay men were first to organize against
the disease that was decimating their community. Gay activists
demanded answers about HIV, invented safe sex, and eventually forced
governments around the world to fund research and prevention
programs. The knowledge of how to end AIDS was at hand – protect
yourself sexually, avoid IV drug use (or use clean needles).
In some countries, stigma continues to
interfere with that eradication program. In many African countries
homophobia continues to drive gay men underground, where they cannot
be helped by aid workers. In India, the world's largest democracy,
being gay remains illegal.
The HIV drug cocktail has freed us from
the death sentence of AIDS in the West, while simultaneously
defanging the perceived
threat by young gay men. But while the drug cocktail has reduced the
amount of visible scar tissue, it has not altered the dynamics of the
During the early Bush years, the
administration sought to refashion AIDS as a humanitarian crisis.
With a surgeon's scalpel it cut out the sex, drugs, gays, sex workers
and addicts. A new policy that emphasized abstinence was devised
from massaged UNAIDS figures showing an increase in AIDS among young
women. Billions have been spent around the globe on ineffectual
policies advocating monogamy while ignoring the three high-risk
AIDS is preventable. It remains
largely a gay disease in Western countries, which gay men need to claim as their own, if
only to help ourselves. Quilts will keep the memory of our loved
ones nearby, but remembering them should come with a commitment to
helping ourselves. A commitment to remaining HIV-negative is a step
towards ending AIDS.
And ending AIDS is what World AIDS Day
should be about.