Keeping Families Together
The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
July 6, 2012
An AIDS-Free Generation? Almost There
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
AIDS 2012 will convene in Washington DC from July 22 to 27. Organizers are expecting 25,000 delegates to come and attend sessions “on the latest issues in HIV science, policy and practice and will also seek to share key research findings, lessons learned, best practices, as well as identify gaps in knowledge.” The mood is optimistic. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health’s Director of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, thinks, “we can significantly slow, and ultimately end, the onslaught of this modern-day plague.” The current mood is a total reversal from the one in 1987 when the conference was last held in Washington DC. Then the mood was somber and the HIV/AIDS pandemic was spreading without much to fight it with. An HIV diagnosis then was tantamount to a death sentence.
The Bad Old Days Of Ignorance
We remember those early days, not because we knew anybody with the disease, but because our son told us he was gay in 1993. Back then, HIV/AIDS was known as the gay-cancer. For straight, ill-informed parents being gay meant their child was going to die of AIDS. It is part of many stories we have heard since, in addition to the shock, confusion, and self-blame when a son or daughter came out there was this equation: gay is equal to AIDS. In those days if you contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion you were an innocent victim, but if you were gay and contracted AIDS you deserved it.
Looking back, those were surreal times. On the one hand, there were people who believed that AIDS was a wrathful God’s punishment for being homosexual. He had used plagues to punish before, back in Egypt, a long time ago. On the other hand, there were people who fought hard against the stigma associated with AIDS. There were two closets back then, one for people with AIDS, one for people who were LGBT, though at times they were the same closet. People with AIDS were in the closet, because if they told people they had it, job loss and social isolation were a high probability. Almost the same reasons LGBT people were in the closet.
Even more ironic is that that first decade of AIDS gave the LGBT community a voice as never before.
As open lesbians and gays were drawn into policy formation and service delivery, as knowledge about gay lifestyles, and sexual practices, spread as a result of HIV and AIDS, so the homosexual community achieved a new openness and public presence.
We Are At A Turning Point And Personal Stories Will Help Make That Turn
Twenty-five years have made a difference. Dr. Fauci sees an AIDS-free generation. Medically, he may be right, but AIDS is more than just a medical condition. There are economic, social, and cultural dimensions to this horrific disease. The malignant virus is with us still and relentlessly spreading. As of June 30, 2011, the latest data we could find, the nine Bay Area Counties are home to roughly 9300 people infected with the virus and about 20,000 people whose infection progressed to AIDS. It affects different population groups differently. While it is no longer a gay disease, HIV/AIDS disproportionally affects the LGBT community and the sharpest increase of new cases is among African American heterosexual women.
It will take more than just science to eradicate AIDS. Access to medications must be affordable, stigma must be removed, and cultural beliefs must change. And here as elsewhere, we believe personal stories will bring the attention needed to stop this pandemic. People are already collecting and posting them and so we know we are on the right path.
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org