It’s ironic. There are LGBT people who would describe themselves as progressive thinkers on social issues, but still carry harsh, and judgmental, Old Testament views when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases. There is an assumption that a grave mistake has been made when a person has unprotected sex, and some sort of punishment must follow, an illness. Hence all the people with HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis, and various kinds of warts on their dangling participles shouldn’t be surprised when they find themselves sick.
Even more troubling is that many members of the gay community carry around a sort of self loathing which manifests itself as disdain for people living with HIV. At one level, they are appalled at people who say that AIDS is GOD’s punishment, but at another level, they act like they believe that garbage. They are the same ones who feel guilty whenever they engage in love-making. I call them the “in-betweeners.” Not really out and proud, and only gay when they have sex. We have a lot of them in the LGBT community primarily due to the stigma of simply being gay.
Take the time to look at some of the comments readers have made following articles on HIV/AIDS. You’ll find reactions such as this;
“We could have ended AIDS a long time ago if we just stopped having unprotected sex.”
“I gave up sex years ago, and now have embarked on a different journey.”
“After all the safe-sex programs initiated by the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s, no responsible person should be getting the AIDS virus.”
“Sorry, if I meet someone and discover they are HIV+, any chance of a dating relationship ends there.”
“If AIDS is such a devastating disease, then why do we need a day to remember it? Is it because HIV the viral killer isn’t really and never was?”
“Stay out of places likely to be infected with AIDS.”
“Rates of HIV are going up. What’s the answer? Keeping [them] contained in a restricted area?”
I don’t really blame people with HIV for wanting to keep their status a secret. The risks are great; loss of a job, friends, family. And exactly who has their back if they do come out? It doesn’t look like the LGBT community cares one way or the other. Yes, there are many of us who work tirelessly, on behalf of those with HIV, so that lives will be improved in some way. But not enough of us do the right thing, and too many of us judge and condemn those with HIV.
We have come miles in terms of the treatments made available to those with HIV. However, education programs aimed at combating the spread of all STDs have failed. In the meantime, a new antibiotic resistant strain of gonorrhea discovered in Japan two years ago, HO41, threatens to be even more contagious than AIDS. It doesn’t take rocket science to see that education on the necessity of using a condom and practicing safe sex is not enough.
I think as a LGBT community, we need to question our own attitudes about sex, and start a different dialogue. Why can’t sex be enjoyed for what it is? Is it reasonable to expect to get a virus after having unprotected sex? Are we to accept the spread of STDs as the new norm? In this enlightened age of medical science, should we be putting more effort into finding vaccines for all STDs including HIV, instead of throwing money at education programs that don’t really work?
The LGBT community has an awesome responsibility. I believe it is up to us to us to take the lead. Having a large part of our community suffer from the ravages of the AIDS epidemic has brought us to that very platform.
If we begin by losing the shame and stigma that comes with HIV, Syphilis, Gonorrhea and all the other STDs that would be a good start. Then we can reach into our soul, and tell ourselves that sex with others is not only a natural expression of love, but an enjoyable pleasure. Then, we will begin to realize that it’s the diseases that we need to be fighting, not each other.