Today is World AIDS day. As people the world over are ravaged by this terrible disease, we take a moment today to reflect on its reality. What makes HIV/AIDS so terrifying is what it does to its victims. Systematically destroying the immune system, leaving the victim defenceless against any and all health risks, people with AIDS are forced to struggle through a horrifying journey of dramatic weight loss, additional illnesses, pain, and the knowledge of certain death. Due to a culture that normalizes adultery and rape, many women have been infected by their unfaithful husbands, and it turn their babies are condemned to the horror of AIDS from the moment they are born. Millions of lives are lost every year, and we in the Western world ignore it to some degree. The fact that it does not effect us in the same way as cancer, coupled with social stigmas that marginalize AIDS victims with no regard to their individual situation, allows us to pay less concern. It is a grave situation, but it is getting better.
At this juncture, I must say that I have no problem with donations given to cancer research. Cancer is also deadly and deserving of attention. My problem is that while we show compassion and concern for those among us afflicted with cancer, we ignore those removed from us afflicted with AIDS. In contrast to the money donated to cancer research worldwide, the money donated to AIDS is very little … yet we are very close to a cure. Throughout the last couple of decades, great progress has been made in AIDS research. We have seen vaccines, medications, and we are closer to a cure now than ever before. With every passing year, the situation looks more promising.
When I was a child in the 1980’s, there was a stigma that pinned AIDS as a “gay disease.” I have no knowledge of how this stigma arose or what has kept it alive among the religious right, but it has contributed greatly to the hatred and fear exercised against the LGBTQ community. The truth, of course, is that AIDS is NOT a “gay disease.” The worldwide per capita infection percentages are greater in the heterosexual community, and to deny that is nothing short of ignorant. Furthermore, considering what this disease does to our fellow human beings, we must ask ourselves what the stigma says about us. Are we so heartless, so unfeeling, that we would rather pass blame than help? It is appalling to me that we place more importance on blaming a minority for such a horrible disease than we do on practicing compassion and love toward the victims. Even worse, the stigma has been placed on the LGBTQ community unjustly. Just as misinformed as the view that homosexuality is an “unnatural choice” is the view that AIDS is a “gay disease.” My wish today is that people soon forget these ideas and begin exploring the reality of the world around them.
Today, on World AIDS Day, please consider these and other realities surrounding the all-important issue of HIV/AIDS. The work of advocates, scientists, health professionals, and everybody else involved has brought us ever closer to a cure. Our continued help is needed, for if we are to utilize a cure once found we must pressure the powers that be to keep the cost and supply accessible. We have come this far, let this day be a reminder that we must continue to fight. Lives are counting on it!