If those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it then the United States is in a slew of problems. However, one that has remained untouched by much of the mainstream media is the reemergence of an AIDS epidemic, due to the legislation of conservative lawmakers and politicians. For those of you who are unfamiliar with 80s Reaganite America and the devastating effect it had on LGBTQIA+ people (aside from Reagan tripling the national deficit), allow me to illuminate a troubled past that is seldom taught or mentioned. In 1981 a study was published focusing on five gay men with a rare lung disease, this would quickly become known as "gay cancer" before receiving its official term: AIDS.
Four years after the first case of AIDS, Reagan used the term publicly for the first time, but it was four years too late. He called it a "top priority," but for the past four years he had been joking about it, laughing and dismissing the issue as Americans were dying, and most of them were LGBTQIA+ people of color. Hollywood star Rock Hudson came to Ronald and Nancy Reagan for help, but they dismissed him, and when reporters started to inquire about his health they pretended it was nothing more than the flu or pneumonia. That same year Elizabeth Taylor became chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and would later go on to create underground circles to distribute AZT (which had not been approved by the FDA for public use) to people with HIV/AIDS.
In 1987 Reagan made his first speech about AIDS, but it was six years too late at that point. Panic and stigma had already become a fast-acting poison among the American people, leading to mistreatment and violence against people with HIV/AIDS and the people who cared for them (Joseph A. Sonnabend was a doctor who was threatened with eviction from his apartment for treating patients with AIDS. This lead to the first AIDS-discrimination lawsuit in 1983). By the end of the 1980s 100,000 people had died of AIDS-related illness, and by 1999 it was labeled the fourth biggest killer worldwide, with almost 30 million people living with HIV and an estimated 16,000 new cases each day. We have come a ways since then, with improved treatment and medicines such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), but unfortunately there is a movement by the Republican presidential candidate to undo decades of work.
Donald Trump and Mike Pence have led a terrifying campaign that I can really only describe as the Swiss Army Knife of bigotry and hatred (racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQIA+, classism, islamophobia, xenophobia, etc.), but one point left out by many mainstream sources of journalism (excluding sources like OUT Magazine, The Advocate, and Pride) is how Mike Pence is already creating an AIDS epidemic in Indiana that is spreading across the south and midwest. Trump wants to appoint justices who bear resemblance to Scalia in their politics, but Pence wants to take funding for HIV research and put it towards conversion therapy. Yes, that includes shock therapy and ultimately leads to anxiety, depression, trauma, and ultimately suicide for most LGBTQIA+ people who are forced to enter conversion therapy, most of them being minors.
If these men reach the presidency (and in the event Pence somehow becomes the president) then it spells certain doom for many LGBTQIA+ people in the United States, especially Black and Latinx people within the LGBTQIA+ community. With HIV research funding cut who knows what else will happen, besides a lack of distribution of HIV/AIDS medication, hospitals, apartments, hotels, restaurants, and stores refusing service and/or accommodation. We will enter back into a Reaganite era where not only LGBTQIA+ people, but anyone with HIV/AIDS will be presented with harsh stigma and discrimination, and ultimately death for many. Men who have sex with men are currently banned from donating blood despite the fact that every donor is screened for diseases, and that puts a huge damper on the amount of blood that could be life-saving, and the law was only temporarily repealed so that queer men could donate blood for the victims of the Orlando shooting in the summer of 2015, so imagine what would happen with this type of legislation in place. Thus I ask you to engage in dialogue about these issues, question as much as you can, and help educate others, just like Gran Fury and ACT UP (the artist/activist groups which created the posters featured above). Silence on these issues is a form of violence, so speak up, and help others whose voices cannot be heard, for there is a chance they may be silenced forever. Please do not take this as fear mongering, I am simply pointing out the similarities in anti-LGBTQIA+ politics in multiple decades. We all have something to learn from history.
If you want to learn more about HIV/AIDS you can go to www.aids.gov or look at their timeline documenting the history of HIV/AIDS.
Open your mind, be brave, and be kind.
To See With One's Body and Soul
This blog documents all of my adventures, as well as my development into an artist, writer, and a better person.