UntitledThe Politicization of AIDS in the United States
During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, to be diagnosed with the symptoms of "AIDS" was equivalent to a death sentence. In the early 1980's, most of the early AIDS victims died, within a year or so, because there was no known cure and the doctors just did not know then how to deal with the complications of AIDS.
Once the biology of the disease was better understood, a few years after the outbreak of the epidemic, it became more evident that
can infect any individual through exchange of body fluids (blood, semen, vaginal secretions, etc.) with an infected source or individual. However, because of the way that
got introduced in the
largely affected men (see figure below), more specifically, "men who have sex with men (
The fact that the disease affected mostly gay men and was transmittted through sexual contact further stigmatized those infected with HIV, and by extension, the gay community, in general. Because of this "origin" and the socio-cultural and religious climate in the
at that time,
was labeled then as the "Gay Men's disease"; in fact, it was considered then as primarily a "White Gay Men's disease".
AIDS, the "moral majority" and the Reagan administration. Unfortunately, the "wild fire" spread of the disease during the 1980's coincided also with the growing political power of the self-appointed Christian "moral majority" in the United States. To the latter group,
has become another political weapon to ostracize further, if not isolate politically, a historically victimized community.
Social and religious conservatives, proclaiming themselves the "moral majority", used the looming threat of the
crisis to thwart the acceptance of the gay culture in the
. During the 1980's, this so-called "moral majority", then at the height of their power, used their political influence in the Reagan Administration and the Republican Party to block the use of federal funds -- to investigate the biology of
and find therapies to combat the virus and
. They also launched a moral campaign and used "
" to ostracize the gay lifestyle.
The inadequate or lack of response of the Reagan administration to the growing AIDS epidemic is a testament to the political clout of the self-appointed Christian "moral majority". There was no equivalent federally-funded "Star Wars" against the growing AIDS epidemic. In fact, the spectre of the growing AIDS epidemic was used to justify further discrimination of the gay community. Calls to "quarantine" those who were afflicted with AIDS were popular during the early stages of the AIDS epidemic.
To an extent, the so-called "moral majority" succeeded in their political campaign. During the early stage of the crisis, the American people turned their eyes from the looming
epidemic. After all, their sons and daughters cannot be gays; thus are unlikely to contract the "gay disease". With this attitude, the American people watched their sons and daughters contract
at an alarming rate of spread and progression.
The aftermath of this politicization of AIDS and the apathy of the general public?
rose rapidly from an unknown disease in 1981 to become the top cause of death among the
age group in the
(see figure below).
The "Gay Community". Historically, with a few exceptions, homosexuals have been marginalized or persecuted in many societies. The "Stonewall riots" in 1969 gave birth to a movement that started the political empowerment of homosexuals. What begun as a "disgruntled riot" in a gay bar in New York, soon gave birth to a "gay movement" that swept the world. Gone were the days of quiet submission to political persecution. It led to a "gay community" evolving its own culture and soon starting to flex its political muscle and have its voice heard. The movement however did not quell; in fact, it may have energized the "historical enemies" of the gay community.
After a decade of growth as a cultural and political community, the AIDS crisis was the most severe test that confronted the gay community. With no clear allies during the reign of the "moral majority" in the 1980's, the gay community launched its own grassroots campaign to confront growing AIDS epidemic within its own ranks. [Visit
UntitledGrassroots Campaign Against AIDS & the "AIDS Coalition"
for an overview of the grassroots movement against AIDS in the US.]
The vigorous grassroots movements within the gay community led to a dramatic decline in new cases of AIDS and deaths due to AIDS-related illnesses among gay people. As important, the grassroots movements helped in the maturation of the gay community as a political and socio-cultural force.
In contrast, the absence of similar grassroots movements among other ethnic groups contributed to the significant changing demographics of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. [Visit
UntitledAIDS and minority groups in the US
for an overview of the impact of AIDS among the various ethnic minorities in the US, as well as Trends, and the other links therein, for more "pictographic" presentation of the changing demographics of AIDS in the US.]