The impact of AIDS on the American gay community

3 Feb

When considering the impact of AIDS on America’s gay community it is a sad reflection on misinformation, fear, and anger. At this point in time it isn’t worth rehashing how AIDS entered the country, we just have to accept that it did and left countless victims in its wake. The toll AIDS has taken on all Americans and all people around the world is horrifying. The way it impacted the gay community in America though is a double tragedy.

Initially so little was known about AIDS that the entire country lived in near constant fear of the dreaded disease. Hardly anyone knew the difference between HIV and AIDS, nor did they understand fully how it was and was not transmitted. Many who lived during that time recall the insanity with all the rumors spread throughout the media of how AIDS could be transmitted via toilet seats, water fountains, even a simple handshake was thought potentially deadly at one time. As people began looking closer at the transmission of the disease the most constant group of people that bore the brunt of the responsibility for transmitting AIDS was gay men. The role of heterosexuals, IV drug users, and even blood transfusions was downplayed.

As such the general public all too easily began vilifying gay men. While they undoubtedly contributed to the spread of AIDS, so too did every other demographic. Nobody wanted to say that however as the disease needed a face, someone the finger of blame could be pointed at. gay men served that purpose. When this unfair representation was coupled with misrepresentation of facts, phase two of the dilemma arrived: The social fallout.

The social fallout was widespread. Some called for quarantining all gay men so they could be left to die without infecting others. No mention was made of other persons infected. If a baby was born with AIDS suddenly it was inexplicably the fault of gay men, not possibly an IV drug using parent. The target expanded so much that even gay professionals were being dismissed from their jobs based on supposition and fear alone, HIV/AIDS positive or not until coverage was granted under the Americans With Disabilities Act. It didn’t end there though as even doctors and dentists began refusing to treat HIV/AIDS patients or those they even suspected might have it. A person with a rash or sore that could be related to some other condition or incident far removed from AIDS was suddenly labeled and considered a threat. While that was bad, it got worse.

Families were ripped apart as AIDS positive children were kicked out of their homes to fend for themselves on the street. Gay bashing hit an all time high in the U.S., and the idea of nazi-style branding was actually put under discussion by some politicians and political wannabes that chose to play on the fears of people surrounding the AIDS situation. In short it was as close to sanctioned open hunting season on gays as they often found themselves without the support of family, medical care, legal protections, and even friends that feared they would become infected through simple social contact. The gay man essentially became the pinnacle of social outcasts.

Even when the public began understanding the truth about AIDS and high profile celebrities began coming out one by one stating they had HIV but managed to live with it without going into the full blown AIDS stage, the fear did abate somewhat. It has taken over a quarter century to get to the point where gay men are no longer feared as they previously were. They are no longer the sole scapegoat for this tragedy among people that use their brain as more than filler for their skull. Even withing the gay community where fear of AIDS was just as bad and misunderstood, attitudes have changed.

The impacts we often forget to think about were some of the good things that came out of this horrid disease. People began practicing safe sex far more often, they started asking questions about potential partners sexual histories, and as a whole a generation of people learned we can get through a tragedy together. While the gay community will also suffer the stigma of this disease to some degree, times have improved, people have been educated, and the world has continued to spin on.

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