Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Accountability and an olive branch

Dr. Gary F. Clark has written a comment on yesterday's blog article on "Accountability and World AIDS Day 2006." His comment is so important that I am responding in a new article so that I can address his points more fully. Dr. Clark says:

I agree that the issue of accountability applies to both sides of this issue. However, rather than being divisive and aggressive, perhaps an olive branch would be more effective. Stressing overlap[p]ing interests is often much more effective than emphasizing differences. The key goal must be to cure AIDS, but first that will take real understanding.

. . .

In summary, rather than citing differences, maybe AIDS activists can come together with everyone in the world by emphasizing that we are all humans that are negatively impacted by these disease states. And that fighting with each other is not the right answer!
My first response to Dr. Clark's comments was somewhat defensive. Being divisive is not such a good thing in my world view. A moment or two of thinking about the matter, however, led me to opine that we are already divided on the issue of HIV and have been since the beginning of the epidemic.

We, meaning Americans here but clearly applicable in other societies, have always viewed the epidemic as something that happens to the less-worthy "other." It has always been a dividing point between us and them, whoever "them" might be at any point in the epidemic.

Dr. Clark points out that "we are all humans." Oh, very yes! I recall a speech I made in San Angelo soon after I first came to Texas AIDS Network in which I talked about my sense that the AIDS epidemic was casting a very harsh spotlight on the cracks in the foundation of our society. Since AIDS seemed most to affect those whom we Americans were most willing to throw away--gay men, people of any color besides white, children, women--it seemed to me that the AIDS epidemic gave us the perfect opportunity to repair those cracks. Since HIV is an equal opportunity virus, I said, we need to rethink the divisions that hold us apart and realize that we are all affected by AIDS in one way or another. Therefore, I said, it behooves us to let go of those divisions and begin to work together to end the epidemic as well as the divisions.

Lo, these many years later, the divisions still exist. Rather than taking the opportunity to repair those cracks, we've used the HIV epidemic to widen them. And, while my comments regarding the World AIDS Day 2006 theme of accountability were not intended to be divisive, they were certainly intended to be aggressive.

I'm getting older by the minute and tireder. I am tired of the rhetoric about gay people and those who would use that rhetoric to hinder effective HIV prevention. Get over it already. I am tired of the lies that are told about condoms in the misguided hope that young people will cross their legs and remain abstinent. The result is that they are crossing their fingers instead of their legs--and putting themselves at greater risk for disease and pregnancy. I'm tired of ignorance about science in our country. And, while I'm making that point, could I just ask: How is it that the science that tells us to take an aspirin to help prevent heart disease is better than the science that prevents cervical cancer? I'm tired of the hypocrisy that claims to hold to a particular moral philosphy and then violates that philosophy in word and in deed. Did "do unto others" suddenly change from "as you would have them do unto you" into "as much as you can get away with"?

I'm tired of these things, but I'm not so tired that I wouldn't sit down with folks and talk about ways to move forward on treating and preventing HIV. What I am too tired to do is to allow them to change the subject to a side issue that isn't about HIV at all but rather looks at some other agenda. If we can't talk about the same subject, we're not talking at all.

Dr. Clark is absolutely right, of course. His recommendation has been my philosophy and my practice for years. The only problem is, I can't seem to get some folks to take that olive branch. Isn't it time we held them accountable for that?

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