Dustin Kight

Re: Huckabee, Thoughts on HIV and Quarantines

Filed By Dustin Kight | December 08, 2007 6:32 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Politics
Tags: black women, gay youth, HIV/AIDS, Mike Huckabee, people of color, president, public health, quarantine, Reagan, South Carolina, STD, stigma

As Mike Huckabee gains in the Iowa polls, he no longer gets to play the favored part for an underdog in a presidential race: the underdog, itself.

The press love to shoot skeet with rising stars, and Huckabee's getting his as we speak. In a recent article, Huckabee was questioned for his role in pardoning a convicted rapist. He's also being questioned for his 1992 support for quarantining people with HIV/AIDS.

The possible quarantining of people with HIV/AIDS in this country is seldom discussed. Reading about it in today's New York Times was surprising, to say the least, and brought to mind a number of thoughts.

Until a few years back, you might have read an article referring to gay men under 30 as the post-AIDS generation. There was a sense -- in and outside the community -- that AIDS was no longer a serious issue for young gay men. Gays had learned their lesson. New drugs worked miracles. Sex without condoms was unheard of.

I came of age (and came out) during the time in which the post-AIDS ethos took root. I had sex without condoms, assuming that since the guys I was sleeping with were also young, they couldn't be HIV-positive. They couldn't carry any STD -- they were simply not of that generation.

It's important to note that this all took place in South Carolina, where education and advocacy efforts for LGBTQ people were basically non-existent, if not mostly invisible to the people they would serve. I wizened up as I went to college (in New York), where condoms and sex ed pamphlets were always available in envelopes on students' doors.

But no envelope with condoms and lube could give me the early history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country. None of the educational materials mentioned the "gay cancer" or quarantines.

I don't recall what book I was reading when I first learned that top advisers to Reagan recommended quarantining gay men who had contracted the virus. I do, however, recall being appalled. An administration that had no intentions of trying to help dying Americans thought seriously about condemning their "lifestyle" and controlling their interaction with the wider population by locking them up.

I felt, for the first time then, that gays were not exempt from mass targeting.

I had operated under the false assumption that as a mostly "invisible" minority, disjointed and dispersed, gays were not the kind to be hauled off into camps or pushed into ghettos, not in the modern US, at least.

Quaranting of the common variety (physically restricting a group of people) did not take place. Quaranting of other varieties, however, did -- and continue to take place to this day.


Because we've never been able to recognize the equal worth of the "kinds" of people who tend to contract HIV, we've never been able to think of the disease as worthy of our full societal attention. This is true of other conditions, as well. (Obesity comes to mind.) But the global devastation of HIV/AIDS and the recent reports on Washington, DC and alarming rate of infection among African Americans, especially African American women, brings this treatment of HIV/AIDS into the brightest of lights.

The social situation of the gay community at the time of the "AIDS Crisis" made it difficult for gay men to merely survive, much less fight back and attack the onslaught of this disease. But they, with the help of others (gay women, in particular) did just that.

Nonetheless, even as the crisis subsided (in our minds, at least), the stage was being set for a resurgence of HIV infections in the community among a younger generation of men, who were relatively disconnected from their older "brethren." We are, by and large, not a multi-generational community. Unlike most ethnic and religious minorities, we don't pass on our gay heritage and our coping mechanisms from one generation to another.

The assumption on our parts and mostly on the part of the larger society that the successes of the late 80s/early 90s response to the AIDS crisis would have a lasting effect on gay men's health was culturally incompetent, to say the least. The larger society discourages older gay men from interacting with younger gay men, and we reiterate those biases ourselves. And the national reach of the HIV/AIDS movement of an earlier generation was limited, at best.

Unintentionally, HIV/AIDS as it relates to gay men was "quarantined" to the generation of men most ravaged by the disease in the 1980s and early 1990s. And now we see reports about rising infection rates among men of my generation, who've yet to realize that diseases can travel through time.

Simultaneously the effects of the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS as a gay (and, therefore, "white") disease has affected all kinds of poor people and people of color (gay and straight). We now run the risk of quarantining the disease further.

We must, of course, be real about who this disease categorically affects more than others. The HIV-infection rate amongst black women cannot be addressed without talking about black women. Our challenge, as it was before, is to do this without stigmatizing black women. Our challenge is to do this without giving the larger society the opportunity to lump HIV/AIDS into the bucket of other disadvantages people of color either "deserve" or are simply more "prone to" because of their race.

The LA Gay and Lesbian Center went under fire recently for it's "HIV is a Gay Disease Campaign," for obvious reasons. The identification of AIDS with any one community is startling because we know that anyone can get it. But not everyone does -- not at the same rates, at least.

I'm not claiming to have all the answers here, but I do have a "perfect world" scenario to suggest. In a perfect world, the message that would resonate is this:


And the reason it would resonate is this: Anyone who reads that would understand that gay people are "us all," just as black people are "us all," just as poor people are "us all," just as drug users are "us all." And they would be motivated to meet this disease head on and make change.

Quarantines can come from without and within. From without, they are attempts to divest the larger society of the responsibility to care or be concerned. From within, they are responses to social or psychological pressures to contain the trauma, to limit the impact, to move on.

Either way they are dangerous, divisive and counterproductive. And it's our challenge to recognize them, fight them and let them go.

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Sadly, AIDS has become the most overlooked disease in America right now. While it ravages our population (world-wide!), we look the other way while it roars through the poor, minorities and women.

If ever a case of the white men setting the agenda, this is it.

I don't know about the quarantining of gays by generation. I mean, if that actually did happen, then the disease actually would have been quarantined with an older generation.

But it's not, and I think that gays' penchant for the inter-generational lovin' (or at least the gays that I know) is a unifying older/younger link.

Just messed around with a 50-some year old the other day, so we're not completely separated. :)