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Thursday, June 3, 2010

A plague by any other name

When health officials began to notice a rash of rare diseases like pneumocystis pneumonia and Kaposi's Sarcoma killing healthy gay men, they named the disorder GRID - Gay Related Immune Disorder. When children, hemophiliacs, and people who had had blood transfusions began to get sick, they weren't diagnosed with GRID because GRID only happened to gay people.
I wonder, if it hadn't been named GRID, if doctors had connected the dots sooner, if the disease had infected another group as quickly as gay men, how much more effort and money would have been put into finding a treatment. As Randy Shilts puts it in his book And the Band Played On, in 1985, the AIDS epidemic killing rampantly, "the CDC... stopped money from being spent on AIDS education when conservatives in the White House worried that the government should not be in the business of telling homosexuals how to have sodomy."
In 1992, I was in 7th grade, and noticed that our Health text books were all published in 1984. I found out many years later that it was because more recent text books included information on STDs and safe sex. Catholic school.
I wonder what would have happened had it been named Infant Related Immune Deficiency.


denny16 said...

In the end it looks like GRID is just another way for people to attack something that wasn't... okay still isn't understood. Since it was first noticed in gay men they obviously must be the cause. It's like blaming a cold on the toddler who brought it into our house since he was the first to show symptoms. In other words I agree.

Just in case my user ID etc. for blogger is somehow inactive, this is Denny.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

To be fair, in the very early days of the disease, the fact that the victims were gay was really all they had to go on. However, the fact that all the victims were gay is almost certainly one of the main reasons that the government was so slow and stingy when it came to researching the disease.

XDruidess said...

Unfortunately, having much knowledge inside the medical field, politics reign supreme over research.

disheah said...

In many ways the insistence of political correctness has directly cause more deaths in Africa and Asia than necessary. Despite what popular opinion would have you believe, from a purely scientific basis AIDS transmission by vagina sex is rare. Most AIDS cases are transmitted by unprotected anal sex or using an infected needle. If people would just admit that, stop their political correctness, and teach people not to reuse needles and to use condoms when having anal sex, you'd probably save a lot more people than going around and pretending anal sex doesn't happen.’-first-bona-fide-genocide/

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

All right, let's start by taking sodomy and Africa out of the picture; we'll get to that. The reason that focus has shifted away from gay men in recent years is not that anyone wants to obfuscate the fact that gay men are at a higher risk for AIDS. I don't know a single person who doesn't know that gay men are at a higher risk for AIDS. Gay men, even ones who have been monogamous for years, aren't allowed to give blood. They ask whether you're a man who has had sex with another man in several different ways when you're about to give. Go to any gay pride event and they're giving out condoms like lollypops. When I worked in a group home several years ago, I gave the sex talk. A lot. And the literature we used all pointed out that gay men are at a higher risk for HIV. It's not a secret...
The reason the focus shifted in the early part of this century in the US is that rates of straight people being infected were rising, partly because straight people weren't as aware they could contract the disease. Exiledonline sites a 15 year old study (which they don't give the name of, BTW), but research shows that the number of heterosexuals contracting the virus is still rising -
The people bringing the message weren't trying to claim that gay people weren't more at risk, they were trying to bring the message to people who weren't getting it.
This was NOT some conspiracy to make straight people scared of sex, as Exiledonline puts it. It was a campaign to get the information out.
As for sodomy, that's far more a question of prudishness, rather than political correctness. That's a bad thing, but not the same thing. The Red Cross doesn't ask if you've had anal sex, they ask if you're a man who has had sex with another man after 1977, or if you're a woman who has had sex with a man who has had sex with another man since 1977. If you're a woman who has had a whole bunch of anal sex with a whole bunch of straight guys, you can give all the blood you want. It's fear of the term "anal sex," not fear of saying "gay" that's the driving force there. Personally, I knew AIDS as "the gay disease" for many years before someone explained to me that it was sodomy that caused AIDS to spread (it had been explained to me previously that the reason gay people got it was because gay people were more promiscuous. Also because gay people are into bestiality and probably AIDS came about because gay men were having sex with apes. I shit you not).

At any rate, I think that Exiledonline is being a bit of a sensationalist. I can't speak for Africa, because I don't know anything about political correctness in Africa. I do know that telling people to have safe sex is a good thing, whether they're gay, straight, or have sex with apes. Nobody's claiming gay dudes aren't at risk; at the very least they're overstating the risk to heterosexuals, but I'm not seeing a lot of evidence that that's the case either. Everybody should have safe sex. Everybody.

aruam25 said...

Catholic schools are now permitted to teach about STI's and HIV, however, teachers must do so without mentioning the word condom.

disheah said...

Brigid, you are right that sometimes Exiled goes for sensationalism, but for the most part I enjoy their irreverence. I'm not sure if we got the same message out of that article, however. To me, it was more about white-washing and fancy-stepping around the fact that AIDS is mostly spread by unprotected anal sex, hetero or homosexuals aside.

I might be wrong, but I think AIDS is more or less under control in the US. I have heard that rates of heterosexual infections was rising, but I have to wonder how much of that is: 1) heterosexuals having anal sex, 2) homosexuals still in the closet, or 3) recreational intravenous drug users who didn't want to admit it. And from what I understand of the figures, the number of new AIDS cases in the USA is not rising. The closest thing I've found to suggest that hetero AIDS rates were increasing is that the percent of heterosexuals as new AIDS cases increased from 8% to 12%, which could just mean that gays were being more AIDS-aware, or that drug-use was contributing more as an infectious vector.