Tuesday, December 01, 2015
Beyond Stigma - World AIDS Day
When Charlie Sheen made the public announcement of his HIV a few weeks ago those who confuse humour with cruelty were quick with nastiness. I have this strange notion that regardless of lifestyle (Sheen's has been atrocious) no one deserves to be kicked when they are vulnerable. What happened in response to his revelation was just cowardice from my perspective.
Today is World Aids Day and the significance of the occasion may be pushed into the background by COP 21, the refugee crisis, and concerns about security around the planet. Yet HIV/AIDS still represent a significant health issue and the stigma of the disease is very real.
I realized this morning that the only congregation where individuals told me about their diagnosis was in Sudbury. I served the large downtown church there and was asked to serve on the newly formed AIDS committee for the city. It was 1988, the scientific community was still trying to figure out how HIV/AIDS worked, and it was nearly always a rapid death sentence. I ended up with folk in the gay community connecting with the congregation because of my role on the committee. I visited a number in the hospital, and buried them as well.
The stigma was very strong in those early days, and honestly I had my own struggles. It's strange though. Sometimes the gospel of a loving Christ leads us into a new way of being even as the old way of thinking persists. When I look back I realize that I found my way into acceptance by my practice before my head caught up. I have no regrets about my involvement, even though at the time there was enough fear of the unknown that I wondered if I might be jeopardizing the health of my three young children by visiting AIDS patients in the hospital. Some nurses would only enter rooms with masks and gloves on.
Do you recall how your outlook changed over time? Do you think discrimination is still out there? Would you speak up if you heard disparaging comments?