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Beyond Homophobia » 2007 » December

December 13, 2007

AIDS and Quarantine: Looking Backward

Posted at 4:08 am (Pacific Time)

Quarantine: Enforced isolation or restriction of free movement imposed to prevent the spread of contagious disease. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition).

Last Saturday, the Associated Press revealed Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s responses to questions about AIDS and homosexuality during his 1992 campaign for the US Senate. On the topic of AIDS, Mr. Huckabee stated:

If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague…. It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.

According to a Sunday AP story, Huckabee stands by his 1992 statement.

“I still believe this today,” he said in a broadcast interview, that “we were acting more out of political correctness” in responding to the AIDS crisis. “I don’t run from it, I don’t recant it,” he said of his position in 1992. Yet he said he would state his view differently in retrospect.

When Huckabee expressed his opinion in 1992, scientific research had identified the human immunodeficiency virus as the cause of AIDS and it was well understood that, unlike many other communicable diseases, HIV could not be transmitted through casual social contact.

That message had been strongly reinforced the previous year when Los Angeles Lakers superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson publicly disclosed his HIV infection. Indeed, in its November 18, 1991 issue that featured Johnson on the cover, Sports Illustrated included a special “For Kids Only” page that tried to explain the news to readers 12 and younger. Roughly half of that article stressed that HIV isn’t spread through casual social contact. After listing the many ways in which AIDS isn’t contracted, it summarized the message:

The truth is, AIDS is a disease that’s hard for young kids to get. It’s almost impossible for any kid to get AIDS from doing everyday things such as going to school. (p. 46)

There was no credible medical or public health argument in support of quarantining people with AIDS in 1992. Rejecting calls for quarantine and similar punitive measures wasn’t a matter of being “politically correct.” Rather, it was based on sound evidence about the nature of HIV.

Nevertheless, a substantial minority of the US public shared Huckabee’s view. In a 1991 national telephone survey that I conducted with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, 34% of US adults agreed with the statement, “People with AIDS should be legally separated from others to protect the public health.” (By 1999, only 12% of survey respondents expressed such sentiments.)

What was behind this support for quarantine? For some people, it reflected an unfounded belief that AIDS could be easily transmitted. Their support for quarantine was part of a general fear of contact with HIV-positive individuals.

Such misapprehensions and fears are still around. A 2006 Kaiser Family Foundation national survey found that more than one third of Americans still didn’t know that HIV isn’t spread through kissing, and nearly one fourth didn’t know it can’t be spread by sharing a drinking glass. More than one fifth of the Kaiser survey respondents said they would be uncomfortable about having a coworker who is HIV-infected, and 30% of parents in the sample expressed discomfort at the prospect of their child having a teacher who is HIV-positive.

For others, however, support for quarantine was less about fear of HIV infection than it was about using the AIDS epidemic as an opportunity to express their preexisting prejudices against lesbians and gay men. In analyses of survey data from the latter half of the 1990s with my UCD colleague, Professor John Capitanio, I found that most heterosexuals continued to associate AIDS primarily with homosexuality or bisexuality, and this association was correlated with higher levels of sexual prejudice. In addition, although everyone who contracted AIDS sexually was blamed to some extent for becoming infected, gay and bisexual men were blamed more than heterosexual men and women. Moreover, sexual prejudice was correlated with both misconceptions about HIV transmission and discomfort with HIV-infected people.

This linkage of AIDS-related stigma and sexual prejudice highlights the relevance of Mr. Huckabee’s 1992 survey response on the topic of homosexuality:

I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk.

I can’t say whether Mr. Huckabee’s support for taking unnecessary punitive measures against people with AIDS was fueled by his negative attitudes toward homosexuality. However, sexual prejudice apparently has led many Americans to respond in a similar manner.

The fact that Mr. Huckabee is standing by his 1992 comments is disturbing in light of the continuing danger that HIV poses to gay and bisexual men in the United States. HIV infections appear to be increasing among young sexual minority men, the generation too young to have experienced the ravages of the epidemic during the 1980s and 1990s. Those men have reached sexual maturity during an era when homosexuality remains stigmatized, federal law explicitly delegitimizes same-sex relationships, and HIV researchers are advised to delete words pertaining to gay men and homosexuality from the abstracts and titles of their federal grant applications if they hope to be funded.

This situation recently led to a call for a new commitment to combating the spread of HIV among men who are gay, bisexual, or involved in sexual contact with other men (MSM). Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, three prominent AIDS researchers stressed the urgent need for leadership from public health officials and within the sexual minority community. Among other actions, they stressed the need to:

… call for the end of stigma toward MSM, which may mitigate the internalization of homophobia leading to sexual risk behavior. This need is particularly critical within racial and ethnic minority MSM communities that bear the stigma of homosexuality along with the discrimination faced by these minorities. Political leadership is also needed to advocate for legal domestic partnerships as a way to promote stable, longer-term MSM relationships. (Jaffe et al., 2007, p. 2413)

Unfortunately, even with such leadership, the prospects for a renewed commitment to implementing effective programs to stop the spread of HIV are bleak as long as serious contenders for national office still believe that quarantining people with HIV was a reasonable idea in 1992.

# # # # #

For the Associated Press article about Mr. Huckabee’s 1992 questionnaire responses, see A. DeMillo. (2007, December 8). Huckabee wanted to isolate AIDS patients. San Francisco Chronicle.

For the JAMA editorial, see H. W. Jaffe, R.O. Valdiserri, & K.M. De Cock. (2007). The reemerging HIV/AIDS epidemic in men who have sex with men. Journal of the American Medical Association, 298, 2412-2414.

For more discussion of research on the link between sexual prejudice and HIV-related stigma, see G. M. Herek & J. P. Capitanio. (1999). AIDS stigma and sexual prejudice. American Behavioral Scientist, 42, 1130-1147.

Copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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December 12, 2007

Allan Bérubé

Posted at 11:17 am (Pacific Time)

Pioneering gay historian Allan Bérubé died yesterday from complications related to stomach ulcers. He was 61. Allan wrote the award-winning book Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II.

Here is the text of an obituary written by author Wayne Hoffman, Allan’s longtime friend:

Gay historian Allan Bérubé, award-winning author of Coming Out Under Fire, died on December 11, 2007. He was 61.

His death was due to sudden complications following the discovery of two stomach ulcers, according to his close friend Jonathan Ned Katz, a fellow gay historian.

Bérubé was, for decades, an independent historian and community activist. He first came to progressive political activism in opposition to the Vietnam war, working with the American Friends Service Committee in Boston in the late 1960s, after dropping out of the University of Chicago. After coming out in 1969, he joined a “gay liberation collective household,” and later moved to San Francisco to join a gay commune for craftspeople. He remained in San Francisco for many years, and was one of the founders of the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project in 1978. His slide shows about women who dressed and passed as men – and married other women – were welcomed by enthusiastic audiences around the country.

Bérubé is best remembered for his groundbreaking work of gay history, published in 1990: Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II. The Lambda Literary Award-winning book, which was later adapted by Arthur Dong into a Peabody Award-winning documentary, was often cited in Senate hearings on the military’s anti-gay policies in 1993.

Martin Duberman, distinguished professor of history emeritus at the City University of New York, called Bérubé’s book “superb…not only in terms of his prose style, which was absolutely lucid and even elegant, but also in terms of the very fine-spun analysis. Allan was not one to create shallow generalizations about either a given individual or a series of events. He was utterly meticulous and utterly careful. No one will ever, I think, have to redo the book on World War II, and you can almost never say that about a historian or a given piece of historical research.”

In 1996, Bérubé received a “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for his work.

For the past decade, while living in New York City and the Catskills, Bérubé had been working on a history of queer working class men in the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union in the 1930s and ’40s, a project for which he received a Rockefeller Residency Fellowship in the Humanities from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY.

Bérubé traveled the country presenting slide shows about his current research, and lectured on gay and lesbian history at Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Cruz. He wrote stories for numerous publications, including Mother Jones, Gay Community News, The Advocate, The Washington Blade, Out/Look, and the Body Politic. He also published articles in several anthologies, including White Trash (which included a rare personal essay in which he recounted his childhood in a trailer park in Bayonne, N.J.) and Policing Public Sex, in which he detailed the history of gay bathhouses.

“Allan took great pride in his role as a community historian,” said John D’Emilio, professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of several books on gay history. “He loved the excitement that his talks and slide shows generated in an audience, and he loved that he, a college dropout, had written a book that made a difference in the world. He was an inspiration to everyone who knew him, as sweet and kind and genuinely moral a human being as anyone could hope to meet.”

For the past several years, Bérubé lived in Liberty, N.Y., in the Catskills. There, he owned a bed & breakfast, and operated Intelligent Design, a store selling mid-century modern collectibles. Berube’s partner, John Nelson, said, “Allan just loved it when people walked into the Liberty story, looked around, and were happy.”

Bérubé was twice elected a trustee of the village of Liberty.

“Allan was extremely proud of helping to preserve Liberty’s historic character,” said Katz. “Allan initiated the successful nomination of Liberty’s whole Main Street as a historic district, saved from demolition a major building with a classic 1950s façade, and bought and renovated the Shelburne Playhouse, one of the last remaining performance halls that were once part of the area’s many hotels.”

In addition to Nelson, Bérubé is also survived by his mother and three sisters.

I had the pleasure and privilege of knowing Allan and watching him complete the manuscript for Coming Out Under Fire. I can only echo John D’Emilio’s observation that Allan was an inspiration, and “as sweet and kind and genuinely moral a human being as anyone could hope to meet.”

Copyright © 2007 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.

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