THANK YOU FOR ‘HOPPING’ IN THE HOP AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA AND TRANSPHOBIA
Our hop, this year, begins on May 17th, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Please take a little time to read about this day, while you’re hopping around and visiting authors.
I participated in this very same hop last year. It was one of my first ever, and I had a wonderful time. When I chose my homophobia topic last year, I chose something from the WayBack Machine, because I thought it would be unique, no one else was likely to have a story quite like it. It turned out I was right. My post last year, about the early days of the Public Health response to the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, received a huge reaction with a lot of emotional comments, and a large number of people saying they had no idea this type of thing had gone on.
Instead of thinking up a new topic for this year’s hop, I’m recycling last year’s. This is a topic that affects everyone. It’s no longer isolated to a single group (not that it truly ever was). Regardless of your sexual orientation, and regardless of the gender you self-identify, everyone is vulnerable, if we’re taking risks.
The following is a REVISED version of my 2012 post. The content is the same, but I changed some wording to account for the passage of a year, and some of the events we’ve experienced during that time.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention – THERE’S FREE STUFF AT THE END!
I grew up during, what is now referred to as, The Reagan Era. I was raised in a relatively conservative home, too. Only now, my home would be considered moderate to liberal. That’s how frightening things have become in this country, with the attempts to turn us into a theocracy and the open hatred and bigotry being directed at women and homosexuals.
While history seems to be giving Reagan a mixed report card, I feel he did more harm than good. His policies were extended and applied until labor has now been stripped of most hard-won rights, and the middle and lower classes have been gutted. However, what I want to discuss in this post is the one policy I witnessed doing its damage, the policy I knew at that time, was wrong.
Ronald Reagan’s homophobia and out-of-touch conservative religious views allowed the AIDS epidemic to grow and flourish in the United States.
Within my lifetime, one president has allowed a disease to demolish a group of people for reasons of hate, and another has made history by publicly supporting that same group, from a place of love and acceptance.
You see, I didn’t just come of age during the rise of the AIDS epidemic, watching it all unfold from a distance. I was on the front lines. One of the ways I worked my way through college was by holding down a job at the County Health Department’s newly formed HIV testing clinic. Despite the federal government’s stand that no money should be given to testing and research – because it was a ‘gay’ disease and if left alone, would kill off all the fags – saner minds at the state level and within the Center for Disease Control (CDC) prevailed – and research, testing, information, condom and clean needle distribution all began in earnest.
I was nineteen years old the first time I realized my government was telling an entire community of people that they deserved this kind of horrendous death, because God hated them for who they loved and how they had sex. I realized, with stunning clarity, that the best way to gain empathy and understanding for a group of people you’re indifferent to, is to watch them dying while their government tells them they deserve it. You lose your indifference pretty quickly.
Now, if you don’t remember, or if you’re too young to remember, in the early days of the disease, AIDS was 100% fatal. This was before anti-virals that could hold a person in HIV+ status for decades. Back then, you were ‘positive’, then you developed full-blown AIDS, then you died a painful and ugly death.
Because the federal government blocked funding for AIDS research, it was the French who discovered the retro-virus that causes HIV. At the time, they mocked the U.S. saying; ‘Only the American’s would believe a virus can choose who it infects, based on the kind of sex they have.’
Think about that and see if you can wrap your brain around how many people have died of AIDS simply due to homophobia.
It wasn’t until HIV began to infect straight women at an alarming rate that the federal government finally woke up. Well, sort of. Once the disease peaked in gay men, the fastest rising infection rate was in straight women. Well, the government refused to loosen the purse strings too much because it declared that the only women getting AIDS were IV drug users. They were bringing it on themselves by sharing dirty needles.
Well, yes, this is true. But it’s not the whole story. Straight women were becoming the victims of homophobia because they were married to, and having unprotected sex with, closeted gay men. We all know them, and our hearts break for them; the ones so victimized by institutionalized homophobia that they live a ‘straight’ life, and get their needs met ‘on the down low’.
No one in a position of power wanted to acknowledge this fact.
Then came the time I stood up in a meeting and advocated for funding to be set aside for outreach to lesbians, so they would receive education, testing and treatment. The CDC told us to use money for outreach to educate segments of the population who believed themselves to be at risk. They didn’t actually have to be at risk, but simply have enough inaccurate information to believe they were. Lesbians were distressed at this time because of the close community ties between themselves and gay men. We knew, at that time, they weren’t a high risk group. We’d learned a lot about transmission by this time. But the lesbian community didn’t have the same information.
The money was put into an outreach program for straight women; condoms but no needles.
I didn’t bother to hide my belief that homophobia was marginalizing the lesbian community and denying them services, in favor of the straight community. This, despite the erroneous belief that the straight women who were to receive services, were all IV drug users.
Ponder that for a little while and I think you’ll see how outrageous and absurd it all was.
One of my co-workers from back then invited me to her ‘wedding’. She was a lesbian. So, I attended my first inter-racial, lesbian wedding, held in a lesbian bar. We gave gifts with a checkerboard theme. We all recorded video messages to the happy couple, saying that it might not be legal now, but wait a few years, and it would be.
How little we knew.
We weren’t naïve. It was just that we truly believed the country was moving forward socially. We had high hopes for the youthful and vital President Clinton. I still believe he meant well and had the best of intentions with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Time marched on and things seem to get worse instead of better. I watched the news of the murder of Matthew Shepherd with horror. I watched the Mormon Church buy the passage of Proposition 8. But I’ve also watched the rise of NoH8 and It Gets Better.
They say the greatest crime of all is if a good man does nothing. Well, about this time last year, a good man stood up and did something. The first black man to be President of the United States of America, stood up and said that all people deserve the right to marry if they choose, and to have the rights and privileges of such afforded to them, regardless of their gender or that of the person they marry. It was a watershed moment.
I was under no illusion, nor am I today, that his words would change anything in the short term. What his words have done, is to draw a line in the sand and put the bigots squarely on the wrong side of it. As with women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement, once the policy is implemented, it will lead to a change in attitudes. Slowly, painfully to be sure, but there will be change.
On May 14th, 2013, Minnesota became the twelfth state in the union to sign marriage equality into law. Next month, the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on DOMA, and the fraudulently purchased Proposition 8. If they do their jobs correctly, the justices will rule in such a way that California will join the states with marriage equality. We used to be among the first, but I’ll be happy if we can be among the first 20.
Until that time, I’ll continue to write my beloved M/M erotic romances, advocate for the GLBT community, volunteer with the planning committee for my local Pride, and ban the word ‘fag’ from being used inside my own home.
As a writer of M/M Erotic Romances, I have to give consideration to the possibility of homophobia affecting my characters, or occurring as a plot point. My characters are U.S. Marines, and my stories take place before and after the repeal of DADT. My paranormal series treats homosexuality (and lycanthropy) as commonplace, and completely accepted. It’s my hope that, by writing stories that treat homophobia as a non-issue, it will expose to that way of thinking, and somehow influence them in a positive way. Much like the self-fulfilling prophecy; if I write it, if I live it, if I expect it and demand it, someday it will become reality. I’m not naïve. I’m hopeful.
All the information you need on my books can be found here on my website. You’ll find buy links there, too.
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