Plague Lessons

Author of landmark plays about gay men and AIDS was felled by coronavirus.

4 Comments for “Plague Lessons”

  1. posted by Jorge on

    I had not thought of this connection.

    Or maybe this epidemic will merely accelerate some of the worst cultural trends of our time. One of the more fascinating theories to explain why Italy has been hit so hard in this plague is that Italian society remains more humane and human than others in the West, involves much more social connection and community, and brings generations physically together, where they find both happiness … and viruses. Maybe our comparative loneliness saved us some lives this time, and this plague’s “social distancing” will permanently and tragically entrench an American way of life that has already stripped so many of community and connection.

    That doesn’t bother me. Natural variation exists just for this sort of catastrophic situation, so that one may survive. Years from now we’ll be back to being different from each other.

    The trick, as the great religions teach us, is counterintuitive: not to seize control, but to gain some balance and even serenity in absorbing what you can’t.

    Ah, yes, suddenly his argument for why Donald Trump may still win re-election makes sense. The “great religions”, being older than our great republic, do not often promote opposition to government officials.

    (Then why did the early Christians do it?)

    They didn’t. They just laid down and died.

  2. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    The modern gay rights movement started with Stonewall, but it was the government’s response to HIV/AIDS that ignited the anger that fueled the fight for equal treatment under the law in large part.

    HIV/AIDS forged gays and lesbians into a “We are not putting up with this anymore …” coalition, and that attitude, in turn, helped fuel the coalitions around same-sex marriage, ending DADT and so on. HIV/AIDS changed attitudes among the gay/lesbian community, and marked the end of asking rather than pushing, hard and relentlessly, for equal treatment.

    I don’t know what changes COVID-19 will bring about in our society, but I’ll bet that things aren’t going to return to “normal”.

    • posted by Jorge on

      I was reading a fascinating article on Dr. Andrew Fauci (originally on a “news to pray over” website but I can no longer find it. It quoted extensively from his 2002 profile by Holy Cross Magazine, which I can find). He was in his same position since 1984, so he was the… him during the height of the AIDS epidemic, and he said it resulted in a drastic change in patient/doctor relationships.

  3. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    The most interesting comment in the Holy Cross article on Dr. Fauci came near the end:

    “It [the HIV/AIDS epidemic] was complex. It was a healthproblem; it was an ethical problem; itwas a legal problem—the legal rightsof these people. And I just felt that ifthis problem needed to be tackled, Icouldn’t be completely unidimensionalabout it. And the more I got into theother issues, the more interesting itbecame, because they were all linkedwith each other.”

    It took a lot of deaths, but by the 1990’s just about everyone in the gay community knew someone who was HIV positive, and most of us knew one or more friends who were dead. The gay/lesbian community came to understand the complexity of the epidemic through personal experience, caring for the sick and dying in the face of government and institutional indifference, fought to find was around the lack of medical insurance and medical care, began to understand the impact of poverty on both the spread of the disease and the outcomes, started to grasp cultural attitudes that affected the course of the epidemic, and (to my mind) as important as anything else, began to understand how important un equal treatment under the law affected the disease, the afflicted and those who cared for them.

    I think that one of the most important factors in development of the “We are not putting up with this anymore …” shift in attitude in the gay/lesbian community post-HIV/AIDS was a direct result of the the difficulties of men and women denied legal recognition as partner/spouse encountered trying to obtain medical, financial, and legal assistance during the course of the disease, and in many cases, after death. I know quite a number of men who lost their life partners during the disease, only to be treated as non-persons when it came time to make funeral arrangements, and others who lost a lifetime’s savings and were denied inheritance rights.

    I think the HIV/AIDS experience 1985-1995 was a key factor in “radicalizing” many of us in the LGBT community who are older; the HIV/AIDS epidemic was one of the shaping forces in our lives. It was a turning point in how we thought and how much longer we were willing to put up with non-person legal status.

    As I said in my earlier comment, I don’t know what changes COVID-19 will bring about in our society, but I’ll bet that things aren’t going to return to “normal”.

    The pandemic is going to change this county, as sure as shooting. If the President’s “wake up” prediction of 100,000 to 200,000 deaths is even close (and it seems to be, based on the best modeling currently available), this country is going to lose as many people as died in all our wars since WWII (see United States military casualties of war (Wikipedia), is going to destroy the financial well-being of a significant percentage of our population, and is going to thrust the world into a relatively deep recession.

    That is going to change America, and American thinking about our government and our society.

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