Stephen Lewis: Calling HIV-related Stigma What It Is: Racism, Classism, Misogyny

| August 2, 2012

Stephen Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World — never one to mince words –delivered the first Robert Carr Memorial Lecture at the XIX International AIDS Conference.

An excerpt is below, and I encourage everyone to read the full text.

But I also ask – even as Lewis eloquently shines the spotlight on racism, classism and misogyny, is it not capitalism that also pre-determines that AIDS is on track to end for some but not all? In other words, can we also point out that some are actually making a profit from these overlapping injustices, not just overlooking or minimizing them?

Here’s an excerpt:

“We’re at a climactic human rights moment in the battle against the pandemic. The struggle of the so-called marginalized or high risk groups … ‘key populations’ in the AIDS vocabulary … is fraught with enormous hypocrisy. The smooth ever-repetitive mantra of men who have sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users, transgendered persons, prison populations, migrants, seems to suggest that if you say it often enough, somehow that’s sufficient. The endless refrain becomes the endless answer.
But the point surely is that you can’t keep invoking the phrase ‘human rights’ as a mask behind which to hide the world’s behavior. International figures and UN officials can’t keep going to African countries and complimenting the President or the government on their progress on HIV and AIDS, while the country maintains homophobic laws or has gay men in jail. You can’t go to a meeting of the African Union and congratulate them on the progress against the virus of AIDS when the virus of homophobia infects the room.
On one of the introductory pages of the just-tabled UNAIDS report, you have a full-page picture of the Chairperson of the African Union, who happens to be the President of Benin, a country with anti-gay laws on the books. The rationalization, as always, is that the laws aren’t applied … spare me the intellectual claptrap. Laws against homosexuality, whether applied or not, create an atmosphere of intolerance and fear, of stigma and discrimination that drive the pandemic.
What are we supposed to believe? That an AIDS-free generation is free for some but not for all? That we’ve found yet another phrase besotted with hypocrisy? It’s the kind of double standard that drove Robert Carr to distraction.
As with everyone else at this conference, I was much cheered by many of the words of Hillary Clinton. But I have to ask myself, how do you reconcile an AIDS-free generation with a terrifying pattern of criminalization of transmission across this country, visited significantly on gay men? How do you reconcile an AIDS-free generation with the treatment of injecting drug users in jail; indeed with the often pernicious and brutal treatment of injecting drug users writ large? How do you reconcile an AIDS-free generation when sex workers and injecting drug users are denied access to the conference?”

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