African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project narrator Michael Hinson and Lisa Fader Bediako argue that HIV criminalization laws constitute a new prison pipeline for black men, on Global Grind.
This month (February 7th) marked the sixteenth annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). HIV/AIDS, once considered a “gay white man” disease, is still consistently on the rise in black American communities across the US. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports “of all racial/ethnic groups in the US, blacks have the highest HIV burden and higher proportions of new infections and deaths.” Although improvements in HIV treatment over the last 30 years have transformed HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable, chronic condition, a troubling trend is emerging: HIV criminalization.
Currently, 33 states and two territories have laws criminalizing HIV. HIV criminalization has often resulted in gross human rights violations, including harsh sentencing for behaviors that pose little or no risk of HIV transmission, including: A man with HIV in Texas who is now serving 35 years for spitting at a police…
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A few days old, but the lessons here apply all year round. The failure of Medicare expansion in the states hardest hit by HIV, the need for education and prevention, and the need for HIV testing impact the most vulnerable communities every day.
Folks in the Bay Area should visit UCSF to check out “Surviving and Thriving,” a traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine. Although the exhibit does not specifically focus on African American responses to the epidemic, it does feature the work of some black AIDS activists, including posters from the Brothers Network, a program by the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention (NTFAP). The library also has their own companion exhibit, based on collections from the AIDS History Project in UCSF’s holdings. Many of these deal with agencies founded by and for African Americans with HIV and AIDS, including NTFAP, Bay Area HIV Support and Education Services, and the Multicultural AIDS Resource Center.
Twenty two years ago today, Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced in a conference at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles that he had tested positive for HIV, and would be retiring immediately from professional basketball.
After Johnson spoke, his doctors answered questions from the press about his medical condition. Note that the diagnosis of ARC (AIDS-related condition) is no longer in use.
The next day, Magic appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show to talk about his diagnosis. He encouraged people to practice safe sex and warned that the virus was spreadly quickly through black communities, but reassured the audience that he was “far from being a homosexual.” Toward the end of the interview, Magic and Arsenio referred obliquely to the rumors that journalists and “germalists” would spread in the weeks, months, and years to come. Magic had been dogged by rumors of bisexuality for years—in gay enclaves like Key West and West Hollywood, some residents reportedly sported t-shirts with the phrase “I love basketball; I had a Magic Johnson.”
A week later, Converse announced “Magic’s Athletes against AIDS,” a new campaign of public service announcements featuring Johnson and his NBA friends. Larry Johnson’s comment that “for a guy like Magic Johnson to get a disease like that… lets us know that this is not a joke” seems cruelly ignorant; by the end of the year, over 150,000 had died of AIDS in the United States alone. Overall, the PSA stressed precisely how different Johnson, an African American paragon of athletic masculinity, seemed from the most common images of people with AIDS—skeletal white gay men wasting away in the hospital or protesting in the street, and to a lesser extent, junkies who had shared needles while desperate for a fix. Kevin Johnson was not alone in thinking that “If Magic Johnson can get the AIDS virus, then anybody can get it.”
The next year, Magic and Arsenio produced a longer “edutainment” video for kids called “TIME OUT: The Truth about HIV, AIDS, and You,” with an early ’90s all-star cast, including Jaleel White, Jasmine Guy, Sinbad, Tom Cruise, Pauly Shore, and a young Neil Patrick Harris.
Last year, ESPN aired The Announcement, a documentary on Johnson’s “bleakest hour,” when he revealed his HIV-positive diagnosis to the world.
A few months later, Johnson was featured prominently in the PBS Frontline documentary Endgame: AIDS in Black America. (see my review of Endgame here) Recently, Hall and Johnson appeared on Access Hollywood to talk about their 1991 interview, as well as the ongoing racial disparities in the epidemic, particularly for African American women.
Thankfully, Johnson, who obviously has access to the best doctors and most effective treatments, remains healthy. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the vast majority of African Americans affected by the epidemic, who progress from HIV infection to AIDS and die faster than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.
AIDS activism and the struggle for universal health care in the United States have often gone hand in hand. ACA is a big step forward for everyone—find out here what it means for people living with HIV and AIDS.
Similar to the important stand that ACT UP Philadelphia and Health GAP took 10-15 years ago against the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and the US Trade Representative’s threat of sanctions against South Africa. AIDS is not just a medical issue–it’s a social, economic, and political problem driven by other problems, including the growth of globalization and free trade policies.
Join ACT UP and Student Global AIDS at Harvard this Halloween as they demand that visiting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi work to provide access to medicines, stronger environmental regulations, corporate oversight & government transparency!
When: Thursday, October 31st, 1:15 PM (we’ll be there before and after the speech, so if you can’t make it at 1:15, we need another big surge at 2:30)
Where: Inside Radcliffe Yard (10 Garden Street)
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a massive free trade agreement being negotiated in secret by the US and 11 other countries that, among many other things, would severely impact access to medicines in developing countries, undermine environmental regulations, decrease labor standards, and block internet freedom. The Administration is trying to submit the TPP for fast-track approval, which means that Congress cannot amend and bypasses important Congressional oversight. The negotiations have thus far been secret, so members of Congress and the…
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