Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, and their Republican ilk have condemned the Clinton administration for its recent declaration of AIDS as "a national security threat," saying it's just a Democratic election-year grab for votes from a key demographic. It's true if you take only the most literal sense of the phrase "national security threat"; there is scant likelihood that foreign adversaries are right now developing a super-hardy strain of HIV to dump in American water supplies. Still, that right-wing dismissal shows how blinkered we are about the AIDS pandemic's worldwide presence--a staggering viral sweep with many pockets of concentration that have expanded far beyond urban gay white male voters, the group Lott was presumably spurning as a special interest. The most horrifying area, right now, is probably the sub-Saharan region of Africa, where people are dying by the millions.
So please don't forget that the word "international" is contained in the title of The 17th International AIDS Candlelight Memorial at the Metropolitan Community Church's Cathedral of Hope. As usual, the event is timed to coincide with similar memorial events in cities large and small across the world, with the idea that there will be some kind of harmonic convergence of grief, happy memories, and hope...at least, for those who can afford access to the ever-expanding collection of combination drug treatments. It's not just Africans, of course, who are strapped for cash when it comes to HIV treatment. In the United States, infection rates among black Americans (especially black women) are increasing, statistics that are diametrically opposed to African-Americans' relatively tiny presence in education, treatment, and counseling programs. Gay men were the first to campaign stridently for research and drug development, so the ways in which they've benefited from protease inhibitors are entirely earned. But disproportionate poverty in many minority communities, and the distrust bred by years of institutional racism, is proving a block to the spread of information in many black and Latino communities. Gatherings like this remind us there is still much work to be done in fighting the disease.
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AIDS as national security threat? It depends entirely on how you parse that phrase. It's not a coincidence that the same forces that threaten to rip apart any social fabric--prejudice, poverty, lack of education, sexual ignorance--prove to be marvelous facilitators of a plague that kills.