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Gays and HIV/AIDS Advocacy: When the Spotlight Hurts

January 7, 2011

It’s the chicken-and-egg conundrum: is turning the spotlight on “men who have sex with men” or MSMs as a high-risk group – sometimes even the group at highest risk – for HIV/AIDS helping or hurting?

Since the virus was first discovered in 1977, gay men have been earmarked as likely carriers for their supposed promiscuous lifestyle. In fact, in its early days, the disease had been known as gay-related immune deficiency or GRID, until it became clear that the disease was not limited to gays. As many statistics show, however, gays seem to be disproportionately affected.

So, is it wrong to state the facts? No. But it would do well to elaborate on why high-risk groups are at high risk. One may recall when the spotlight was turned on call center agents last year – news reports were for the most part careful to associate the disease with risky lifestyle practices and not particular companies or industries. The same is true among MSM, who in addition are hesitant to come out and be tested due stigmas against them, according to studies. An applicable idea from Libel as Politics, a collection of insights on libel decriminalization in the Philippines from some of country’s foremost legal and media minds, comes to mind as a parallelism: is repeating that someone is an “alleged killer” 20 times in an article any less defaming than naming that person as the actual killer? Bottom line: there’s a reason negative stigmas, and therefore ignorance, persists.

It is therefore key to treat the disease as one that can and does affect anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, industry or any other classification. The same message that needs to reach high-risk groups is the same one that needs to reach everyone else. The medium is the message, said Marshall McLuhan, and narrowcasting it solely at a gay rights rally or migrant workers forum just allows everyone else to feel it’s not their problem and/or aren’t at risk. And there is definitely danger in ignorance, when not just gays, but others a continent and culture away as well, are uninformed.

Read on about government commitments to fight HIV/AIDS in 2011 in the latest issue of Expat Newspaper, out now.

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