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Is the Death of a President More Important Than the Death of Millions?

December 1 is World AIDS Day. It is meant to honor the millions of lives lost to the AIDS virus and to encourage people to help those who are living with it today. It was also the day after former President George H. W. Bush passed away.

News outlets dedicated the day to honoring the memory of the former President instead of focusing on the epidemic that has been plaguing Americans for decades. The epidemic that Bush did not help control and stop.

For young people who do not know about HIV/AIDS and understand the impact it has on LGBT history, this is a brief history lesson. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, and AIDS is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. HIV can become AIDS without proper treatment or care. In the 1980s when HIV became AIDS instantly, there was no treatment or care, and millions of people were dying. HIV can be spread through blood, and bodily fluids such as vaginal, anal, semen, pre-seminal, and breast milk. But in that time, it was referred to as GRID or gay-related immune deficiency and assumed to be homosexual male problem. (Which is completely wrong, because it was discovered later that sex between heterosexual couples and breast-feeding mothers to babies contract HIV). However the stigma was so stereotyped that it was a gay problem that President Ronald Reagan refused to say the word AIDS to the public until 5 years into his term.

When Bush entered office, the administration was offering unhelpful advice to those suffering from AIDS. He stated that NIH scientists were working on a cure, yet providing no viable information for many years. He reportedly said once being questioned on how he is helping those with AIDS: “It’s one of the few diseases where behavior matters. And I once called on somebody, “Well, change your behavior! If the behavior you’re using is prone to cause AIDs, change the behavior!” Next thing I know, one of these ACT UP groups is saying, “Bush ought to change his behavior!” You can’t talk about it rationally!”

President Bush mistakenly assumed what the whole country assumed, that it was a gay problem. The group ACT UP mentioned was an activist group meant to provide awareness about AIDS and create legislative policies and medical research that combated AIDS. It focused on the many LGBTQ+ people who lost their lives to the epidemic.

President Bush has been guilty of other behavior that portrays minorities in a negative way during his presidency, such as using the Willie Horton ad in a race, and vetoing the Civil Rights Bill of 1990. While it was not his fault that AIDS happened in America, he was at fault for letting it worsen and not working harder to help those who were suffering. If protesters took it as far as throwing the ashes of their loved ones who died of AIDS on the lawn of the White House to show their anger, something had to be done. And ultimately something was done but years after hundreds of thousands of people died in America and millions have died worldwide.

AIDS today is not much better than what it was then. While a record number of people are receiving antiretroviral treatment, treatment and care is not always accessible for everyone at risk with HIV or living with HIV and globally the number of people living with HIV should be lower than what it is. There should be a cure by now. But people are still uneducated, thinking HIV can be contracted through touching someone who has HIV or doorknobs touched by an HIV positive person. President Bush could have done better in his term, he could have pushed for more awareness, for more funding, he could have tried to be more of an advocate for minorities than he was. His death being all that was discussed about on a day that was created because so many people died because of a disease he did not help control or help is distasteful. It is disappointing, it is disrespectful.

Photo: AP Photo/Bob Daughtery

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