World AIDS Day Observance in the South

 The 20th observation of World AIDS Day was on December 1st.    I attended the local observance of this event organized by West Alabama AIDS Outreach (WAAO).   It is now five days later and I am still reflecting on what I heard. 

AIDS is no foreign entity to me.  Those of you who know me, know that I co-founded an AIDS ministry in my hometown of Danbury, CT and then ran that organization in various positions for 15 years.   I witnessed a change of attitude in Danbury over that time period within the interfaith religious community.   Congregations that were homophobic lessened their fear in its relationship with AIDS and began to talk about HIV/AIDS prevention from the pulpit.   They were less afraid to admit that there were members in their congregations with the disease.   Clergy of all religious cloth began to respond to those with HIV/AIDS with compassion. This is not to say that conservative faith groups suddenly embraced everyone  impacted by this disease but there was a decrease in the stigma of having HIV/AIDS.    I like to think this change of heart was in some small part due to the presence of the non-profit organization I ran.  I know that it was because of a much broader community effort to educate ourselves on this disease. 

West Alabama is still steeped in ignorance when it comes to how HIV/AIDS is or isn’t transmitted.   WAAO is still trying, 30 years into this pandemic,  to separate the stigma of sexuality, primarily homosexuality from the disease.   It’s not who you are but rather what you do that puts you at risk for this disease.

So as I sat and listened to the speakers at the podium talk about HIV/AIDS in Alabama, I felt I was transported back in time to when I first was personally confronted with the specter of AIDS.   It suddenly made sense to me why Alabama and other southern states are seeing a resurgence in HIV transmission.     These are states that are afraid. 

Fear is a great paralyzer.  It causes us to behave in irrational ways.  It causes us to believe falsehoods because the falsehoods reinforce the fear.   In West Alabama, fear keeps people from being empowered to choose healthful decisions about their bodies.   The only antidote I know to fear is education. 

It will require the schools in Alabama to discard the failed Abstinence based approach to sexuality and to choose comprehensive sexuality education.  This is the only approach I have seen to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, reduce unwanted teen pregnancy, reduce the spread of other sexual transmitted infections and diseases.  It is also the only approach I know that reduces the fear that grips this region.

Published in: on December 5, 2008 at 4:07 pm  Comments Off on World AIDS Day Observance in the South  
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