Skip to comments.Desensitizing America -- Part I: AIDS Sensitivity Training___Part II: The AIDS Walk
Posted on 08/20/2002 7:22:53 AM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
Desensitizing America, Part I: AIDS Sensitivity Training
From 1991 through 1993, I worked in the Corporate Personnel office in one of the great computer companies of this country. In 1992, the EEO Operations Director asked me to be the Corporate Personnel liaison to the AIDS office for participation in the annual AIDS Walk. Because I had seen one of the first documented AIDS patients in Massachusetts die of the disease in my previous job about nine years earlier, and because I remembered his suffering so vividly, I agreed to do it.
I was full of Christian idealism, and genuinely believed that Christians should be more involved in politics and other controversial issues. In late winter, I went to my first meeting with the AIDS Walk Committee. One member, I'll call him "Jerry," was a company employee who was also an AIDS patient, exulting in the benefits of long-term disability. He told us eagerly about how he traversed the country participating in any gay pride marches and AIDS walks he could find, and how, because he was still an employee and "associated" with the AIDS office, he was able to travel at company expense as an AIDS office representative. He shared glowing details about his flights, hotel accommodations, meals and entertainment. Although his disease had progressed from HIV-positive to AIDS, he was in remission and appeared to be blooming with good health. The women present, who had known Jerry for about two years, were very impressed with his activities and appearance, and with everything he was doing to "promote AIDS awareness" on behalf of the company.
During that first meeting, the Worcester walk was scheduled for the first Sunday in June, some four months away. Our meeting lasted for about an hour, and I returned to my office and resisted thoughts of how Jerry was getting away with a good deal of corporate fraud. It was as if he had decided to go out with a bang.
Not long after that, I was called to the AIDS office and told that the company was beginning an AIDS sensitivity program, and Corporate Personnel employees would be the first ones to go through the training. Would I like to be the first one from the EEO office to go through it? I was rather uncomfortable with that idea, but was told that it would be mandatory for everyone in Personnel and possibly hopefully would soon become mandatory for all company employees. And besides, the AIDS manager smiled, it would be good experience for my work on the AIDS Walk committee. Somewhat reluctantly (primarily because I felt I was already sensitive enough to the plight of AIDS), I agreed.
Sensitivity training day arrived, and I was one of about ten participants from Corporate Personnel in the morning session. The AIDS manager stood at a podium next to an overhead projector. Behind him were three empty chairs arranged in a semi-circle, and a fourth chair, occupied by a leading HIV-AIDS researcher from one of the major Boston hospitals. The researcher was introduced and in the first half of the session, inundated us with facts and charts and the latest figures on the rapid spread of the AIDS epidemic across the United States. It was informative, and it was exhausting. When we came back from a twenty-minute break, the researcher was gone. Replacing him were three people, two men in the left and center chairs, and a woman on the right.
The AIDS manager introduced them and then observed, "These people look just like us, don't they?"
Well, yes, we nodded, they did look just like us...
"Each of these people is the face of AIDS..."
A sharp intake of breath greeted his announcement. He continued, pleased with our shock.
"You're all thinking, 'They don't look the type!' aren't you? Well, what is the type?" and when he asked that (echoing out thoughts) we involuntarily shrank back in our seats. At the time, I was sure he noticed it. He went on with (I thought) a degree of anger: "All of you are 'the type,' No one is exempt from this disease. All of these people who are just exactly like you! are company employees, and all work closely with this office for support. They are in various stages of AIDS, and are struggling to live with it."
Who would not have been touched in 1992, seeing people who actually had this horrid disease? For the first time at least for most of us we were actually looking at someone with AIDS, and not just at one person but at three. It was very nearly overwhelming.
But not quite.
As we listened to their stories, some of us realized that what we were really encountering were three people who had contracted AIDS through promiscuous homosexual behavior. I remember thinking, "They're not like me. They're not one bit like me. Except that we all work for this company."
But I said nothing.
The first, "Ralph," was a handsome young man who looked like he'd just stepped out of a Brooks Brothers ad. [The AIDS manager made a veiled pass at him, and Ralph smiled modestly as if he were used to such things.] He told us that he had always been homosexual and was looking for love in all the wrong places. By the time he met "John," it was too late and he was already HIV-positive. He said his sister, a pediatrics nurse with whom he had once been very close, had said it served him right when he told her of his disease and how he'd contracted it. She said there were innocent victims of AIDS but he was not one of them because of the life-style he chose to live. He said that because of the family's Irish Catholic background and the Irish Catholic image of what a man is supposed to be, that she was biased and could not deal with or accept his illness. They were now estranged. He was very sad and emotional about it, especially when he repeated her remark about "innocent victims." Ralph declared that there were, in fact, no innocent victims of AIDS. He said he was in what his doctors felt might be his final remission.
The second, "George," had been happily married and had two teenaged children. He had left his family for "Tommy," the man of his dreams who had given him HIV. Because Tommy already had full-blown AIDS, they decided to stay together and were mostly monogamous. He said his wife "understood," and his daughter was becoming sympathetic after five years but didn't want to be around him, and his son refused to have anything at all to do with him. He said it broke his heart to be distant from his children and sobbed as he said he was in remission, then added fearfully, and sincerely, "I don't want to die."
The third was "Betty," who had been diagnosed with HIV in 1990, after indulging in much "wild, unprotected sex" during a battle with severe depression in the late-eighties. She had never thought she would get AIDS. She was only in her twenties, after all! but her immune system was already weak from childhood illnesses and she had just learned that already, after only two years of treatment, she had full-blown AIDS. She said her prognosis was not good. She was very angry and very bitter that she was so sick, had to take so much medication which often made her sicker, and that her body couldn't fight the disease. But rather than cry in front of us, she cursed until she lost control. After an explosion of vile words, she left the room.
The AIDS manager, needing to comfort her, decided we all should take another break. Then he and the two men went to look for her. Some of us went to the cafeteria for coffee, rather than stay in the room and take it from the carafe that was available: none of us wanted to talk to each other. We wanted it to be over, and we all knew it. We came back a few minutes later for a question and answer period. The men were there, but Betty had not returned. We were told that she felt vulnerable and couldn't stand the stress and had left.
During the Q&A, a man in the audience asked why there were no "innocent victims," and Ralph said smoothly but somewhat ineffectively, that it was because of the immense suffering caused by the disease that eventually, AIDS would touch every American life, whether personally, through family, or through friends. He danced around the question. It seemed he knew when to let his emotions show; when he did, we turned away, almost as if we were embarrassed at our insensitivity to his situation. His answer was not at all satisfactory, but we didn't push it because of the expression on the AIDS manager's face.
When questioned, George spoke tearfully and honestly about how he got AIDS, but he didn't accept that it was his own fault and was still heartbroken about it. He said he was concerned for his wife's health because of "when" he contracted the disease.
Not one of these people took responsibility for their having contracted AIDS. Not one wanted to face the fact that his (or her) behavior was the reason that each was now locked in a life and death struggle. They were all "victims."
NO ONE was innocent.
On that day, despite what I instinctively knew, I began to learn that if you hear a lie often enough and you don't fight against it you will eventually accept it as the truth.
My desensitization had begun.
Desensitizing America, Part II: The AIDS Walk
The next few meetings of the AIDS Walk Committee were quiet ones. Jerry was missing, busily marching in gay pride parades all across America. The AIDS Manager kept us apprised of his whereabouts and agenda as we set the schedule and details for the Worcester walk.
I did a lot of thinking over those days and weeks about the sensitivity training I had attended. I was troubled by Ralph's comment that there were no innocent victims. All logic told me that that was a lie. At one of our committee meetings, a member shared that a friend had been diagnosed with AIDS, and another asked how her friend had contracted the disease.
"What does it matter," the woman challenged. "The suffering's the same. What difference does it make how someone gets AIDS? It has to be stopped, that's all. That's why we're all here."
"I suppose," the man answered weakly and backed down (most of us did in those days), and I thought, "But it does matter. Not in determining who gets what treatment but it does matter..." Of course, I was silent.
Jerry returned to us in early May, and energetically heralded his exploits in the gay pride marches. The women seemed very comfortable with what he was saying. The men were a little less so. For some reason, it was important to one of the women to ask what seemed a stupid question with an obvious answer:
"But did you have a good time, Jerry?"
"Oh! Yes!" His face lit up with happy determination and he began gesturing wildly. "Oh, it was wonderful! It was so empowering! We did whatever we wanted, especially in Washington. There's no stopping us now. No one dared to challenge anything we did."
In his excitement, he began to cough. The woman patted his hand, smiled indulgently and began to ask other questions. The men busied themselves with additional details regarding the AIDS walk, now only a month away. But I said nothing.
[I had heard about the Washington march, how men performed sex acts with one another on the streets, and lesbians climbed bare-breasted onto statuary and writhed about to achieve orgasm. I had heard about the police who turned away but I couldn't help wondering if they turned away, not because they endorsed the marchers, but because they were afraid of them? A man who had witnessed the Washington march said he'd never seen such disgusting and perverted acts and then made the astute observation that if heterosexuals had done the same things in a public march, they would likely have been arrested for lewd behavior. But no one was arrested at the gay pride march in the nation's capitol.]
As I listened to Jerry's rambling, I felt sick to my stomach. I wished I were any place else.
For some reason, it was announced that I would carry one side of the company banner at the front of the AIDS walk. I wondered cynically at the time if I weren't being rewarded as the "token Christian." I worked hard to get support for my walk, mentioning at church during announcements that AIDS was a serious disease that would eventually effect us all (but not saying that there were no innocent victims!) and three people finally put down dollar amounts for each mile I walked. I told my husband that I wanted to wear a John 3:16 Tee-shirt, and he forbade it outright.
"You mustn't do that. I remember these people from the Navy."
"But the same Jesus who died on the cross for me died for them, too. How will they know that if someone doesn't tell them?"
"Maybe they don't want to know. Have you thought of that? You'll be beaten to a pulp if you show up wearing anything about Jesus. I don't want you to do it."
Reluctantly, but because I trusted his wisdom (and had heard stories about homosexuals in the Navy), I agreed.
That Sunday in June dawned hot and sunny, breezy but with low humidity, a perfect day to walk five kilometers for a good cause. I dressed in light colored clothes and carried a straw hat. The walk was scheduled to begin at noon, and I went to City Hall, the gathering place, at around 10:30. The AIDS manager and several members of the committee were there, registering walkers and collecting pledge cards and funds already secured.
Aside from those few people from the AIDS walk committee, I did not recognize anyone else out of the several thousand who had gathered to walk. After about a half hour, I spotted Jerry and went over to talk with him. He was a very good looking young man, but he did not appear well that day. He informed me that he was too ill to walk and would wait for us until we returned to City Hall. I asked him what was wrong.
He coughed and said, "Oh, you know. The same old same old." I nodded sympathetically.
We talked about the walk for a few minutes, then he stopped cold in the middle of a sentence and murmured softly, his voice low and husky, "Oh! What a babe!"
"Who?" I asked, following his gaze. "What babe?"
"Over there," he pointed to a handsome teenager who was standing with several girls. "Isn't he beautiful? Oh, I can't stand it. I'm going over to meet him."
"Jerry," I grabbed his sleeve as he started away. "What are you doing? He's just a boy. You have AIDS."
Jerry frowned angrily at me and jerked his sleeve from my hand. Then he smiled and added, "Don't worry. I'll treat him very well. He'll be just fine! Trust me."
And he winked and walked over to the kids. He stood next to the boy, rested his hand against the boy's back and introduced himself. The boy smiled but pulled away slightly, and Jerry moved a little closer. The boy spoke with him, but as the girls drifted away, he pulled one of them close and put his arm around her. Eventually, when it was apparent that Jerry was not going to have his way, he returned to me with a wistful smile, his eyes glittering.
"Oh, well," he said, "You can't have them all!"
Thousands of us walked for AIDS that day. I saw no Christian sentiments on Tee-shirts but I did see some of the filthiest words I'd ever seen in public, and they were worn proudly. Even today, nearly ten years later, I cannot speak some of those phrases, because they're still so repellent to me. I remember starting at the front of the crowd and holding the banner, then passing it to someone else and falling behind as we hit the first hill. I said to the man next to me, "This is a good thing we're doing."
"Oh, yes," he agreed. "It's our day!" But he was uninterested in talking about how money we raised for AIDS research might buy a few more days of life for an AIDS patient. He spotted a friend ahead of us, shouted, "Oh, hi!" and waved, and ran ahead of me. He kissed the man on the mouth when he caught up.
I walked along, not talking to anyone else as I concentrated on finishing, observing men with their arms around each other, and women the same, and thinking, "What am I doing?" Ahead, people were touching each other suggestively, fondling each other's body parts, kissing, sighing heavily, men with men and women with women, all as they walked along. I tried to get by them, but there were too many so I dropped back. I looked away and began to count the minutes to the end.
The chant "Two-four-six-eight! Is your husband really straight?" suddenly erupted from the throats of the male walkers as we passed a small knot of people who were staring, and it was then I realized that all along our route, there were relatively few people standing by to encourage us. Oh, people involved in the AIDS community were there with paper cups of water to refresh us but the sidewalks of Worcester were hardly swollen with throngs of supporters.
When we got back to City Hall, there were cold drinks, snacks and congratulatory speeches waiting for us. Jerry was no where to be seen. I saw the AIDS Manager and approached him, and he was polite but very cool to me as he turned his attention to a more interesting companion. I felt like a stranger in my own city. I wandered through the crowd, watching them for a few minutes, predominantly men with men and women with women, lolling about on the grass. I had the distinct feeling that I didn't belong with them, and so I left.
As I drove home, I was deeply troubled by something I couldn't quite place. Something was wrong, terribly wrong, but I couldn't figure it out. I suddenly felt dirty, as if I had been used, and I asked aloud several times as I drove,
"If I just did such a good thing, why don't I feel better about it?"
When I got into the house, my husband observed calmly, "Well, I see you're still in one piece. How did it go?"
And then it hit me, and I sat down as the shock of it sank in. I blinked back tears of frustration and disappointment. After a few moments, I answered,
"I feel as if I just marched for gay pride."
And who spreads the lies across our nation? The biased left wing media.
The Church has done bad things but, even non-believers have to acknowledge that Western society is built on Christian foundations.
Paul wrote in his Second Epistle to Timothy: In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers ... Heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God ... Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.
A form of godliness is a good way of putting it: You elevate your pleasures [i.e. homosexuality, free sex] and their attendant paraphernalia , condoms, abortion clinics into a new creed of tolerance and diversity that eventually supplants Christian morality. On the matter of AIDS and homophobia, the gay crowd has a good slogan: Silence = acceptance. We should start screaming at the top of our lungs, and even then I do not know if it will help.