Friday, April 5, 2013

HIV and Stigma

There is a lot of stigma that becomes attached to people and identities based upon how they are viewed in society. These stigmas can take the form of stereotypes and misconceptions that are placed upon a person's racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation, as well as a long list of other identities that we each hold.

In the LGBTQ+ community, there is a lot of struggle faced in tackling the stigmas that society has placed upon the members of this community. From their actions, behavior, and self-expression to who they form relationships with, and the issues that face the LGBTQ+ community are a consequence of these stigmas.

Which is why it is so harmful when these stigmas are reinforced by those with the privilege to do so and when millions of people buy into it. What I want to talk about in this blog is Tyler Perry's new  movie Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor and how it works so hard to enforce the stigma of HIV as a "sinner's disease." There is an eye-opening article on Buzzfeed that I want to share with you. Be warned, there are spoilers in the article, so if you want to see the movie and discover how this all plays out on your own I'd suggest you stop here.

Now, if you've never learned of the history of HIV in America, it is a disease that originated in Africa and found its way into the US. In the early 1980's, it was found to spread rapidly within the gay community and lead many to develop AIDS, which devastated communities of LGBTQ+ members. Now, HIV/AIDS can spread to anyone, but the media at the time faceted upon its presence in the gay community and even went so far as to call it the "gay-related immunodeficiency disease" or GRID.

Only after years of work was it recognized to affect people of all sexual orientations and the name was changed to AIDS, but it was too late. There had been a stigma attached to the gay community, and to some extent the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, that HIV was a disease that was intrinsic to being gay, and it has lead to a lot of discrimination.

When you tie this in with how many people who oppose LGBTQ+ people and the movement use religion to classify them as "sinners" and "immoral," you can see HOW DANGEROUS it is to have HIV be cast as a "sinner's disease," which is what Tyler Perry does in his movie. The entire movie is of temptation, sin, redemption, and all sorts of religious undertones and to have HIV be cast as a punishment for and mark of a "sinner" effectively spits in the face of all the work done to fight the stigma of HIV in the gay community.

And to add to this damage, this movie was conceived, directed, and produced someone who has the power and privilege to do so much good. Tyler Perry is an immensely successful film director who directly targets the Black population in the US with his movies and thus he has a huge impact upon them. And then he creates a movie that hurts those living with HIV, the gay community, and sets a heavily religious pushback against those with HIV. And now there will need to be work done to undo the damage he has created.

I hope that this blog and the article have given you something to think about and that you start to develop a lens through which to view movies and the media i order to recognize directed attacks like this upon communities that do not deserve them. Stigmas are a major source of the discrimination communities face and we must do our best to fight and disprove them.

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