Mayday, Mayday!


by David Waggoner

David Waggoner[dropcap]M[/dropcap]aybe it’s me, but doesn’t it seem odd that Charlie Sheen is no longer making headlines now that the announcement of his HIV status is behind him? After the initial media frenzy, the story has faded from the mainstream press and the tabloids. You’d think that the same press that’s so willing to cover the day-to-day circus antics of this year’s Presidential election would also be just as interested in the story developing around Mr. Sheen’s health status.

Is AIDS such a non-story these days that an A-list celebrity like Sheen can only generate so much media buzz? Is the press only interested in the seamy side to the Sheen story—check out the latest sensationalized speculation that Prince had AIDS—that it can’t dig deeper into the medical side? Supposedly, Mr. Sheen’s involvement in a cutting edge protocol (see Treatment Horizons) is no longer a secret. Hopefully, if he is treated successfully, the story of this possible breakthrough in HIV therapy will be replicated in thousands of others. Only time will tell.

Even members of the AIDS press have moved on to other stories, other issues, other therapeutic breakthroughs. We live in a world of sound bites. When Rock Hudson’s suspected status became headlines over thirty years ago, it was news for months. Images of the withering Hollywood hunk being propped up by his good friend and costar Doris Day were etched into our country’s collective consciousness. As was paranoia about living next door to HIV patients—be they Ryan White or a famous moviestar.

Oh, how times have changed: The recent “outing” of Mr. Sheen from the HIV closet is but a distant memory. He became both vilified and pitied in a matter of minutes. In the same way, Mr. Sheen’s reputation has been further sullied in the court of public opinion; but the ensuing silence about this promising treatment protocol is scandalous in its own way. It’s as if the former star of Two and a Half Men can’t possibly be taken seriously about his health problems. Is it that being HIV-positive is the new normal?

I’m not trying to sound too scaremongering, but people shouldn’t turn safer sex into an option. It should be taught as a way to end AIDS. The only way to put AIDS in the past tense is to make it a part of every young person’s life curriculum.

Grammy-winning singer and now movie producer Ashanti fervently believes in testing and wants people to take their heads out of the sand. Having lost a relative to the disease, she tells A&U’s Dann Dulin: “People need to understand that the disease does not discriminate. Anyone can get it. That needs to be drilled. If you think you’re not part of a certain group that won’t get HIV, you’re fooling yourself.”

Ignorance is never bliss. We need to understand what prevents individuals from knowing their status. We need to understand our treatment options if positive. We need to understand why stigma keeps coming back like kudzu, that annoying plant that spreads and spreads.

Stigma is especially pernicious because it not only affects people on an individual level but it affects people on a structural level. Stigma, especially when we realize that it is based on outdated science, has informed our HIV criminalization laws for too long. In this issue, we focus on health justice. We interview Julie Graham, who was initially criminally charged for supposedly not disclosing her HIV-positive serostatus. This issue also spotlights the HIV-related work of Lambda Legal, which fights against injustices like a man who was convicted of intentionally exposing someone to HIV even though his sexual partner did not contract HIV. AIDS advocate Connie Rose weighs in on how a recent spate of proposed legislative bills focused on marriage may in fact be trying to further codify HIV discrimination. We also are pleased to offer the insights of Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition and one of the leaders in the fight to protect the rights of trans individuals, including access to healthcare.

Like the advocates in this issue know, once we understand we need to act. Otherwise, the moment will pass us quicker than the Internet can alert us to another headline.

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.