Discrimination from Within & Outside Our Communities

Divided We Fall
Let’s stop discrimination in our own communities
by John Francis Leonard

divided peopleYesterday, I was completely taken aback and feeling discouraged and mournful for several reasons. It was the one-month anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting for starters, a time for reflection and mourning for our community as well as many right-minded fellow Americans. Meanwhile in the United States Congress, in a country built on the sacred concept of liberty and justice for all, a debate was going on. The majority of congressional members were seriously considering, on this sad day, legalizing discrimination against our LGBT community and others who don’t fit their narrow and bigoted definition of family. Hearings were being held by The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on FADA (The First Amendment Defense Act). This dangerous bill would allow any taxpayer-funded organization—be it a business, a non-profit, an educational institution, to deny goods, services, or benefits to anyone in a same-sex marriage or relationship. Anyone in any relationship but what they deem to be a traditional, Christian marriage could be affected. Unmarried heterosexual partners and single mothers are also affected.

Any such institution could turn away any LGBT person under the bill, in fact; it’s that far-reaching. Benefits could be denied, jobs lost with no recourse, goods and services refused. It hits hardest the many states that don’t have laws already protecting their citizens. It sets a dangerous legal precedent in those states which do. Using the now tired and unfounded excuse, “religious freedom,” they were dancing on the graves of forty-nine victims taken violently and too soon, also in the name of faith and religion. This bill, to put it simply, undermines our basic rights as U.S. citizens and is driven, not by any need to “protect” freedom of religion, but by fear, hate, bigotry, and ignorance.

Then, as icing on that proverbial cake, my best friend forwards me an article. Grindr, the popular gay social app, is polling its members. They are actively promoting a feature on their site which will allow its users to “filter” potential interactions by HIV status. Many members are outraged at this blatant discrimination. But based on the blatant bias and intolerance some members of our gay male community extend to those who are positive, I’m sure many would welcome such a discriminatory option.

Now one might wonder how I arrive at this parallel, but it’s simple. We cannot demand tolerance and understanding from the right wing of our country if we cannot, will not, extend that basic human instinct to one another. We are lost unless we do so.

Simple research, just a little reading, will expose the facts. An open and tolerant mind will go a long way as well. Sex with an HIV-positive person, adhering to current treatment and undetectable, is some of the safest sex one can have. When you are undetectable, you aren’t infectious. Add the current prevention model, PrEP for the negative partner, and you’re statistically even safer. Hell, add a condom for anal sex and you’re golden. If you’re living in some fear of getting involved romantically with an HIV-positive person in case they might drop dead at any moment, get over it. The HIV-positive are living long and productive lives. Yes, it can make the vagaries of aging a bit more daunting, but so do a host of other ancillary health conditions.

We’re all guilty of it, especially as gay men. We are constantly on the lookout for “the next best thing.” It could literally be right around the corner, we tell ourselves. So, we place stringent expectations on each other. We must have washboard abs, the perfect face, and an eight-inch cock. Anyone who doesn’t meet our unrealistic expectations simply need not apply. We already filter out others based on race and ethnicity (I’m speaking of Grindr again). If not that, we have armlong lists on the apps of what we don’t want, what doesn’t turn us on. Personal preference is one thing but why are we so adamant about telling other people what is unacceptable about themselves? Are we missing the great guy right in front of us because we’re so busy looking for something that might or might not be marginally better? We all have our fantasies, things that turn us on. What happened to a simple “no thank you” to someone we don’t find attractive? Or, if we need to spell it out for the more persistent, “sorry, you seem like a nice guy, but I’m just not interested.” Where did humanity and basic good manners go?

All this sero-sorting just seems to be the last straw. Recently, I was on an app looking for some company. Now, for me, it’s sometimes as much about just connecting with another guy for a little while as much as it is about getting off. I was chatting with a local guy about hooking up. He was into some mutual masturbation and oral sex. Nothing could be safer, right? Still, as always, I felt it was morally correct to let him know about my status. Silence. When he did get around to replying it was in the negative. He just couldn’t risk it. Now admittedly, I’ve grown weary of having to educate every potential sex partner on exactly what safe sex entails. Instead, I reacted with some of the intolerance I’ve been talking about. Feeling hurt, I informed him that he wasn’t really that hot to begin with and that I could do much better. It was not my proudest moment. At least he, like many in my small community, could be forgiven for not being in possession of the simple facts. What was my excuse for being unkind? And I want to say that all of us, not just the gay male community, have felt the stigma directed towards those who are HIV-positive. I can’t imagine explaining the ins and outs of HIV to your average heterosexual.

So we all need to do it. We need to extend to each other the same tolerance and love that we demand from our country as a whole. We are simply lost without it. I fear, in my heart, that it will not be forthcoming until we do and it makes me sad. All the marching, all the protest, all the debate, all the progressive legislation in the world will be for naught.

John Francis Leonard writes A&U’s monthly Bright Lights, Small City column.