The Personal Is Political
Our bodies, once again, are under attack
by John Francis Leonard
Now more than ever, with an upcoming election set to free us from the malign influence of the most dangerous leader and party in the history of our democracy, our very lives are on the line. With the environment collapsing, a contagious disease killing thousands a day, the civil rights of minorities under attack, and an extremist version of Christianity exerting control over our lives—we, as a people, as a democracy, are under attack from the right. With the majority of our nation’s wealth in the hands of a very few, money is the basis of any political campaign. Black men, and women, are executed by an out-of-control police force protected by powerful unions and influenced by systemic racism with actual white supremacists said to be within their ranks. There is no “justice for all,” but seemingly only for the white, straight, and cisgender. The label of feminist, once worn proudly by those seeking equal rights for both genders, has somehow become a dirty word, an insult. The right scornfully maligns those seeking only equal rights, as if they themselves are under attack personally, as if their rights will be taken away from them and they’ll be relegated to the back of the line. They whine, they cry, they project, threatened and made insecure by the rapidly changing demographics of this country. Our leadership and our institutions, however, do not clearly reflect these changing demographics. We are still a country run by an elite who do not reflect these changing demographics. They have decimated voting rights and are actively cheating the system in a desperate grab at power.
So, yes, now more than ever, the political is personal for us all, but for none more than for the minority. For members of the LGBTQ+ community and HIV/AIDS movement, this is hardly a new concept. We have fought hard for our rights and our very lives. What could be more personal? The gay rights movement of the late sixties and the seventies always saw the political as a personal cause. What could be more personal than a person’s sexual and gender identity? But even that movement was dominated by gay white men at times. Throughout the seventies and into the eighties, gay bars in major cities did not welcome people of color and trans individuals. I don’t know what it’s like now, but twenty years ago the gay circuit party was primarily made up of privileged, upper middle class, white gay men. I don’t mean to disparage my own community, but suffice it to say that we have also had to come to terms with white privilege and we’ve come a long way with it, certainly.
When AIDS hit in the early eighties, we were called to arms once again. Once again the cause was personal as our friends and lovers, even we ourselves, were dying and the government and the American public were either hostile or indifferent. So many thought that we were getting our just desserts. It was the wages of sin, is what supposed men of God cried from their pulpits. The involuntary quarantine of “AIDS victims” was called for by members of both parties in Congress; we were under attack twofold, by a deadly virus and a hostile administration and American public. What did we do? We fought, we marched, we made civil disobedience a fine art. We’re still fighting today. HIV/AIDS may be on its back heel, but it isn’t gone. We have the drugs to fight it, but those drugs are costly and with a broken healthcare system, they aren’t reaching everyone, particularly minorities. The lives of our brothers and sisters, regardless of color, gender expression, or sexuality must be just as dear as our own. We’re all God’s children and deserve an equal shot at life and happiness. What is more personal than fighting for the lives of yourself and your community?
Just as Ronald Reagan bungled and ignored the response to HIV/AIDS, Donald Trump has mishandled COVID-19. Reagan didn’t even mention AIDS until his second term. When asked about the huge death toll from COVID in a recent interview, Trump callously remarked, “It is what it is.” Our lives are on the line once again, and this time it’s all of us. But once again, persons of color are at higher risk. We all, as a country, have a stake in this, but once again there are selfish and ignorant people refusing to take responsibility, refusing to wear a mask to protect themselves and others. If you want to put your own life at risk, so be it, but you’re not entitled to risk the lives of others to score a political point.
There’s a new movement that again has made the personal into the political, and that’s the Black Lives Matter Movement. Racism is like a rot in American culture and it’s led to too many lives being taken by an out of control police force acting as judge and jury and taking Black lives. BLM marched and protested only being met with scorn by many whites and with further violence by law enforcement. Yet they still march and it gives me hope. Hope that someday things might change. It pains me just as greatly to see a person of color met with prejudice as it does to see LGBTQ+ persons mistreated or denied their rights. I take it to heart and I take it personally, for as I said and I believe it with all my heart, we are all God’s children and there’s nothing God- or Christ-like in the mistreatment or subjugation of those who are different from you. What can we do? The easiest thing right now comes November 3: Vote. Vote as if the life of our democracy is on the line, because it most certainly is.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.