[Editor’s Note: today we introduce “Queerly Canadian,” Cate Simpson’s new blog column on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans- issues. Queerly Canadian will appear every other Thursday.]
This Monday was World AIDS Day, and last week was AIDS Awareness Week. If both of these events had so far escaped your notice, you wouldn’t be entirely to blame.
Men who have sex with men are no longer the fastest-growing infection group for HIV, and some suggest that HIV/AIDS is no longer an issue for the queer community. But with gay and bisexual men representing 40 per cent of new infections in Canada, the disease is still very much present in our communities. We cannot afford to become complacent about HIV/AIDS education and testing.
With the Ontario curriculum reportedly falling short when it comes to educating youth about HIV prevention (a recent study by the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research found that more than half of Canadians between grades 9 and 11 think there is a vaccine for HIV), and the mainstream media largely ignoring World AIDS Day (The Star and the Ottawa Citizen were the only Big Seven publications to give it space), where is the next generation going to get its facts?
The queer community was the first group to mobilize behind AIDS education. Has the community focused its political consciousness so squarely upon the fight for gay marriage in the last few years that it has lost sight of where that political consciousness was born? From the LGBT press to the Globe and Mail, everyone is talking about Proposition 8 which passed in California last month. Even in Canada, where we already have gay marriage and no personal stake in that outcome, people are protesting in the streets over the right to marry in California and almost nobody is talking about AIDS. And nobody is dying for lack of a marriage license.
Of course same-sex couples should have the right to marry, and these protests are about demanding access to something that was always rightfully ours. But the fight for gay marriage has obscured and, in some cases, actively sought to obscure, other issues of significance to queer people.
Gay marriage is important because, in some ways, it is a proxy for other things. It’s about being recognized as full members of society. It’s about not having our relationships made “other”. But in making our case, we try to convince the world that our relationships look just like theirs, and associating the queer community with AIDS reminds people of stereotypes we want them to forget. It reminds them of bathhouses, of promiscuity, and, horror of all horrors, it reminds people that same-sex relationships often include sex.
The No On 8 campaign wanted voters to see two men in tuxedos, surrounded by their families and their religious leaders and think, “That looks just like my wedding.” They don’t want voters to imagine that couple barebacking after the reception.
But to pretend that AIDS isn’t part of the history of our communities not only does a disservice to the 266,272 American and 9,515 Canadian gay and bisexual men who have so far died of the disease, and to those people who are still living with HIV and AIDS, it makes it more likely that it will be part of our future.
Cate Simpson is a freelance journalist and the web editor for Shameless magazine. She lives in Toronto.