Gay men should educate themselves about AIDS, not shun those with it

To the Editor:

I was pleased to see various activities around campus, both commemorative and informational, timed to coincide with World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. As a member of the Yale community living with HIV, it was a welcome sign of support, as well as an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate I am, by virtue of my socioeconomic status and education, not to have to worry unduly about access to the care and medications that should guarantee me a healthy and reasonably lengthy life.

I wish that I could say unequivocally that I have felt that same level of support uniformly. Unfortunately, I have experienced some of the highest levels of ignorance, fear and prejudice about HIV from other gay men in the Yale and the larger New Haven communities. While I’m proud that so many gay men in the early years of the epidemic opposed policies that would stigmatize and segregate HIV+ men, and I assume that my peers remain committed to preventing legal discrimination against those of us who carry the virus, it is offensive and hurtful to be treated as toxic in the realm of sexuality and dating. There appears to be no better way to gauge the depth of someone’s commitment to philosophically, politically or theologically based notions of egalitarianism than to drop the phrase “I’m positive” into an introductory conversation and watch what appeared to be interest or attraction suddenly vanish. I find it strange, given how long we’ve known how the virus is spread, that many otherwise highly educated gay men are afraid of physical or intimate contact of any kind with a person with HIV, especially when those same men might be willing to engage in activity that poses a high risk of transmission with someone they don’t know well (if at all) merely because he asserts that he is “clean.” (What does that make me? Filthy?)

As someone who lives daily with this virus, I recognize the importance of containing its spread. I don’t see how shunning those who have it advances that objective; it may even be counterproductive. Knowing that a positive test result could be the social equivalent of the certain physical death that such news used to portend, how many men will be proactive about regularly checking their status, even though knowing that status is the key to prevention? How many others will simply conceal their status, or openly deceive others? Ignorance and fear do not make anyone safer.

It is true that some activities are never safe to engage in with someone of a different HIV status, even if the suppression of the virus by the medications now available makes the risk of transmission much less likely. Anyone who engages in unprotected intercourse with others he assumes to be “clean” is just biding his time until he begins needing those medications himself. I urge the gay men in this community to “clean” up their acts, by educating themselves about safer sex and shunning those practices that put them at risk of contracting HIV, rather than shunning those of us who have it.

Name Withheld

Dec. 3

Despite what some Yalies think,

the military is an honorable calling

To the Editor:

While reading about Yale students’ efforts to educate local Hispanic students about their college options (“Admissions experiences vary,” 12/5) I was surprised to come across the following statement in the article: “One mother asked if the Army is a good option, and she received a flurry of replies from the Yale students, who told of their friends stuck and miserable in Iraq.” I was surprised at the inclusion of such a political statement, considering that the article’s purpose was to show the difference in college prep for students at private and public institutions.

However, what disturbed me more was the fact that the Yale students in question dissuaded these high-school students from what is an honorable profession — the military. While I agree with what I believe to be at the crux of their argument — that disadvantaged students should not see the military as their only option to receive an education — I am nevertheless upset that they would argue against service at all. Regardless of one’s stance on the current war in Iraq, I strongly feel that one must recognize that for much of America, if not for Yalies, the military is regarded as a profession of which one should be proud. In the South, where I am from, it is not uncommon to see highly educated men and women decide to enter the service for reasons for patriotic duty.

While these high-school students should certainly be encouraged to attend college, they should also remember that the military can be an honorable way to achieve the same goals of having a secure future.

Kathryn Baldwin ’09

Dec. 7

The writer is in Silliman College.