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Contrasting (Not comparing) COVID-19 with HIV/AIDS

Opinion Piece by Vince Mallia

In February, in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I started to realise just how serious this coronavirus is. A month later everything starting to shut down, people starting panic-buying and the numbers of people diagnosed suddenly started increasing.

Coronavirus made me wonder about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 80’s. My lack of education, and perhaps even my privilege of being HIV negative, as well as my innocence, prompted me to compare COVID-19 with HIV/AIDS. Why? Because right now we are facing something which we do not fully yet understand. Because there is something that is transmittable from 1 person to another. And because we are afraid. And because we are afraid.

I came across this article last week, take a look and have a read. This piece will be based on this article Mark S. King.

If we are truly to empower our community, especially people diagnosed with HIV+ or AIDS, can we honestly compare that with COVID-19? Let me tell you why not. When it became known that only gay men were being diagnosed with HIV, this same virus was labelled as “the gay pandemic”. Associating gay men with such a strong word as pandemic is already a very painful mistake which some are still grieving.

Gay men were bashed, they were emotionally and psychologically abused, they were vehemently outed unwillingly, kicked out of houses by their parents. More than that, the government at the time, under President Ronald Raegan in the USA and Margaret Thatcher in the UK, the legal system was intentionally tailor-made to stigmatise and discriminate against gay people. The healthcare system chose to ignore the needs of anyone, but especially gay men, diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Why? Because the public did not care about what they deemed as “second class citizen”, they did not care about that sinful behaviour. They brought it upon themselves, they deserved it.

Fast forward to 2020, where help for COVID-19 is offered free of charge and everything is done so that no one is not left to die. Everyone is so happy seeing each other help, rebuilding ourselves as a community, with no one left behind, especially the elderly. Mind you, although those who discriminated against gay men in the 80’s are today’s elderly. And yes, we will help and yes, we will show them respect but make no mistake about it, we cannot pretend like nothing ever happened. These people lost the love of their lives, they saw them suffer in silence because no one wanted them. People didn’t set up voluntary helplines for gay men with HIV so that they could talk to them, they didn’t bring them sandwiches next to bed. Yes, that’s why many gay men love Princess Diana, by the way, because the feeling has always been reciprocated.

My point with this opinion piece is really to bring forth the idea that everything we do is a chain. I honestly understand that, that was another time but please think about it. People discriminated against gay men with HIV (and gay men in general) because they did not know any better. They named it “the gay pandemic” because there was no help for gay men in the first place. That’s why it’s the gay men who suffer from HIV/AIDS. It’s a minority group, perhaps even more in the 80’s, where it was dehumanised and devalued, just like people working on the streets and the homeless.

Please do not compare COVID-19 with HIV/AIDS+ because we would be taking away the lived experience of anyone affected by HIV/AIDS+. People lost family, friends and boyfriends. We cannot invalidate their pain and their grief. In contrast, we must CONTRAST (not compare) today’s situation.

Vince Mallia is a final year at University of Malta reading a B.Psy degree

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