I had originally planned on a post today about another HIV/AIDS psycho-social treatment center I visited in Rwanda, but I have decided to push it to Wednesday so I could take a moment to talk about the amazing play I saw on Friday night: The Normal Heart. The Normal Heart is without a doubt the most touching play I have ever seen and I think it ties for my all time favorite play with Time Stands Still. The Normal Heart centers around a group of friends at the center of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1981 New York before HIV/AIDS had been diagnosed and given a name. It is all a true story with some name changes written by Larry Kramer and originally debuted at the Public Theater in 1985. There are really two central themes to the play, which back in the 80’s were intrinsically tied- gay rights and HIV/AIDS. It must have been incredible to see it back then, but it's still so powerful seeing it today. It's really interesting to see how much and how little has changed. I was born in 1988 so for my entire life AIDS has been around and people knew how it was transmitted. I was never alive during a time when people thought only gay men could get AIDS (except for the few bigoted people who steal believe that today) and the stories of the treatment of these men in the early 80’s seem beyond deplorable to me. I grew up in a liberal family in Los Angeles so I grew up believing that gay rights were civil rights and there is no difference between being unjust to someone because of their sexual orientation than being unjust because of the color of their skin or their religion- prejudice is prejudice. As we come up on the 42nd anniversary of stonewall so much has changed in the general American attitude towards the LGBT community, but on a national level we still deny the right to marry and even in New York we are still one vote away for the right of same sex marriage, which is being voted on when the senate reconvenes today at noon. Yes America has come pretty far since 1981, but why are the Stonewall Riots not in our history books alongside the Birmingham Campaign? How did prop 8 pass? Why nearly 30 years after Stonewall were people still so bigoted that Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in Laramie Wyoming in 1998? I hope New York makes the right decision today and I hope that in Obama’s second term he follows his repealing of DADT with a law to make same-sex marriage legal on the national level. I went to DC last year for the National Equality March and I wish I could write that American views had changed since then. Maybe if more people see this play they will.
The play highlighted how slow our government was to respond to the epidemic and what could have been if money had been given to research and if scientists hadn’t been so competitive about finding a cure and shared information with each other. In 1981 when the play starts 41 people had died of AIDS today there have been over 75 million infections and 35 million deaths due to AIDS. HIV/AIDS is an epidemic all over the world and in the early 80’s we had no idea what caused it, what spread it and how to help. Now we do. We know to wear condoms. We know to use clean blood in transfusions. We know to use sterilized needles. We know how to prevent passing the virus from mother to child. There is no reason anyone in the western world should contract AIDS anymore. And we have drugs to help treat it in the developing world. We just need to educate. The people harping on about not having sex education in schools are probably the same people who’s parents looked the other way 30 years ago when thousands were dying of the unknown AIDS virus. In Africa we might not be able to stop the gruesome warfare and genocide happening in places like the Congo or Sudan, but we can support charities like UNICEF and amfAR who work both to prevent and treat the spreading of HIV/AIDS (like I talked about in my last post on the UNICEF project VJN). They also work to educate in poverty stricken areas that are still in denial about AIDS like South Africa, which currently has the highest population percentage with AIDS at 28%.
So please if you are in New York take the time to go see The Normal Heart before it closes on July 10th and be sure to call or email your legislators today. It’s really easy to do on Freedom To Marry’s website- it has the template all set up for you just plug in your name. They’re goal is 2,500 and they’ve only reached 1,752 as of now so please New Yorkers it only takes a second! You can check out The Normal Heart’s website too for more information on the play and other great LGBT and HIV/AIDS charities.