HIV-Related Bigotry in Politics

By Rachel Walden — December 12, 2007

By now you may have heard that Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, in a 1992 Associated Press questionnaire completed while he was running for the Senate, advocated for the isolation of HIV positive individuals, stating:

“If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague. It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.”

He also seemed to tie his thinking on HIV/AIDS solely to homosexuality, stating, “I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk.”

Huckabee has since refused to recant or retract the statement, insisting that he didn’t mean HIV/AIDS patients should be locked up, but not indicating how he thought they otherwise would have been “isolated.”

Is Huckabee’s “it was 1992” rhetoric implying that he didn’t know better at the time and that there was still confusion about HIV transmission valid? As Salon notes, a report from the Surgeon General [PDF] in 1986 clearly stated, “AIDS is not spread by common everyday contact but by sexual contact…We would know by now if AIDS were passed by casual, non-sexual contact.” The report went on to assert, “Quarantine has no role in the management of AIDS because
AIDS is not spread by casual contact.” This report pre-dates Huckabee’s statement by six years. Personally, I expect a candidate to find out the facts before advocating for the isolation of Americans.

Meanwhile, critics are reacting to a proposed change in travel restrictions for those with HIV/AIDS. Current law makes any individual inadmissable to the United States “who is determined (in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to have a communicable disease of public health significance, which shall include infection with the etiologic agent for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.” This provision has been criticized given the issue we reviewed above – that HIV/AIDS is known to not be spread by casual contact.

On World Aids Day 2006, President Bush called for the Department of Homeland Security to revisit HIV-related travel restrictions to allow for “short visits.” A DHS document released on November 6, 2007 described the newly proposed rule, which has been criticized by Democratic House members and other organizations. It would require an HIV-positive visa applicant to demonstrate that there is no anticipated need for medical care while in the United States, has been counseled on the condition, understands transmission routes, and “establish that he or she possesses sufficient assets or insurance, that is accepted in the United States, that would cover any medical care that the applicant might require in the event of illness at any time while in the United States,” among other restrictions

As a representative for Physicians for Human Rights notes, “The travel ban is nothing more than a continuation of misunderstood, and offensive, practices that violate human rights and contribute to the stigma that fuels this pandemic.” With regards to the need to demonstrate that the individual will not use the healthcare system, PHR points out, “Such stipulations are not placed on visitors with heart conditions and other costly medical problems.” Failure to comply with the requirement could result in the individual being permanently banned from accessing the U.S.

Likewise, a 2004 joint statement from UNAIDS and the Institute of Medicine recommends against blanket travel restrictions, concluding that “HIV-related travel restrictions are an ineffective and discriminatory anachronism of a by-gone era.” The document [PDF] presents a compelling case against these restrictions, and is well worth a read given the current Dept. of Homeland Security consideration of the topic.

11 responses to “HIV-Related Bigotry in Politics”

  1. erasing “the rest of us” seems to be the playbook for the repubs. surprised it has taken this long–after women, children, people of color–now the focus on people with HIV/AIDS.

    don’t you think a more aggressive response needs to be in place by the dems to all this hatefulness?

    yours, naomi, wearing my knit condom amulet–maybe on the airport security line too!

  2. I was 12 years old in 1992 and *I* knew that HIV was only transmittable through body fluids. It was discussed in a little comprehensive sex ed book my Mom got for me when I was 10. Maybe we should send Huckabee a copy of “What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys” to make up for what may the possibly abstinence-only sex education he may have received. His statements are erroneous and offensive. Let’s keep this guy out of the White House.

  3. Lauren,
    No kidding. By ~1992/3, my school was handing out red pins to students as a token show of support, and that never would have happened if the climate around the issue was still as overwhelmingly uninformed as Huckabee wants to imply.

  4. But if casual sex is the norm in society thne sexual contact is no longer special.

    Since casual sex is prevalent in society for both heterosexuals and homosexuals the US does have right to limit entry of foreign nationals HIV/AIDS.

    Stigam does not fuel the pandemic – immoral behavior fuels the pandemic.

  5. Huckabee makes GW Bush look intelligent. Just when you think it could not get any worse, look what comes on the Republican scene.

  6. Pete,
    I’d suggest reading the linked UNAIDS/Institute of Medicine report on why travel restrictions are not really that useful. Aside from which, casual sex (which would certainly not account for all cases of the disease) hardly makes HIV the 1918 flu.

  7. AS for the his comment you might be surprize to know possible 55% of the public would prefer these loose cannons locked up to prevent spread to innocent people, but no the PC liberals have allow it to be a bigotry in all cases not just polictics but in general. Ever free speech remark is not bigotry. It free speech and free to express that thought like it or not. So stop labeling free speech a bigotry.

  8. I agree with Huckabee. What you are ignoring is sexual contact with people who are infected. Isolation would stop this disease dead in its tracks!

  9. Has Not isolating but educating people decreased the number of people with HIV/AIDS? What are the numbers? I don’t know.

  10. In 1992, schoolchildren may have accepted “casual contact” as OK, but as a public health grad student, I remember a strong push by AIDS activists for special protected status. I wondered what they weren’t telling us. Was it spread by mosquito bites? A woman had caught it from her dentist, and epidemiologists noted that many patients had no identifiable contact with infected persons.

    Should there be special status for ANY disease based on politics? This impacts allocation of federal research funds to find cures, so it is a big deal. Should HIV be “more special” than multiple sclerosis, for example?

  11. I appreciate people sharing their thoughts, but honestly, I simply don’t believe that everyone infected with HIV is some kind of predator determined to spread infection or willfully ignoring transmission routes (thus I don’t think isolation of all those infected is warranted). Additionally, free speech and bigotry are certainly not mutually exclusive.

    John, I think what you experienced may have been pushback from activists who felt that the issue was being completely underfunded/ignored, given the history, and the climate (that apparently still persists among some) of stigmatizing the disease.

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