The Indian Health Service released a report, which shows the HIV virus rate, among the Navajo in New Mexico, climbed by 20% in the past year. The impetus behind the increase appears to be the proverbial cause behind other racial groups HIV infection rates: cultural norms and stigma. The effects of these two sometimes create more havoc than the disease itself.
The conclusions drawn from this report might suggest that we unhinge our ethical standards when we stigmatize whole groups of people. How? One gay man, who was interviewed for this story “recalled how his mother refused to hug him and served him food on plastic plates when she found out he was infected…his mother eventually came to embrace him after he explained the ways H.I.V. could and could not be transmitted. But the man has not told his three brothers that he has H.I.V. because he fears they will shun him”. Family balance, something assumed to always remain steady, is severely disrupted by thoughts and beliefs held by previous generations. The belief that came between a son and mother reveals the thin line between acceptance and disapproval of gay men in society.
Something briefly mentioned in this story but profoundly important is the fact that many MSM in this community, and elsewhere, have private relationships. Let’s not be fooled: They lead private lives not because they want to, but they feel they have to, and this leads to negative social consequences.
In order to address the stigma of HIV we have to start at the source of the spitefullness: homophobia. The man in this article never revealed whether his mother knew he was a MSM or not; but, the undercurrent of homophobia flows unabated. Even the report, from which this data comes, addresses the stigma of HIV and the “predominant” group affecting this increase as– (MSM).
However, first, it fails to address the strain of homophobia which leads to men having “private relationships” (which to many is not so private–the family and friends usually just act as if it doesn’t exist, which is more easy to swallow than to actually hear the words “I’m gay” come out of their loved ones mouth); and secondly, the report does not unearth the birth of HIV stigma, which originated out of the womb of homophobia. Even in 2013, to be HIV positive is to be associated with being gay; this in turn equates to being labelled morally deficient and/or deviant. And, at bottom, we find that the culprit to HIV stigma was morality all along. The leading morality of our society has vilified homosexuality!–no matter what the religion. To stigmatize HIV is to concomitantly stigmatize homosexuality.
Occurring alongside this ignorance is the growth of knowledable types, cultured types. Cultured people are accustomed to a different standard of morality: We know, a lack of “moral correctness” stems from a dearth of education, not from disobedience to cultural norms. Cultural norms are often based off of erroneous information rolling along through generations like the continuation of blood lines–just because a certain species still exist doesn’t mean it should. Likewise, the cultural norms of the Navajo can paralel our broader society to show just how devastating social control can be.
“Moral correctness” begins with informing ourselves of the myriad of cultural norms prevalent throughout the world. For instance, in some cultures it’s considered a gift to be gay.To be “morally correct”, simply means you are tolerant of others while maintaining your own standard of beliefs– thereby placing you on the moral high ground. Society needs schooling in this lesson.
If anything, this story illustrates just how unethical our leading morality is. Stigmatizing disease is immoral because at its core, its an ugly attack on the human being for being human–If any group should be aware of this, it should be a people such as the Navajo (who traditionally see life itself as religion). Stigmatizing HIV is the epidemiological equivalent to judging a book by its cover–which, in the mind of the simple, is decorated in a multi colored flag.
In order to distinguish ourselves from these simpletons, we should know that disease is one of the most natural phenomenon in life; there is nothing disgraceful about it–if anything it’s often a visual reminder of how fragile our lives are.
Written By: Cedric Hines