Zachary Quinto, star of the hit television show, Heroes, and the new Star Trek reboot among other acting credits, has struck a nerve with comments made in an Out100 interview about the gay community having become complacent when it comes to HIV awareness. He has been met with criticism for saying the things he did in knee-jerk defensive reactions from activists and community leaders unhappy with the picture painted by the interview. While not flattering, numbers revealed in a recent study back up at least some of what was said. Quinto says that much of his comments have been misconstrued, but that if they were able to spark more meaningful and informative conversations on the subject, that he was ok with it. If those criticizing him were able to remove themselves from the perceived offense given by the comments, and objectively examine the state of HIV awareness in the gay community today, they might be pushing for the same type of meaningful debate instead of engaging in the vilification of a member of the community using his celebrity status to point out a serious issue.
In his interview, as well as in the comments made subsequently, Quinto attributes much of his motivation to observations of and concerns for young people in the gay community. He made no accusations. Neither did he disparage the efforts of those who are not complacent and are attempting to address the gaps in education and awareness within the community. His comments do address very real numbers, however, that say that the education efforts are not reaching the audience that needs them most. In September, a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation looking at awareness levels and attitudes among gay and bisexual men presented some concerning results which pointed to a level of apathy surrounding HIV that is unprecedented in over thirty years. Of the men interviewed, only one-third of them were aware that there was an increase in new cases of HIV among gay and bisexual men, and 20 percent of them thought that the number was decreasing. In fact, more than half responded that they did not believe HIV to be a significant concern in their lives, and were not concerned with becoming infected.
Among other concerns raised by this study were the fact that half of the participants did not feel the need to discuss it with casual partners, and the lack of knowledge that was pervasive when it came to treatment options. Zachary Quinto may not have had these numbers in front of him, but his comments about HIV complacency struck a nerve because the attitudes he mentions are not exactly hidden within the community regardless of how much those combatting them might wish. It may not have been politically expedient to address the issue in the manner that he did, but Quinto was not being malicious, and he was not making things up. Anyone who has done HIV/AIDS activism in the last thirty years knows that the cornerstone of the movement has always been open discussion and debate to increase awareness. Knowledge has always been the best weapon in the fight against HIV.
Quinto’s comments may have been imprudently worded, and struck a raw nerve for those who have dedicated their lives to fighting against HIV and promoting awareness. He touched on a truth, however, that can only be addressed if it is seen and spoken about. In the late 80s, it was only when celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and other straight allies started talking about the issues surrounding the gay community that meaningful progress was made for activists of the time. Today, when a gay celebrity is concerned enough to make himself a target by pointing out an issue which may be contributing to the rise of new cases of HIV within the gay community, it may well be that tearing Quinto down is not the best use of the opportunity presented by his comments.
Opinion By Jim Malone
Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore – Flickr License