Thursday, June 4, 2009

HIV Disclosure

The newest thing around Toronto is a series of bill-boards running the slogan "If you were turned down every time you disclosed, would you?" The campaign is sponsored by hivstigma.com -- it's not really a new issue from the perspective of the gay community, but Catholics that I know are baffled to find that such an apparently bizarre question is coming into the mainstream.
The issue is whether or not there should be a legal obligation for persons infected with HIV to tell potential sexual partners about their serostatus. From a Catholic point of view this is a total no-brainer: not only is it unjustifiable to knowingly expose someone to the risk of a deadly illness without telling them, it is gravely immoral to expose them to that risk even if you do tell them.
The issue is not, however, that simple. What you are looking at here is a sub-culture of men who have been encouraged to root their identity in their sexuality, who have been told that being "who they are" is synonymous with celebrating a gay lifestyle, and who are accustomed to see any attempt to curtail or moderate their sexual activities as stigmatization or condemnation. On a deeper level, there is the fact that many people involved in homosexuality have an essentially compulsive relationship with their sexuality -- the experience of being wholly unable to give up same-sex activities is genuine, and in many cases habit and psychological dependency really do diminish culpability. Like any compulsive behaviour, the urge to engage is particularly aggravated during times of extreme stress or loneliness -- and there are few things more stressful, or more isolating, than a seropositive result on an HIV test.
Now this does not mean, in my opinion, that laws holding HIV positive individual accountable for their sexual activities should be struck down. According to the HIVstigma web-site, 1 in 4 men who have sex with other men in Toronto are HIV positive. Despite the various sophistic arguments to the contrary, the reality is that disclosure is a very real moral obligation weighing on those who are infected -- not for the sake of the "good, upright," monogamous Christian folk, who really have no personal stake in the issue at all, but for the sake of the 3 in 4 gay men who have not yet felt the sword of Damacles dangling over their beds. It does mean, however, that the issue has to be dealt with compassionately, in a way that helps men in this position to discover that that moral obligations are a means of freedom, and not merely another way of stigmatizing homosexuals.

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