Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Killing Them Softly

This week markes the 80th anniversary of the executions of two Italian immigrants for a murder they did not commit. Nicola Sacco & Bartolomeo Vanzetti were put to death, not because evidence proved them guilty, but because they were different.

Born in a foreign land with customs, foods, clothing, language, religion and politics most Americans found alien, Sacco & Vanzetti became human sacrifices to intolerance, ignorance and hate. Today, DNA evidence might have exonerated them and saved their lives, but intolerance, ignorance and hate aren’t as easy to eradicate with scientific proof.

If those plagues could be cured by a steady dose of facts, HIV positive people would not be banned from entering the United States, as is the case in 2007. The ban on HIV positive immigrants—enacted by Congress in 1993—is the reason why no international AIDS conference—like the one held last August in Toronto, Canada, and scheduled for next year in Mexico City—can ever be held just across those borders in the U.S.

Since there is no valid public health reason for the American jihad against HIV positive immigrants, what’s behind it? The immigration law’s exception—reinforced by the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—gives us an answer. An HIV positive person can seek a waiver of the ban if his or her citizen or permanent-resident spouse affirms that the HIV positive partner will be cared for without public support. DOMA bolted the door shut to HIV positive gays & lesbians in a relationship with an American citizen or permanent resident by defining “spouse” to be heterosexual only.

It may be 80 years since hate harshly killed two Italian immigrants for the crime of being different, but it still does its dirty work—quietly, softly, daily—by declaring HIV positive people to be latter-day lepers, especially if they are gay.

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