Since 1988, the world has devoted one day out of the year to raising awareness of the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
That day is celebrated every year on 1 December. On the heels of World AIDS Day celebrations, which in Grand Cayman included a campaign to highlight the issue of stigma and discrimination of persons living with HIV and AIDS not only here in Cayman but throughout the world, comes the announcement that Mike Huckabee, GOP presidential hopeful for the 2008 US elections, will be the keynote speaker for next year’s Young Caymanian Leadership Awards.
Mike Huckabee has recently been making headlines in the US and worldwide due to some comments he made back in 1992 regarding a strategy to combat the spread of AIDS in the United States. ‘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 [from the general population],’ Mr. Huckabee wrote at the time.
Mr. Huckabee was challenged on the AIDS issue by two advocacy groups, the Human Rights Campaign and the AIDS Institute. They called on him to meet with the family of Ryan White, the Indiana teen who was banned from school and ostracized in his hometown after being diagnosed with AIDS, which he contracted during his treatment for haemophilia. He died in 1990 at the age of 18.
Asked about his remarks, he stated on Fox News that he would not take them back (as was requested of him by the HRC and the AIDS Institute) and said simply ‘Would I say it a little differently today? Sure, in light of 15 years of additional knowledge and understanding, I would.’
Never mind that Mr. Huckabee’s comments were made nearly four years after the US Surgeon General’s office explained to the public that HIV could not in fact be transmitted via casual, everyday contact.
The troubling part of this story is not that which was said or suggested 15 years ago. It is that he stands by his statements. Mr. Huckabee admits that great progress has been made in regards to information about HIV and AIDS transmission and prevention (among other things) and yet continues to refuse to recant his words.
For nearly three decades HIV transmission has thrived on fear, ignorance, stigma and discrimination.
After all, what incentive is there to promote testing and knowledge of one’s HIV status if one is part of a community that ostracizes persons living HIV and AIDS, as was done to Ryan White?
Why would anyone want to know their status, or even feel comfortable to disclose their status, when they are being referred to as a ‘carrier of [a] plague’ who should be ‘isolated [from the general population]’? No person is an island; we all want to belong.
Is this the message that we want to send to our young leaders today: To stand by statements that they have made no matter how much information/progress/research/evidence may have presented itself that is contradictory to that statement?
To not admit to making a mistake or, at least, to have had reconsidered a point and changed one’s mind in light of new facts?
Is this part of the leadership fundamentals that he will be sharing in his address to the YCLA participants and the people of the Cayman Islands as a whole?
Mr. Huckabee has been given, and continues to be given, plenty of opportunities to say ‘I was wrong’, but he has yet to step up to the plate and do just that.
In response to the AIDS Institute’s request for him to meet with Ryan White’s mother, Mr. Huckabee said that he would be willing to meet the family and that he ‘would tell them we’ve come a long way in research, in treatment.’
The best response to this comment was given by HRC President Joe Solmonese: ‘I would like to inform Governor Huckabee that the mother of Ryan White, for whom the Ryan White CARE Act is named, doesn’t need to be schooled about how far we’ve come in HIV/AIDS research and treatment.’
It appears as if it is Mr. Huckabee who is still in need to be schooled.