May 3, 2022

I didn’t sleep well last night. I woke up around 3 AM and I knew it would be one of those nights when I wouldn’t be nodding off again. I should have gotten up and been productive and written something then, but I was weary so I lay in bed taking in another episode of the final season of Ozark while fretting about various work related things. The good news out of all of this is that I’ve been dragging around all day and I should have no difficulty getting a good night’s sleep tonight. I usually sleep relatively well and without the aid of soporifics or other aids so the occasional bad night is, I assume, another price I get to pay for kicking around in this body for a few decades longer than I ever intended, or even thought possible.

I’m of the HIV generation. I was a college student in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1980s, and the first whispers of something seriously wrong started to reach campus toward the end of my sophomore year. My crazy schedule of double science major during the day and theater nerd at night probably saved my life as it kept me from getting into too much trouble. All the same, by the time I finished college and moved on into medical school the HIV epidemic was firmly established due to the powers that be of that time having no interest in diseases that seemed to be contained to marginalized groups, and so it ended wiping out so many of the men who could have been my mentors and teachers and exemplars .My reaction to this was to remain firmly closeted during my medical school years and to assume I’d probably be dead before the age of 35. I eventually wised up and came out and, obviously, I’m still on the right side of the dirt, at least as of this writing. I’m not to sure of any or our life expectancies these days… too many unknowns.

One of the things that’s kept me interested in our societal response to the Covid epidemic is the obvious parallels between our flawed responses to HIV and our flawed responses to Covid. In both cases, proper public health responses to epidemic infectious diseases were hijacked by political considerations and many thousands of people died needlessly. Eventually, science won out in the HIV epidemic and it has, for the most part, become a manageable chronic disease. We’re still adjusting to the Covid pandemic and it’s unclear where that’s heading next. Case rates are ticking up nationally, especially in the Northeast, but the mortality rate is remaining mercifully low. Is it a new phase where it’s becoming less virulent? The effect of widespread natural and vaccine immunity? Are we just not yet seeing the mortality from the current increase of cases as that usually isn’t apparent for a month or two? Then there’s a number of new omicron variants popping up, especially in South Africa, where omicron initially originated. It’s unclear if any of these is going to be a particularly bad actor but initial reports suggest no worse than the original omicron strain.

The big news this week is, of course, the leaked Supreme Court opinion which scuttles Roe v Wade. Chief Justice Roberts has acknowledged its veracity. There’s a lot of running around and beating of chests in shock and surprise. I am neither. The movement conservative forces in this country, playing a long game of many decades, have telegraphed every move well in advance with great fanfare and publicity. Why be surprised when they do exactly what they’ve told you they’re going to do. I am more than a little Susan Collins concerned about what comes next. In the opinion is legal language which sets up the repeal of Obergefell (gay marriage), Lawrence (striking down sodomy statutes), Griswold (allowing contraception), and even Loving (interracial marriage). I expect the current conservative bloc on the court will start looking for cases which will let the rest of the dominoes fall.

Without legal protections, people like me will become vulnerable to the state. I am planning on remaining in Alabama, at least through active retirement years, but I don’t know if it will be possible if the state is allowed to legally harass and subjugate my marginalized community. I’ve been out too long to go back to my closeted life of the late 70s and early 80s. At the same time, LGBTQ citizens of Alabama live life normally somewhere between stages 3 and 4 on the scale of the ten stages of genocide and if we start sliding toward stage 5 or 6 or beyond, it might behoove me to get out before something really bad takes place. And I’m too much of a realist to think things like ‘it can’t happen here’.

If more liberal individuals want to have the ship of state come about, they’re going to have to stop sniping at each other and start doing the hard work of organizing. It means going to precinct meetings and putting in the work as committee chairs and running for local offices, prepared to lose, but getting an alternative vision before the voting public. It’s going to take a unified front on social and political issues that’s going to require compromise and which can’t be beholden to various idealogical purity tests. It’s going to mean building a network of interlocking activist agencies willing to cooperate rather than spending their time in never ending turf wars over issues and funding. It’s going to mean developing a certain intellectual rigor in liberal philosophies and ideals and training thinkers to write clearly and cogently about policies and positions in a way that will capture broad public interest. Politics in this country works from the bottom up, not the top down.

This kind of work can be done. Ask my generation of the LGBTQ community and those a few years older than I. When the US government condemned us to early death from HIV, we fought back and built the various HIV service organizations and LGBTQ advocacy groups that continue to be a focal point of our community. It wasn’t easy but it was an emergency and needed to be done and there was no white knight coming to the rescue. No white knight is going to stop the Supremes either. Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work. Just get your booster before you go out and do it.

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