Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Angels in China

The other night, a friend and I went to one of our favorite places, a wine/tapas bar that is usually very crowded. But on this night, it was dead. We sat at the bar as we like to do, and one of the cute, friendly bartenders decided that he needed us to stick around and keep him company. Therefore, he kept pouring us wine. More and more wine. I lost track of how much.

Suffice it to say that by the time I got home (thankfully this place is within walking distance of my house) I was incapable of blogging, writing, answering emails, scooping the cat box...well, actually, I did scoop the cat box. Some things are mandatory. Anyway, at length I managed to find my remote, and I decided to take advantage of the two month's free HBO I'd been offered by my cable company.

I stumbled on to part one of "Angels in America." This is the Tony Kushner play dealing with AIDS in the era of Reagan. One of those things I'd meant to get around to seeing, someday.

I was blown away. I spent my youth in Reagan's America. And AIDS was far from an abstract issue to me. I was a high school drama kid, you know? So many people died. People I knew. Some of them were just acquaintances. Others were people who held huge chunks of my life in their hands.

God, it was like being transported to a different time. I'd forgotten so much of it. The whole culture. Those bars and discos I used to go to with my friends. Back when you could do whatever you wanted to do, and odds were it wasn't going to kill you.

With all the negative news coming out of China lately, I was gratified to read this story yesterday:
In an aggressive new anti- AIDS push, China's Health Ministry is urging the promotion of free condoms and needle exchanges — strategies previously considered taboo by the conservative communist government.

The proposed guidelines urge local governments to tailor those measures to high-risk groups in one of the boldest nationwide campaigns yet against the disease.

The most striking proposal calls for combining methadone treatment with needle exchanges to promote safe behavior among drug users — a group almost completely ignored in the past.

"Under the national health system's launching of a people's war against drugs, drug eradication, AIDS prevention, and daily tasks must be closely joined," said a copy of the guidelines posted on the Health Ministry's Web site.
When I think of all the lives that were lost here, in the supposedly enlightened United States, because of homophobia, shame over sexuality and a right wing political agenda that put gays and people of color last, where we are still arguing over the morality of needle exchanges and condoms, for that matter, I have to applaud this clear-minded policy by China's central goverment. It's late, to be sure - AIDS activists have been routinely harrassed in the PRC - but I can only hope that it's effective. AIDS in China has the potential to be a crisis that dwarfs even the tragedy of Sub-Saharan Africa.

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