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It is considered to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and has, since 1981, killed more than 25 million people worldwide (United Nations).
In most of the world, HIV infection is more prevelant in the heterosexual population, especially Sub-Saharan Africa. In the United States, however, it became known as the "Gay Plague" due to its initial discovery in the homosexual population, the lack of condom use at the time, and the predominance of anal sexual activity. Unforrtunatly, HIV / AIDS also carries with it ostracism, rejection, and discriminiation. This stigma-related violence or the fear of violence prevents a number of individuals from seeking HIV testing, receiving their results, securing treatment, or even turning what would normally be a managable chronic illness into something that is dire and a death sentence -- as well as perpetuating the disease -- all because of misguided bias (Ogden and Nyblade)
Cultural Issues -- Just as the Civil Rights movement has changed the manner in which cultural diversity has changed the fabric of American society, there are openly gay politicians at almost every level of society. In fact, one of the strongest and most respected voices in Washington is Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank. Serving since 1981, he continues to be re-elected by wide margins and, while being openly gay, is a moderate on economic and crime issues, receiving respect from both sides of the podium for his balanced and considered viewpoints. It is just this balance, though, that seems to endear Frank, and others like him, to the contemporary American political culture. As Frank often notes; sure, he's gay, but he is also an American, a politician, and his sexual preference is only part of him; he's part Jewish, too (Weisberg). Now, contrast that with a few of the cultural issues facing gay people today. We can break these down into fiscal, equal rights, discrimination, Marriage/Partnership.
Fiscal -- When someone becomes a citizen of the United States, they are immediately granted certain rights as a U.S. Citizen. For instance, if a partnered gay couple who have an income change were allowed to federally file as a married couple they would save almost $7,000; or, in other words, to be gay in America today costs almost $7,000; to have less rights, to not be able to adopt in all 50 states, to not be able to pass on property without taxation interference in all 50 states, and not to have social security benefits and rights (Hahn).
Equal Rights -- the very essence of the Civil Rights fight over decades and decades was that every citizen, regardless of age or ethnicity, be accorded basic Civil Rights protection. However, in the 21st century, the question remains -- should civil rights laws protecting employees from discrimination also outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? Indeed, in over 30 U.S. states, it is still perfectly legal for homosexual employees to be fired because the employeer discovers and disapproves of their sexual orientation -- regardless of whether being openly gay affects job performance at all. However, 85% of Americans oppose job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) continues to fail in Congress despite a broad range of support. Some corporations have, however, put their own policies in place -- evading the law, and actually liberalizing the workplace on their own. The very fact, though, that in 2011, we are still discussing the issue of a basic civil right -- employment based on skill, being denied an entire group shows that we have not come as far as hoped in global civil rights (Civil Liberties - About.com).
Discrimination -- in most states, homosexuals are not allowed to make medical decisions for partners in an emergency; nor are they always even allowed to visit. Instead, permission for life-threatening or serious issues often fall to an estranged family, those who remain angry about the same-sex relationship in the first place. Additionally, if a same-sex partner is arrested, under the Constitution, one partner can be compelled to testify against or provide evidence against them, when legally married heterosexual couples are not. There is typically a section of a number of school curriculums that deals with discrimination and equal rights -- how can this be a part of schools when there is still discrimination in society? Indeed, many of the leading Civil Rights leaders from the African-American population are some of the strongest voices lobbying against gay discrimination and believe that for society to be truly equal, the same protections for minorities and ethnic groups must be afforded homosexuals (Mathis).
Marriage/Partnership -- if homosexuals had equal rights, then two people who are committed to one another should be allowed to marry. However, over 60% of Americans oppose gay marriage; and most of it is stereotypical and media-hype, much as it was in the 1950s when dealing with African-Americans and Latinos. The arguments against gay marriage really fall into arguments that are templates of discrimination. 1) Religion says marriage is between a man and a woman; yet this denies people their right to equality in relationships; 2) Marriage is for procreation. If this were true, how many heterosexuals would be denied rights? 3) Same sex couples are not optimum for child-raising. So, a convicted felon, known child molester, or anyone else can raise children? Is it not about the love and consistency, not the privacy of one's sexual identity? 4) Marriage ensures the continuation of the species. Is this really a valid argument when the global population is so egregiously high? Isn't marriage about love and commitment and support for that commitment; not about sexual procreation? (Bidstrup).
Modern Problems -- Certainly, the lack of basic civil rights are a serious issue within any population. However, one of the most serious problems regarding gay individuals is that of gay bashing and gay bullying. His is essentially the use of verbal or physical actions directed specifically at someone because of either the sexual orientation or the suspicion of their sexual preference. Bashing may be a single or multiple occurrence; while gay bullying involves intentional and unprovoked actions that are about power, demeaning the victim, and may be physical or psychological. Because of modern technology, these acts may range from in person events to Internet and long-distance bullying. Gay bashing occurs at all life stages, while gay bullying is primarily a school-age epidemic (T. Rogers; Curry and Allison).
As noted, gay bashing is nothing new; it was particularly serious in the 1940s and 1950s, fanning the flames of the Red Scare. But even in modern days, according to Mental Health America, gay harrassement occurs about once every 14 minutes (Mental Health America). One of the most famous cases of gay bashing, and one that brought the subject to prominent national attention, was that of Matthew Shepard who, in October 1998 as a student at the University of Wyoming, was tortuned and murdered near Laramie, Wyoming. During the trial, a number of witnesses testified that Shepard was targeted by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson specifically because he was gay. The two robbed, pistol-shipped, then tortured Shepard, finally tying himn to a fence in a remote area, leaving him to die. Shepard was not discovered until 18 hours later by a passing cyclist, who thought he was a scarecrow. During the trial, the girldfirneds of Henderson and McKinney commented that the two knew Shepard was from a wealthy family and planned to decieve a gay person so they could rob him; and also that the two were under the influence of drugs at the time (Swigonski).
From a cultural and sociological viewpoint, though, it is interesting to note that the public reaction after the details of the murder were made public was nothing short of miraculous. A number of famous musicians wrote songs in tribute of Shephard; the issue of hate crimes began to appear on legislative dockets nationally, three narrative films were released, a foundation specifically focused on gay rights established in his name, and the Laramie Project received international attention designed to focus on the outrage a community felt against such senseless violence (Documentary).
Homosexuality and Younger People - Research over the past few decades has shown that in a typical undergraduate setting, most students are uncomfortable, misinformed, and apprehensive on certain aspects of sexuality -- primarily homosexuality. In general, male students are more homophobic than female students, but much of this depends on demographic and psychographic background. Researchers have postulated for over three decades, though, that the use of assignments within college level courses on human sexuality, often given as basic science credits, may act as a way to reduce homophobia and liberalize attitudes about sexuality in general. A recent student sought to update this information with a study using 128 undergraduate students at a small, private university in the NE United States (Rogers). Research shows, though, that the more exposure young adults…[continue]
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