Tuesday, May 28, 2024 May 28, 2024
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The politics of AIDS: a bitter struggle for compassion and money

Ann Ellison (her name has been changed to protect her family) fell in love with the wrong man. The woman who appears on our cover and shares her story in our article, “AIDS: Seven Days In The Crisis” (see page 46), had been dating a lawyer for eight months when he admitted his homosexual encounters. Eventually, Ann moved on to a new life. She never expected a past love affair to haunt her in the form of AIDS.

Ann face; her death sentence each day with a mixture of stoicism and tears. When her daughter asked recently, “Mommy, when you die, will I be able to write to you?” she fell apart.

We found Ann through her pastor, Larry James, of the Richardson East Church of Christ. Though the Church of Christ follows a literal interpretation of the Bible, James sees no conflict in his ministry to. AIDS victims, which, along with Ann and her family, has included gay men. “We counsel celibacy for any person outside of the marriage relationship,” James explains, “and that includes the divorced as well as the homosexual. But we are all sinners. You don’t have to get pure to walk in this door.”

James’s suburban flock has tucked Ann Ellison and her family under its wing and there she will stay until the end comes. Says the pastor. ” Nothing melts prejudice faster than a face-to-face encounter with a victim of AIDS.”

Indeed, ln preparation for this report, D’s editors and writers and photographers encountered many such victims, each with a story so poignant and so horrifying that we lost-permanently- the luxury of viewing the disease at a psychological arm’s length. Individuals battling AIDS as volunteers, doctors, nurses, laboratory researchers, and counselors say much the same thing. As soon as the disease touches your life, as soon as one person you know dies, leadlines and statistics, moral questions, even irrational fears, become overshadowed by futility, anger, and loss.

The AIDS plague has not laid its hand on a majority of us. As a community, we have been largely blind to the hovering destruction that will claim many more lives and cost millions of dollars before a cure is found. Here and there, makeshift programs like the AIDS Resource Center or the embattled PWA house in Oak Cliff struggle to survive. But even the movement’s keenest supporters are getting tired.

There are signs that a new day is dawning. Several sizable grants from local saints like the Meadows Foundation, Foley’s, and Ruth Collins Sharp have pumped sustaining life into AIDS programs. County Judge Lee Jackson has a 140-member task force hard at work touring hospital wards and hearing testimony on the size and scope of the public health threat. And though it might seem that a task force of such unwieldy size is unlikely to produce meaningful reform 1, it was a political stroke of genius to involve a broad base of people who will go back into their areas of influence and influence so many more.

But sadly, there is a growing rift in the fragile coalition that has formed to deal with AIDS in the Dallas area. I say fragile because AIDS has forged working relationships among people who might not ordinarily find themselves allied: county bureaucrats and angry gay rights activists, conservative county commissioners and liberal public health advocates-all of whom brine their own moral vantage points to the sensitive issue of a sexually-mostly homosexually-transmitted disease.

Is it a wonder that there have been breakdowns in communication? Probably not. But the squabbling is costing us money. And in this instance, money translates into very real services for AIDS victims, especially those impoverished by the disease; into educational efforts that will help halt the spread of the disease further; and into support for those who track the deadly virus.

On one side are those who see in conservative Dallas a homophobic undercurrent that contributes to a bias against projects manned by the gay community for the gay community. The Dallas Gay Alliance in particular feels frustrated working within the AIDS Arms Network, the coordinating body formed as an offshoot of the Community Council of Greater Dallas two years ago. According to William Waybourn, head of the alliance, the nine-to-fivers who manage AIDS cases don’t have the sensitivity to effectively guide a newly diagnosed AIDS patient through the labyrinth that awaits him. Naturally, Waybourn believes that the scant funding that exists would better benefit Dallas’s AIDS patients-94 percent of whom are homosexual-if it were fun-neled directly to the gay community through projects like the alliance’s AIDS Resource Center, which assists indigent patients with food, money, and other assistance; or to the Oak Lawn Counseling Center, which is the gay community’s education and counseling arm. Waybourn and the Dallas Gay Alliance plan to file a class action lawsuit against the county.

That’s exactly what we don’t need to have happen right now. Already, we’ve been refused federal grant money because Dallas didn’t have its act together on AIDS. With competition stiff for limited dollars, communities with concrete, coordinated plans reap the spoils.

It is time for the warring factions to sit down together and put personal conflicts aside. The gay community needs to lay down arms and work within an admittedly imperfect system, realizing that confrontational tactics fan rather than douse the fires of bias. At the same time, it doesn’t make sense for the county to create programs that compete with those already established in the gay community in an effort to avoid working with difficult gay leaders. The city needs to take a leadership role in diffusing a potentially costly standoff, which will further fragment and weaken efforts to battle this disease.

Surely we owe at least that much to Ann Ellison, and to the hundreds of AIDS victims who will follow.