RESOLVED: The AIDS epidemic was a good thing for the gay community in America

Resolved: AIDS, which especially in its early days preferentially afflicted homosexual men, has actually been a benefit to the gay community in America, for the following reasons:

  1. It energized the gay community to become an active and increasingly powerful political force;
  2. It caused mainstream America to view sufferers of AIDS, and, by association gays, with sympathy and empathy;
  3. In turn, this humanized gays in the eyes of mainstream America;
  4. AIDS was in some ways a marker. Closeted gays were essentially outed when they caught the disease, and mainstream Americans suddenly discovered people they had known and liked, both personally and in the public spotlight were gay. Mainstream Americans discovered that homosexuality is part of a person, not the whole person (My mother, for one, was deeply impacted by Rock Hudson); and
  5. It did irreperable damage to the forces of anti-gay bigotry. People who at one time nodded along to Jerry Falwell, et. al., were disgusted by such claims that “AIDS was God’s punishment”, etc.

Yea or Nay?

If Yea, has the cost been worth it?


  1. This may be true.
    2,3,4,5) I’m not sure “mainstream America” is as accepting of homosexuality as you suggest.

I think it is a mistake to say that any good that occurs as a result of something bad justifies it. This is to a certain extent a utilitarian argument that I don’t buy. Was the Holocaust a good thing for the Jewish community because it lead to the establishment of the state of Israel? Is your spouse dying in an accident a good thing if you receive a $1 million insurance settlement? (I’m not trying to compare these examples to the AIDS epidemic; just trying to argue against using the outcomes to justify the cause.) Of course the other question is whether there really is a cause and effect.


  1. Point taken. All future readers, please add the phrase “more of” before the words “Mainstream Americans” when you read the OP.
  2. You are right again that the premise of my OP presumes a utilitarian ethos. Personally, I used to be firmly utilitarian, but my ethics are evolving. All future readers, do not feel bound to approach the issue from a utilitarian POV.


By the same token, then, the great urban cholera epidemics of the 19th century were a good thing, because they taught us about the importance of clean water and proper sewage treatment.

The great bubonic plague epidemics were a good thing, also, because they taught us about rats and fleas and disease transmission.

And the great smallpox epidemics were a good thing because we learned about immunization.

Sorry, I don’t agree. Sounds to me too much like “making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. “Well, it’s all for the best…”

I do agree with Jeff that I don’t see Numbers 2,3,4,5 happening at all in America.

The ends do not justify the means - I vote “nay.”

Did some good things come out as a result of the epidemic? Sure - if nothing else, the massive amount of scientific research has been a boon to diseases of all stripes. And yes, some positive action was taken by the community. But at what cost? According to the National Institutes of Health:

[ul][li]The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 650,000 to 900,000 U.S. residents are living with HIV infection…[/li]
[li]In the United States, 733,374 cases of AIDS had been reported to the CDC as of Dec. 31, 1999…[/li]
[li]As of Dec. 31, 1999, 430,441 deaths among people with AIDS had been reported to the CDC.(6) AIDS is now the fifth leading cause of death in the United States among people aged 25 to 44, behind unintentional injuries, cancer, heart disease and suicide…[/ul][/li][/quote]

From a purely pragmatic point of view, all of your points are more or less valid, Sua, and many in the gay community have said the same things. But, although I kind of hesitate to say it, I think the majority of us would give it all back if we could have our friends, families and lovers back. (And as DDG pointed out, similar things could be said about breast cancer, emphyzema, the bubonic plague, slavery, WWII, etc.)

Eventually, I believe we’d have found another way. It might have taken longer, but we’d have gotten there.


Two days ago I would have agreed with Sua Sponte’s premise.
Then I read that Peter McWilliams just died. :frowning:

AIDS dosen’t need to be justified. It is/was a naturally occuring event. Not at all like the Holocaust, which was a man made event. I have to agree with the OP. AIDS has done much to advance the position of gays both in th gay community and the mainstream community. Of course, either position is impossible to prove because we don’t have a time machine and cant to controlled trials. But without AIDS bringing gayness to the forefront of america, and gay persons being seen as “victims” by mainstream america I don’t think you would be seeing gay people on tv in america in 2000.

All of the OP makes sense only with a couple of suppositions, none of which I am prepared to make blanket statements about in terms of them justifying the means:

  1. The education we are getting for the health/scientific ramifications.

  2. The empathy and not tolerance/acceptance of homosexualities in mainstream America.

#1 seems counter-productive. I mean, it’s nice that we got a cure for Polio, but if Polio didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have NEEDED a cure. Sure, we learn more about ourselves, but I don’t think anyone would say that this education is worth having epidemics of holocost-like proportions to get.

And I don’t see that mainstream America is all that accepting or tolerant of gays. Maybe a little better, but certainly not even a fraction as far as white America has come regarding race relations - and we all know that has a long way to go as well.

Now, all of that notwithstanding, I could see you claiming that AIDS, like other horrible blights, is just a part of nature that we have to deal with and always will. If we cured every disease we knew of, within a decade a new disease and several off-shoots would rise up.

Ultimately, and I do so hate using a tag-line from a garish Hollywood smash to bolster a point, nature finds a way. And as much as we don’t like them, viruses and disease are just a part of nature that we co-exist with, sometimes not as hapilly as we would like.

Yer putz,
Satan :wally

Two months, three weeks, 13 hours, 16 minutes and 34 seconds.
3302 cigarettes not smoked, saving $412.76.
Life saved: 1 week, 4 days, 11 hours, 10 minutes.

Satan wrote:

Again, from a purely pragmatic point of view, the research that AIDS forced us to make on viral infections has far-reaching immunological and infectious disease treatment ramifications. Other diseases, in effect, will benefit from this research as well.


I like the responses so far, and I especially like the fact that everyone has taken the OP in the spirit in which it was intended, and not flamed me.

I think one underlying supposition that I was too superficial about is the current status of gays in America. To help clear that up, I am now soliciting thoughts on what people this the status is, and what people think that status would be, had AIDS not reared its very ugly head. If we can reach some consensus on the societal effects of AIDS, we can either a) figure out the real “benefits” of AIDS (a term I use hesitantly), or b) if the societal effects are not real or strong, close this puppy.


I don’t believe that the AIDS virus helped the homosexual community at all. I remember being a kid and being preached to that AIDS was a punishment for “bad” people i.e. homosexuals and drug users. I was told that I should be afraid of homosexuals because I would surely get this horrible disease if I was tolerant of that type of lifestyle. IMHO I believe that had AIDS not been around, homosexuals would have met less prejudges along the way. I believe that less people would have been “afraid” of homosexuals and while it would have been a long fight still to be accepted, the homosexual community wouldn’t have had the AIDS epidemic hanging over their heads.

I answered part of what I think the status would have been in the previous paragraph, as for what it is… I think more people have become tolerant, but I do not see an overall acceptance of homosexual relationships yet. I do not believe that acceptance will be shown until homosexual couples are allowed to be legally married.
As you can probably tell this is something I feel very strongly about. I lost a good friend to AIDS in the late 80s and I remember the pain he went through from how other people treated him. He wasn’t homosexual, he wasn’t a drug dealer, he got it from a blood transfer and he was treated at the time with so much contempt he often had to keep me from sounding off at people because of how they treated him. AIDS is a horrible epidemic still, and I for one wish it had never ever ever come about.
Ok, I think I’m done now.

  1. Homosexuals had been getting more and more involved in politics since the late 60’s. There was a riot in New York I think that served as a big rally point.

  2. Actually many people, especially in the beginning, thought that AIDS only affected homosexual males. It used to be called the “gay cancer” in some circles. There wasn’t much empathy or worry until straights started getting it.

  3. And yet it is still ok to make fun of homosexuals in movies and television.

  4. Let’s see. I get to die from a horrible disease but everyone gets to be accepting of my “life style.” What a fair trade.

  5. I don’t think it damaged folks like Falwell or Pat Robertson in the least. I doubt the membership of such groups has gone down by any signifigant level.

    I have to say that AIDS hasn’t been good for anyone. I remember back in 1987 seeing a bumper sticker that had what appeared to be two stick figures engaged in anal intercourse with a line going through them both. The caption below said “Stop AIDS.”
    AIDS isn’t bringing us closer together, it hasn’t helped homosexuals in general, and it causes pain and misery to those who contract it and those who love them. It is a curse not a boon.


I have nothing to say re AIDS in the affluent world - we are fairly well able to deal with it - but I wonder if you would be able to find any positives (no pun intended) arising from the incidence of AIDS in Africa? In comparison to this, would you say that the perceptions of one group of relatively wealthy people by another group of relatively wealthy people were of great significance?

If this counts as a derailment, sorry.

I don’t usually post here in great debates, but I felt I had to say my part here.

I don’t think AIDS is a good thing by any means, but without it I believe it would have taken a lot longer for some of the associated social problems to come to light. Personally I feel it is in our nature, as humans, to ignore things until they actually begin to impact our own lives in serious ways or just get so BIG we can’t ignore them anymore. Only then will we actually act, and when we do we usually find out all sorts of things that will make our lives better. It happened with WWI and WWII . . . the discovery of antibiotics is a good example. It’s happening now with AIDS and genetics.

So yes, in a way AIDS is a good thing . . . it’s a wake up call from the universe, telling us to get off our asses.
– Sylence

We don’t have a cure for polio.

I think we have gotten some benefits from AIDS, research and some increase of tolerance among them. Of course it’s not all good, but it could be argued that some benefits accrued.

I’d like to view our society/culture as something of an evolutionary being. I think one of the current views of evolution is that a group will evolve until it reaches something of a stable plateau and then it will stay there. it won’t leave that plateau unless some pressure forces it off, in which case it will begin to evolve again. AIDS could have been that impetus in many ways.

I think the biggest impact of AIDS appearing would be that it created stronger feelings for or against homosexuality in general. Before AIDS and HIV and everything came around, there were a lot of people (this is strictly my opinion) that really didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other. In addition, there wasn’t a whole lot of clear-cut information about gay people in circulation (“Gay guys? Aren’t they the ones that want to steal your children and them queer?”).

When AIDS appeared on the scene, it separated both camps into the “oh, those poor people, we should help them” side, and the “they’re abominations and AIDS is divine retribution for their horrific deeds!” side. In addition (and probably helped by this, as well), since AIDS underwent a lot of research, it also provided information about the “general” homosexual lifestyle, as well, dispelling a lot of the more baseless myths (but assuredly opening new myths, as well).

So, before AIDS, homosexuality was the “I hear about them, but I don’t know anyone who’s gay” aspect of life… after AIDS, it was “hey, they’re people, too.”

Of course, this only takes into account those that actually have some sympathy to people afflicted with a terrible disease… I’m ignoring all them heartless bastards out there :smiley:

Let’s put it this way … without AIDS, would (relatively) sympathetic cover stories about gays and lesbians appeared in Time and Newsweek in the years 1995-2000? Or would we still be waiting for the mainstream press to gather the courage to publish such stories?

** Sua, ** I suppose I’m struggling with the simplistic sounding nature of this. Let’s leave homosexuality and talk about something else and we’ll come back to it.

My youngest son had several years of treatment for epilepsy causing me to read extensively about it. Once during those years, we were at a fair and a young teenager fell to the ground writhing on his side. I knew immediately what I was seeing and there were people who wanted to give him CPR (which can kill if the person is still breathing, which was the case here)

I stopped them, got behind him and let him prop himself against my lap while I was stroking his head. His mother came running up terrified someone had hurt her son. NOW: is it ** good ** that Billy had to have seizures in order for me to have known what I did, to step in and help that teenage boy?? Or is it just one of those things from which ** good comes out? **

I came into contact with AIDS in a most personal way long before mainstream America heard about Rock Hudson, in fact it wasn’t even called AIDS then. We had a church group that was volunteering at the Medical College of Georgia and we started seeing babies being born with immune deficiency diseases.

For the first time we saw huge block size signs with ‘INFECTIOUS DISEASES’ and scaring the women who were with me at the time. I lost a good number of volunteers because of their fears. I don’t fault them for it, truly, fear drives people to protect their own and abandon good things. I didn’t consider it GOOD that I lost them, or that I learned what was really inside ME to stay and just know that whatever these little ones had, I wanted to be involved in helping. It was just good coming out of it, that’s all.

Good has come out of the AIDS crisis, but I don’t think I could ever say that the thing itself was good. Interesting topic though.

I think the most important thing being left out of the OP is the notion that AIDS was good for homosexuals strictly on a political level, AND only for homosexuals as a group. For individuals, on a more “humane” level, it was horrible and terrible, since it wasn’t worth the broken eggs for the omelet that was created.