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Budget Cut Threatens Search for AIDS Cure


By Sean L. Mckenna

"A HORRIBLE MENTAL DISORDER," "a satanic deviance," and "an unspeakable evil." For much of American history the lifestyles of one-tenth of our population were thus fallaciously maligned. During the last 15 years American homosexuals "coming out of the closet" have finally gained a handful of civil rights, putting them well on their way to legal equality. But recent chilling developments threaten both these hard-won gains and a far more basic right--life itself.

The Reagan Administration's recently announced fiscal year 1986 budget would take back $10 million in government funds already earmarked by for research into an almost exclusively homosexual disease. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The disease has already claimed 4000 lives since its discovery in 1981. Scientists believe it could kill 20,000 more people during Reagan's second term.

A cure has yet to be found for what the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has publicly declared the nation's number one health problem. The 1986 budget proposal would cut AIDS research funds from $96 million to $86 million, a sum much lower than the HHS has requested. A report issued February 21 by the Office of Technology Assessment (a research group affiliated with Congress) found the Reagan Administration's treatment of the problem deficient. The report added that despite advances in the research, the department's efforts have "not always been supported by financial and personnel resources" commensurate with the severity of the problem.

Superficially, the recent medical advances in the area of AIDS research and sums still budgeted for it would seem to suffice. Yet doctors have indicated otherwise. Reagan's neglect will devastate the chances for finding a cure.

The cold shoulder given to AIDS research funding is especially offensive given the fatal nature of the disease. When citizens are dying, the nation must expend whatever resources are necessary to ensure their preservation, regardless of personal dispositions. Morally speaking, national defense and public health have the same basis. It is appalling that the question of "whether we should save or let die" should arise in the first place, whereas inquiry into the legitimate needs of the Defense Department is comparatively nonexistent.

Paradoxically, the Administration's cutback might make it more likely that heterosexuals will begin to contract the disease in significant numbers. Thus, taking a more callous attitude toward the accelerating rate of death among homosexuals may directly result in the death of "real" Americans, the red-blooded types who have children and vote Republican.

ATERRIFYING SPIRAL OF violence and discrimination directed toward homosexuals may already be underway as a result of the disease's spread and the nation's resurgent conservatism. Consider the actions of conservative minister Jerry Falwell, for example, who leads what he has publicly called a "truth campaign to counter the homosexual attack on America." "Fag bashing" is a primary theme of the New Right's agenda; mail campaigns during the Presidential race often mentioned "gay support" for the Democratic Party. A recent Houston ordinance which prohibited the use of "sexual orientation" as a consideration when hiring city employees was defeated by a referendum vote of more than four to one. And anti-gay violence has been increasing in many cities, including San Francisco.

In a sad way, however, these recent events only serve to illustrate how superficial the gains of the '70s really were. Consensual homosexual relations are still prohibited in 23 states and the District of Columbia, even though it is unclear where, if at all, the issue is considered in the Constitution. Only 71 cities and counties nationwide have any laws whatsoever upholding the civil rights of homosexuals. The 1964 Civil Rights Act has not yet been broadened to include homosexuals; the Justice Department and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission are not permitted to investigate cases of discrimination against homosexuals. And two cases involving the dismissal of homosexual school teachers, one in Oklahoma and one in Ohio, have not been heard by the Supreme Court; the latter dismissal was upheld by the Court since it refused to consider an appeal, and the former is yet to be tried. Considering the Ohio case, however, it is unlikely to turn out any better for the fired teacher.

The Reagan Administration should do its best to reverse these recalcitrant policies and attitudes toward American homosexuals. It is ironic that gay people, whose average income is above the national average should be so abhorred by the Right; homosexuals, as an economically successful and politically active group, seem to exemplify the American work ethic and the ideological purity which conservative uphold as praiseworthy goals. Tolerance, a fundamental American concept, has been forgotten by a President who vows to thwart various Americans' attempts to secure their inalienable rights. President Reagan should wipe his slate clean and grant homosexuals what he promised the rest of American in 1980: A New Beginning.

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