[FOUNTAIN]Prejudice more scary than disease

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[FOUNTAIN]Prejudice more scary than disease

Every video tape rented from a local video shop starts with a warning: “In the old days, children were most afraid of attacks by tigers and smallpox. But today, we need to protect our children from illegal adult videos.” There was a time when tigers from the mountains attacked villages and smallpox killed numerous children. The plague, syphilis, tuberculosis and Hansen’s disease had their heydays in medieval Europe; each period is defined by a mass epidemic that scared society.
Recently, a woman saved herself when a robber attempted to rape her by claiming to have AIDS and showing him mosquito bites. Her cleverness and courage were extraordinary, but the incident confirmed that AIDS is the epidemic of the age.
Until an effective cure is found, an epidemic can scare people and push them into mass panic. In 1985, the first AIDS patient was reported in Korea. People then believed that AIDS patients would all die, and the fear resulted in regrettable yet absurd incidents. Even if not infected with the disease, some people who experienced sudden weight loss, fever, or spots on their skin were frightened by the disease and killed themselves.
The groundless fear has diminished over time. But among Koreans, AIDS has been branded as an evil disease caused by homosexuality.
The disease was first confirmed in five gay patients in Los Angeles in June, 1981. The misleading equation between AIDS and homosexuality originated from the initial case. But doctors and specialists agree that there are no grounds to see AIDS as “God’s punishment for homosexuals.”
The National Human Rights Commission recently advised the Ministry of Health and Welfare not to ask potential blood donors about their history of homosexual encounters in the questionnaire given before donation. AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, whether a sexual contact is homosexual or heterosexual. The Human Rights Commission’s decision would help correct the prejudice about the disease.
In “Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors,” American writer and cultural critic Susan Sontag wrote that a disease is just a disease, “not a curse, not a punishment, not an embarrassment.”
More frightening than even a tiger or smallpox is a prejudiced eye.

by Lee Young-ki

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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