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Andrew Belonsky, Death & Taxes: When The Green Lantern Fought HIV/AIDS, Homophobia

When The Green Lantern Fought HIV/AIDS, Homophobia
by , September 13, 2011

Anti-gay Republican Sally Kern should go back and read some 90s-era DC Comics to get the facts on HIV/AIDS — and gay people.

Aside from Ryan White, one of the first people to teach me about AIDS wasn’t even a person — not a real one, at least. It was DC Comics hero the Green Lantern.

In one of the company’s ’90s-era AIDS-related PSAs, the Green Lantern swoops in to save two gay men who are being attacked because an unruly mob thinks all gay people — and only gay people — get the disease.

“Not all gay people have AIDS,” says Green Lantern Hal Jordan. “Yes, gay communities were hit early and hard by the AIDS epidemic. But now AIDS is spreading fastest among people you wouldn’t expect.” While he didn’t elaborate on who was contracting the disease, at least Jordan was countering widely held stereotypes.


The Green Lantern wasn’t the only DC hero to tackle stereotypes. Booster Gold and the Blue Beetle got schooled by teammate Fire after Booster couldn’t get HIV because “I only sleep with nice women,” and other characters, including the Flash and Batman sidekick Robin, faced similarly illuminating scenarios.

These ads ran in 1994, when the American public was finally turning its collective attention to the devastating disease. Sure, HIV/AIDS had been on the radar since the early-’80s, but the ’90s brought a fresh and honest sense of urgency into the conversation. At that time, more and more people began to rethink the disease, expanding their understanding of how and who was infected.

That energy has since been lost; HIV/AIDS lost its celebrity-endorsed cache and younger generations of Americans are increasingly in the dark about the importance of safer sex: Americans between the age of 20-24 have the highest infection rate, according to the CDC’s 2009 numbers.

This trend isn’t simply due to ignorance; it’s sustained by people like Sally Kern, the Oklahoma Republican who claims that gay sex is more dangerous than terrorism.

“In the last twenty years, fifteen to twenty years, we’ve had maybe three terrorist attacks on our soil with a little over 5,000 people regrettably losing their lives,” said Kern in a recent interview. “In the same time frame, there have been hundreds of thousands who have died because of having AIDS. So which one’s the biggest threat?”

According to Kern’s archaic logic, gay people are responsible for spreading AIDS, and by “normalizing” same-sex love, LGBT activists and their allies endanger children and “the moral fiber of this nation.”

By making these claims, Kern is furthering the same stereotypes that the Green Lantern fought. The subtext she employs signals that straights cannot get HIV/AIDS, and that therefore they need not worry about it, because the disease is reserved for sinful queers. Such thinking is far more hazardous for America’s children than her intended target, gay people.

Perhaps someone should send her some old copies of DC Comics, and show her that only villains vilify gay people and others who may have HIV/AIDS. If a fictional superhero can understand the facts, why can’t Kern?

Here are the full-page versions of the aforementioned PSAs.




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