Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Eighth place — High school essay contest: Caleb Buell 

Vol. 38 No. 07 September 2021
Caleb Buell                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

HIV and homophobia: Epidemics of a nation

FFRF awarded Caleb $500.

By Caleb Buell 

The phrase is brandished on almost everything of national importance. Currency, monuments, capitols — all of these bear the four-word phrase signifying our nation’s motto: “In God We Trust.” It’s meant to encapsulate our faith in an “all-knowing, all-powerful protector,” one that we believe will guide us to our fullest potential. And yet, in hypocritical fashion, our nation often finds itself blaspheming scientific advancements in an attempt to honor God. 

Take the HIV/AIDS epidemic, for example. Throughout the 1980s, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) ravaged the United States. This disease attacks one’s immune system, and if left untreated, goes on to become Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which then almost certainly resulted in death. By the end of 1984, roughly 8,000 Americans had contracted HIV, with approximately 3,500 succumbing to the disease. These numbers themselves are staggering, and it should have been enough to receive widespread attention and spark major efforts to find a cure. However, there was one problem: Most of the victims were gay. 

The timing couldn’t have been worse, as HIV wasn’t the only epidemic plaguing the country. So, too, was the epidemic of homophobia, one charged by Christian beliefs that were heavily prominent through the era. As a result, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was viewed as a punishment from God, one meant to discourage homosexual behavior and reinforce biblical values, and thus any attempts to bring the issue to national light never gained traction.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1985, four years after the epidemic began, that President Reagan spoke about HIV, and it wouldn’t be until 36 years later that major breakthroughs would be made regarding a vaccine. 

While some of this is certainly attributed to the period’s lack of scientific knowledge, there’s no doubt that efforts to find a cure would have been accelerated had religious homophobia not stood as a barrier.

And thus, the hypocrisy of “In God We Trust” is revealed. If we trust in an all-knowing, all-powerful God, then we should not have stood in the way of scientific advancements that had the potential to save lives, as such advancements must have been brought forth by “Him.” However, in a misguided attempt to follow “Christian” values, our nation allowed thousands upon thousands to die at the hands of HIV/AIDS. 

Therefore, I do not subscribe to the motto “In God We Trust,” because it serves as a grim reminder of my countless fellow LGBTQ+ members who lost their lives to the two epidemics plaguing this nation. Instead, in science I trust, because science is what has the power to end both of these epidemics, once and for all. 

Caleb, 18, is from Kingsport, Tenn., and attends the University of Alabama, where Caleb plans to study chemistry, with minors in research and liberal arts. Caleb hopes to attend medical school in order to pursue his passion for neurology.