HRC Blog

Faith & AIDS 2012: The Power of Touch

The following post comes from Sharon Groves, Director of HRC's Religion and Faith program:

“Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose.’” Luke 5: 1-13

The most important thing Jesus does here is to touch the man with leprosy. Touching is the window to healing, and it is also the most powerful way of communicating our connection to one another. Touch is the source of solidarity. Jesus teaches us that when we refuse connection, we effectively turn away from the humanity of the other. We make one another invisible. 

In Jesus’ age people with leprosy were thought to be too frightening to be truly incorporated into the larger culture. They were literally the ones you couldn’t touch for fear of becoming like them. In our age those with HIV/AIDS have suffered the same rejection. In the United States as around the globe, the history of HIV/AIDS has had a shameful past. In the early days many people—including Church people—refused to touch those diagnosed as HIV positive for fear the disease would somehow affect them as well. My colleague, Andrea Levario, one of the core organizers for HRC’s engagement with the AIDS 2012 conference, remembers being told during the early days of the AIDS epidemic by the daughter of a physician—someone who should have known better—to beware of a man with HIV coming down to offices on Capitol Hill who had lesions. “Whatever you do,” she told Andrea, “don’t touch this man.” 

Andrea ignored the advice and firmly reached out her hand. And while it didn’t cure him of AIDS, Andrea communicated by touching that she affirmed his whole humanity.

Around the globe HIV/AIDS continues to affect the lives of millions. It is an equal-opportunity disease, harming straight and LGBT people alike. Yet, in HIV/AIDS prevention we continue to see a resistance to addressing the lives of LGBT people. In 76 countries around the world it is considered a punishable crime to be an LGBT person and in 8 of those countries if you are discovered as LGBT you can be put to death. 

Such shameful policies do nothing to help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS; they only create climates of fear and shame and hiding. When our religious organizations try to address HIV/AIDS without symbolically and literally touching those who have suffered, we only perpetuate the problem—and we move away, not toward, the ministry of Jesus.

Thankfully this is not the full story. As with all justice issues, we see many faith leaders living out their faith by connecting through touch and understanding with those who are the most marginalized. I am so pleased to be part of this year’s Faith & AIDS 2012 pre-conference because perhaps for the first time it has truly incorporated the voices of LGBT people within its programming. This year, we will not politely refuse to discuss the lives of LGBT people or the effects that criminalizing homosexuality is having on all communities. We are ushering a new day of activism, and HRC is honored to be part of this effort.

Please visit hrc.org/aids2012 to learn about the ways we are engaged in the Faith & AIDS 2012 pre-conference and the AIDS 2012 conference.

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