Is Swine Flu the New Straight Plague?

Jim Burroway

April 27th, 2009

Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous. But the constant stream of news coming out of Mexico reminds this writer of the hype surrounding whatever fill-in-the-blank disease that has been trotted out in times past to stigmatize the LGBT community. Of course this time, now that straight people are engaging in behaviors (attending school, going to movies, etc.) which provide such fertile ground for these exotic viruses to fester, we see the World Health Organization leap into action while the President of the United States urges everyone to take a deep breath.

Obama’s assurances aside though, what if — think of it — what if this viral outbreak escapes into the general population? Won’t all hell break loose?

Oh wait. Straight people are the general population.

And what a difference a population makes. It was just a little over a year ago that anti-gay activists hyped an outbreak of a drug-resistant strain of staph (MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in the Castro as the latest “gay plague.” That hype disappeared about as quickly as it began, but today it serves as a textbook example of how quickly research based on a stigmatized population can become fodder for further stigmatizing.

And when I say it’s a textbook example, I mean it. Greenhaven Press, an imprint of textbook publisher Gale’s Cengage Learning, has published Resurgent Diseases: Opposing Viewpoints, which features a reprint of my article, Is MRSA The New Gay Plague? My article appears in Chapter 2 (“How should society respond to resurgent diseases?”) and is retitled, “The hysteria over MRSA is unfounded.”

Resurgent Diseases begins the chapter with a reprint of Sabin Russell’s San Francisco Chronicle which helped kick off the MRSA scare to begin with. My article follows, which is appropriate because I wrote it, in part, as a direct answer to the Chronicle article. This makes the juxtaposition of these two articles in the same textbook ideal. The four other articles rounding out the chapter discuss the balance between individual rights and public health, and the role that governmental authorities and non-governmental organizations can play to address resurgent diseases.

With the latest fears surrounding the swine flu outbreak, Resurgent Diseases may be among the more timely textbooks to come along in a long time.


April 27th, 2009

I doubt that we (Ref. dept., public library) will purchase the print version, but push Gale (if you can) to release it on Gale Virtual Ref. Library as an e-book. There’s a good chance we’ll bite. ;-)


April 27th, 2009

I recall when I was a teaching assistant at UC Santa Barbara helping with a class called “The Biology of AIDS” . . . the professor, during one of the early class meetings, said that one reason that students might want learn about AIDS/HIV was because it could infect straight people too, so we (the people in the classroom) might be at risk! There was that kind of tone sprinkled t/out the class. Unfortunately I did not feel secure enough to call her on it.

It stunned me that a *University of California* *professor* would make a statement like that A) because it was pretty ignorant/hateful, and B) because she assumed all of her students in an AIDS class in Southern California were straight! wow.

Sometimes we are so invisible even in plain day (and stay that way, sometimes for lack of courage!) and diseases only matter when they impact straight, white, Americans.

Mark F.

April 27th, 2009

Hmm, I seem to recall many gay people hyping the threat of HIV to the straight community in order to get more government funding at the same time homophobes were hyping the threat to “prove” what a danger gay people were. Seems like someone always has an agenda they will use hysteria to advance.

Lynn David

April 28th, 2009

I heard about the Chronicle article (via AP) while being treated in the hospital for a rather nasty consequence of MRSA. No medical professional thought much of the article’s premise when asked because MRSA had been in the general population for quite a long time by then. Heck two of my straight cousins were treated the year before I was. One problem with MRSA is once your colonized its difficult to rid yourself of it. And the treatment may leave you open to attack from other bacteria.

Congratulations on the inclusion of your article in the book. Your work there was most certainly worthy.


April 28th, 2009

I’m sure they’ll find a way to blame us.

If anything, they can always leap to the conclusion that it’s God’s punishment for not being anti-gay enough.

Gabe Arana

April 28th, 2009

Congrats on the chapter, Jim!


April 28th, 2009

Mark F:

gay people were “hyping” the risk of a deadly disease we were DYING of to get more money for curing it? As if asking for goverment funding for study of a fatal contagious disease is somehow pandering to the gay agenda?

That’s like saying that all the elderly cancer patients are “hyping” the risk of their trivial disease in order to pander to the aarp.

Timothy Kincaid

April 28th, 2009


Now that you’re printed in a textbook, that makes you “an authority on the subject”. Woo hoo. Congrats.

Mark F.

April 28th, 2009


Some gay people, in the past, were greatly hyping the risk of AIDS to STRAIGHT people in order to scare politicians into voting for more money for it. The idea was that politicians would vote for more funding if they thought heterosexuals were at great risk. (AIDS is virtually no risk to straight men in this country and never was). And politicians responded by appropriating more money for AIDS than any other disease in the history of the world, adjusting for the number of people impacted.

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