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The invisible (gay) man.

Philadelphia

When you visit the $500,000 AIDS exhibit opening October 21 in Philadelphia, New York City, and Richmond, Virginia, you can inspect a multicolored model of the HIV virus, spin dice to see your chances of contracting HIV under various circumstances, and draw a magnet across a model of a human body to learn that antibiotics easily pick up and destroy invaders like bacteria, but not HIV.

What you won't see is any substantial mention of gay men and the toll the disease has taken on them--the largest group of people with AIDS in America.

Activists fear that gay men were left out of the show to "sanitize" it for sale to Middle America.

"There's no two ways about it," says Nan Feyler, executive director of the Philadelphia AIDS Law Project. "There's a clear omission of gay people. It's important to ask what it means to have such a powerful exhibit about AIDS that excludes gay men."

Feyler and others are hoping they can lobby the show's sponsors to increase the visibility of gay men before the exhibit goes on the road.

The display was developed by the National AIDS Exhibit Consortium--a group of eight science museums across the country--as part of a $2 million grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Roberta Goldshlag Cooks, a psychiatrist and the exhibit's developer, says that when the project got started, "There were people who were skeptical and worried about why we should be doing this, and how." She denies, however, that there was a conscious effort to hide gay men in the exhibit.

In a preview of the show last summer at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, there was minimal mention of gays scattered throughout: a historical dateline of the disease's progression notes that Rock Hudson died of AIDS after having sex with an infected man; it is mentioned that 61 per cent of people with AIDS in America are homosexuals, and there is a photo of a man with thinning hair who is described on the display board next to his image as an "interior designer." But you have to listen to his first-person story, told on a tape-recorded message through a telephone, before the word "gay" actually comes out.

In contrast, four heterosexual couples with HIV are featured in the show holding hands and balancing their children on their laps. Lou DiJinio, the only gay man in the show, is pictured alone.

"It seems so unfair that our lives together aren't represented in the least," says John DiCarlo, DiJinio's partner of ten years. "But I guess if they put us together, they'd have to say the words |homosexual couple.'"

AIDS activist Gary Bailey acknowledges that the demographics of AIDS have changed drastically in the last decade, as many more heterosexuals have contracted the disease. But he says, "Gay people need and deserve the dignity of representation." And hiding the history of the struggle over AIDS ignores the politics which allowed the disease to go unchecked for so many years.
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Title Annotation:National AIDS Exhibit, Philadelphia, PA; New York, NY; Richmond, VA
Author:Dahir, Mubarak S.
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:501
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