Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
A couple of months ago I read the late Randy Shilts’ book about the beginning of the AIDS crisis, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. As I did so I was struck by a single sentence “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.”
In the book, Shilts, a journalist and author, discussed the impact of hatred on people. The part of the book I was reading was about the release from prison of Dan White, the San Francisco city councilman who murdered the legendary Gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on January 7th 1984.
Shilts reflected on how reciprocal hatred between White, his militant-anti-Gay supporters, and the Gay community harmed the whole community, and the response to the AIDS epidemic. The Gay community was angry, and rightly so, about how White who had killed Milk and Moscone in cold blood based was acquitted of the First Degree Murder charge on the ludicrous defense diminished capacity based on White’s being consumption of Hostess Twinkies. That anger was compounded by how many Gays felt about the AIDS epidemic, which at the time the cause was still unknown, and which most government agencies were ignoring. When White was released, angry Gays protested, some even calling for White’s death. White was out of prison but he was a prisoner of his actions, he killed himself a number of months later.
Shilts wrote, “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.” In regard to White, Shilts echoed the words of Thornton Wilder who wrote, “There is no need for me to curse you -the murderer survives the victim only to learn that it was himself that he longed to be rid of. Hatred is self-hatred.”
At the time neither the Gay community, nor their opponents, especially conservative Christians could get around the hate. Many people, including men like Gary Bauer, a current leader of the Christian Right who was then an adviser to Ronald Reagan, believed that believed AIDS was God’s judgment upon Gays and fought against public health measures and research.
Sadly, despite all the advances in civil rights that the Gay community has fought for and earned, there are still those who hate them just for being different.
When I read Shilts’s words I was struck with just how timeless they were. While Shilts was discussing the experience of the Gay community in 1984, the lesson can be applied in almost every instance where there is anger about real or perceived injustice; as well as in times like today when societies are deeply divided along political, ideological, racial, or religious lines.
They are truly timeless.