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Glenn Mills' downfall: Shared blame?

Tue 1 Dec 2009 In: Features View at Wayback View at NDHA

In a think-piece for, David Herkt questions whether our own fears of HIV and AIDS set the stage for Glenn Mills' actions.   His thoughts in those last days must have been a mess. After all, by the information available to us, Glenn Mills had never confronted the consequences of his actions much. Glenn Mills There was that moment in the dock when the judge let the media photographers have a minute of time and he'd reeled back from the assault of cameras and flashes, cornered and unable to escape the one thing he had managed to be consistent about escaping – personal responsibility for his actions. Anyone who was there in that court or who saw the images in the newspapers or on TV cannot avoid the thought that here Mills was for the first time, suddenly completely aware of what he had become in other people's eyes. It was his biggest fear. He was being charged with a series of crimes against twelve young men and two young women based around the allegation that he'd knowingly infected seven of them with HIV and had unsafe sex with others. How it all had even got to this stage is bewildering and the fact that it had actually got to this point without being publicly revealed indicates any number of fault-lines and strange boundaries that run-through our sometimes very conflicted society. HIV apparently is still something to be ashamed of, something that happens in secret. If HIV had been treated like an 'ordinary' disease instead of one that is still veiled with shame and greeted with fear, it seems obvious that none of this would have occurred. Nor were the 'authorities' much good in this case either – even when they had bits of information that could be linked, they had voluntarily tied their hands behind their backs with regard to things like 'confidentiality' and 'boundaries'. HIV and AIDS is still apparently clothed with the darkness and clotted with the confusion that many of us had thought had long gone. There is still so much panic and guilt around HIV that we cannot talk about it rationally – and this does not help us to stop incidents like this from ever happening again. Glenn Mills might have had a problem but he was also our problem. In many ways we had made him. His actions were facilitated by every expression of repugnance and every ill-informed comment that was made about HIV and those with it. Glenn Mills couldn't have happened without us. Because of his death, we'll never really get a chance to explore Mills' actions and his psyche. We'll never know if it was the consequences of an immature, frightened, ashamed personality or if it was all due to issues of power and manipulation, but we can still explore our own reactions. We need to do this because we were all his accomplices. Our own reactions were unarguably his motives and they were the scene of the crime. HIV comes burdened with the freight of 2,000 years of homophobia. The language we often use - in this case, the word 'predator' was a prime example - takes everything back to some very primitive world. Mills allegedly 'preyed' on young males. These words remove him from human space to somewhere else. They make him alien, instead of what he was: a human being reacting in a human sort of way within the framework of judgments, decisions and reasons that we had given him. It seems still our continuing shame about homosexual sex and receptive anal intercourse means that we cannot talk about these things without a whole freight of value being imposed upon age-old human actions. If we could talk about it clearly, Glenn Mills couldn't have happened. We can mutter about organisations hamstrung by confidentiality conventions, but really the whole thing has occurred because we are still terrified of homosexuality, a terror which has simply been displaced from a sexual act to one of its consequences. There are many, many illnesses one can get in the course of a lifetime. HIV is simply one of them. Its transmission is preventable by modifying behaviours. With modern medicine it is not necessarily a death sentence. But we do not treat it like a disease. Instead HIV is unfortunately a mirror of our fears, prejudices and our judgments. This makes prevention and treatment extremely hard. It also creates the environment for the likes of Peter Mwai and of Glenn Mills to flourish. We expect those with HIV to be responsible while we ourselves are irresponsible with our own verdicts upon HIV and those with it. We reap just what we sow. Glenn Mills' actions took place in that very guilty, fearful, ashamed darkness where we had sent him. We gave him his motive. He didn't have to do it - others didn't - and that is where we can judge him. The rest, however, is squarely in our court. After all, he did it for us. David Herkt - 1st December 2009

Credit: David Herkt

First published: Tuesday, 1st December 2009 - 3:16pm

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