By Wayne Besen

“What is it about gay sex that makes U.S. health officials want to play Chicken Little with AIDS prevention and public safety?” Tony Valenzuela writes in the latest Poz magazine, where he criticizes, “The clueless tabloid and public health hysteria over man-on-man sex.”

Valenzuela points to “an imaginary “super strain’ of HIV to the sci-fi MRSA superbug.” And, he is correct that it seems the media and society seem to always take on the absurd posture that gay sex is a mysterious ticking time bomb.

It is important to remember that gay bashing is a multi-million dollar industry. There is a vested interest by fundamentalist groups to convince the public that gay people are morally inferior and diseased, thus a threat to children, society and themselves.

The notion that AIDS is a punishment from God is a staple of right wing literature. Instead of focusing on the condemnation of unsafe sexual practices, extremist groups say that the very nature of being gay makes one a candidate for an early death. For example, the so-called “ex-gay” group Exodus International uses the Bible to justify their belief in God’ wrath and fury against homosexuals.

“Those who practice these sins “receive in their own persons the due penalty of their error,'” writes former Exodus Executive Director Bob Davies in “A Biblical Response to the Pro-Gay Movement.’ “In today’ society, homosexuality is reaping a bitter harvest…homosexual involvement reaps deep devastation in the lives of many who practice it.”

The Traditional Values Coalition has published what they call a “fact-based report on the dangers of homosexuals and homosexual behavior to children and to our society.” One “fact sheet” is called, “Homosexual Sex = Death From HIV Infection.”

Focus on the Family offers that, “solid, irrefutable evidence proves that there are lethal consequences to engaging in the defining features of male homosexuality…”

Of course, blaming victims for deadly diseases is nothing new and has ushered in some of the most shameful and horrific acts in world history. In a recent New York Times magazine article, epidemiologist and physician Gary Slutkin (the article was about gang violence, not HIV) spoke of how Chinese Americans were once thought to be inherently prone to disease.

“Chinatown, San Francisco in the 1880′,” Slutkin said. “Three ghosts: malaria, smallpox and leprosy. No one wanted to go there. Everybody blamed the people. Dirty. Bad habits. Something about their race…And people come up with all kinds of other ideas that are not scientifically grounded — like putting people away, closing the place down, pushing people out of town. Sound familiar?”

John Kelly’ book, “The Great Mortality” explains how Jews were blamed for the “Black Death” that wiped out an estimated one-third of fourteenth century Europeans.

“In January 1349, Basel burned its Jews on an island in the Rhine, while hygiene-conscious Speyer, fearing pollution, put its dead Jews in wine barrels and rolled them into the river,” wrote Kelly. “Strasbourg marched its Jews to a local cemetery and burned them…In Worms the local Jewish community, faced with death at the hands of Christian neighbors, locked themselves in their homes and set themselves ablaze.”

What I find bizarre is how the right continues to portray HIV as a gay disease when more than 80 percent of people infected worldwide are heterosexual. If God really wanted to punish the so-called “gay lifestyle” and send a message, wouldn’t He use a smart bomb — like blowing up gay bars on Saturday nights — instead of an indiscriminate shotgun blast that claims the lives of hemophiliacs and babies? The last time God was this inefficient, He placed George W. Bush in the Oval Office to carry out his will.

For reasons of political convenience and conservative correctness, anti-gay groups pick and choose who gets blame. In Washington, DC, black residents account for 81% of new reports of HIV infection and 86% of people with AIDS, though the city’ population is only 57% African-American. Based on anti-gay “logic,” this would mean that the “black lifestyle” is dangerous and should be condemned. Interestingly, they only focus on homosexuality and ignore other demographics and the largely hetero International AIDS epidemic because the inconvenient facts don’t mesh well with the right’ anti-gay storyline.

Gay people were around for thousands of years before AIDS and will still inhabit this planet long after the disease subsides or is eradicated. In the grand scheme of the universe, HIV does not define homosexuality any more than past syphilis or gonorrhea outbreaks in Europe defined heterosexuality.

Illnesses, like natural disasters, are not God’ wrath, but ordinary phenomena that affect different populations at any given time. History, however, teaches us that the most enduring disease is divisiveness in the name of the Divine, that predictably rears its ugly head at the very moments when healing is needed instead of hatred.