We will not allow stares and discriminatory behavior go unaddressed [Opinion]

“As I walked into the elevator lobby of the Medical Arts Building, I felt the stares and heard the gasps, —again.

So many times in the last few months I have seen the shocked expressions and the recoil as people step back away from me. Every time it’s like someone kicked me in the stomach.  I have always been a ‘huggy’ type person.  This is very hard for me to weather.

“I rode the elevator up to the 3rd floor, and walked down the hall to the office door. As I swung the door open, I could smell the antiseptic, and could see the two other patients seated near the door.  One fellow smiled at me – felt like a refreshing breeze flowing over me!  The other person shrank back in her chair, almost scooting it closer to the wall.

As I approached the reception desk, the woman behind the desk slid the glass window closed with a “bang”.  I stopped and stared as she jumped up from her seat and literally ran into the back, calling for the Doctor by name.

As I stood there, I watched the Dr and the receptionist approach the window.  He slid the window open and gestured for me to approach.  When I got about 2 feet from the desk he held up his hand to stop me and said, ‘ I need you to leave the office immediately.’  I was shocked and it took me a moment to gather my breath – again feeling like I had just been kicked in the stomach. ‘ Why’ I said.  ‘I have a 2pm appt for cleaning’.  ‘I’m sorry, you are scaring my staff and the other patients. Please leave immediately’.

Behind the reception desk, a large mirror reflected back to me my face and neck.  I could see the large purple lesions, the dreaded “Stigmata” of the AIDS patient, Kaposi’s Sarcoma, disfiguring my once smooth and handsome face. My jaw was clenched and my eyes were flashing fire.  I turned and walked out.”

— November 11, 1991. Hillcrest, San Diego California.

This was the experience related to me by a kind and gentle man who came to our LGBTQ center in San Diego, seeking support and answers to questions of how to deal with this appalling experience.

In 1991 there were many questions in the minds of many people about how someone could “catch” HIV, and this type of experience was not uncommon.  Despite the information that even then was available regarding transmission routes and the fact that casual contact did NOT create a risk for anyone, people still acted in this manner.

Today, in November of 2020, we have decades of documented research data which clearly demonstrate that when a person who is HIV + or diagnosed with AIDS appears for treatment with a medical, dental, or other health care professional, there is no logical reason to treat them any different than any other patient.

In today’s world of COVID-19 and logical precautions that we should all be using, protocols for treatment interventions are clearly robust enough that no Health Care Professional should be reacting negatively to or refusing treatment for someone with HIV.

Not so was the case for Alfie Pettit when he made an appointment for treatment with Dr. Mark Vincent Sonofio, a Rancho Mirage-based plastic surgeon,  for a radiofrequency (RF) INTRAcel micro-needling treatment.

Cindy Uken has covered in detail the alleged interactions which occurred, so I will not belabor them here.

My point is very simple and clear: With all of the knowledge and technology that we have at our disposal today, one would have thought incidents like the one alleged in Alfie’s case would be a long gone thing of the past.

There is NO excuse for this kind of discriminatory behavior.  There is no clinical data to support such behavior in this incident, especially given the technology associated to the procedure Alfie was seeking, and the actual protocol associated to the implementation of this procedure.

When Alfie informed me of his experience, it was like going back in time, to the day the fellow I quoted above came into my office and told me of his experience.  By the way, in the case described above, we went to court and the dentist in question was literally put out of business.  And that was way back in 1991 — or actually 1995 — by the time the case was over.  Sadly, the fellow in question didn’t live to see the final resolution.

People, today, we are in an era again of fear and separation, of widespread hatred of “those people” — just pick a group — which is literally tearing our country apart.  All around us we see the results of the fear turned to hate which has been fomented and promoted in the current political climate.

It is time for every person of conscience to step up and one by one stop this trend.

Alfie describes in his experience here,  another facet of this movement to return to the fear and ignorance of the past, of decades ago.

We will not let it pass unaddressed.

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