Commentary Media

Tyler Perry’s ‘Temptation’ Shamefully Stigmatizes People With HIV

Amanda Marcotte

It’s such a disappointment to hear that Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor apparently presents HIV not only as if it’s some kind of karmic punishment for female sexual misbehavior, but also as if having the virus makes a woman permanently unlovable and asexual.

The CDC has declared April STD Awareness Month, a time to encourage people to get tested, get treated, educate themselves on prevention, and get vaccinated for HPV, if eligible. All these efforts go back to the same starting point: destigmatization. If people feel that an STD diagnosis means that they’re tarnished, they will be more reluctant to get tested and treated, and they certainly will struggle to have the conversations or take the initiatives towards prevention. If people could think of STIs like they do the flu or the chicken pox—just a disease you get, not a measure of your value as a person—it would go a long way to slow transmission and get people into more effective treatment.

That’s why it’s such a disappointment to hear that Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, which was the #3 grossing movie last week, apparently presents HIV not only as if it’s some kind of karmic punishment for female sexual misbehavior, but also as if having the virus makes a woman permanently unlovable and asexual.

Short summary: The movie focuses on the struggles of a married couple, Judith and Brice. Judith cheats on Brice and, in the end, she is thoroughly punished by having to go to her ex-husband’s pharmacy—limping and uglified—to pick up her HIV medications to treat the infection she got from cheating. Of course, he has new, young wife and an adorable son, to drive home what HIV-infected women supposedly are barred for life from having. Another HIV-positive female character directly states that her infection means she’ll never be loved again.

Veronica Miller at The Grio describes the horror in blunt terms:

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But the “shocker” HIV storyline in “Temptation” was egregiously repulsive, implying that people who live with HIV (as over one million people in the U.S. do) are either a) being punished for some sort of iniquity, and/or b) will live a loveless, lonely life of despair and regret.

The worst part is that Temptation treats Judith’s HIV infection as a modern-day version of leprosy, and presents her hobbling with the disease as a reasonable resolution to the story, a justified sealing of her fate. Note that Brice remains uninfected, and that Harley simply vanishes, presumably flying away in his jet to infect another unsuspecting young woman.

Perry’s message is targeted specifically at black women — live the way a good little Christian girl should, or be eternally damned with disease.

Considering that black women are disproportionately affected by HIV, this message couldn’t be more vicious in it stigmatization. The odds are extremely high that there are HIV positive people who unwittingly went to see Temptation looking for a fun night at the movies and instead got  told they’re dirty and not worthy of love. There may be HIV positive people in the audience who don’t know they’re infected who will now be a little more afraid to get tested and learn the truth.

Obviously, no one wants to get an STI, especially HIV. Even thought HIV is eminently treatable now, it’s still a major hassle to take care of it, and while the death rate is way, way down, the fear of dying of AIDS-related diseases still has to be stressful for HIV patients. Adding to their stress and woes with misogynist propaganda that frames HIV and AIDS as just desserts for women’s sexual misbehavior is pointless cruelty.

To make it worse, telling people that STIs are a sign of personal depravity helps spread STIs. If you doubt this, look no further than the growing number of parents who are outright refusing to vaccinate their daughters for HPV, even though it’s one of the two diseases that the CDC cites as the source of our nation’s STI epidemic. Forty-four percent of parents say they will not vaccinate their daughters, a number that is up from forty percent in 2008. There’s only one reason for this: Anti-choice activists have successfully convinced huge portion of the public that you’re only at risk of getting HPV if you’re a dirty girl, allowing parents to think their darling daughters would never be at risk for such a thing. This, even though HPV is so common that the CDC says “nearly all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.”

This is only one way that STI stigma increases the transmission rate. People often don’t wear condoms because they don’t want to admit that they’re at risk, because that would make them feel dirty. People ignore symptoms of STIs or refuse to get tested, increasing the window of opportunity to infect others. Anti-choicers often claim—and may even believe—that stigmatizing STIs will prevent transmission by scaring people out of having sex, but in a gross bit of irony, the opposite is true.

So what can be done? Clearly, the first step is to start talking about STIs in the same way we talk about other, non-stigmatized diseases, as a public health problem but certainly no comment on the state of a person’s soul. We also need to push back hard when we see popular media like Temptation that try to spread sex-negative messages. Luckily, that conversation is happening in response to Temptation. BET collected the responses, arguing that while Tyler Perry’s films have always gotten bad review, “none have been attacked quite as venomously as Tyler Perry’s Temptation.” Sadly, backlash against popular movies rarely has the impact that the movies themselves have, but hopefully this backlash can kickstart a larger conversation. And maybe that conversation will eventually lead to movies that portray people with STIs with sympathy and dignity—which happens to be a better reflection of reality than whatever Tyler Perry thinks about HIV.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”