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Trudeau Gently Dishes Up Some Harsh Comments on AIDS

April 4, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Many of those involved in the fight against AIDS are lauding cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s comic depiction of the ignorance, unfounded fears and public indifference that sometimes surround the disease.

″Humor is essential for educating people,″ said Rene Durazzo of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. ″It gets them to look at themselves without a lot of harsh confrontations; gets them laughing at their own silly attitudes.″

In a three-week series of his Doonesbury strip that began March 27 and ends April 15, Trudeau is gently dishing up some rather biting comments on how the public and government have responded to the disease.

Centered around a town hall meeting in San Francisco, part of character Lacy Davenport’s congressional district, the strip so far has poked fun at fears of getting AIDS through casual contact, the view that AIDS largely affects only homosexuals and the public’s discomfort at dealing with various sexual issues raised in its context.

At one point, the 81-year-old Davenport finds herself unable to use the word AIDS, instead saying ″the great unpleasantness.″

A long-time character in the strip, Andy Lippincott, has developed AIDS.

Trudeau told a columnist for the Pioneer Press Dispatch of St. Paul, Minn., this week that he had a ″hard time finding the right approach″ to AIDS.

″I had to strip it (the disease) of its taboos to attack the fear and ignorance by laughing in its face,″ said Trudeau, who rarely grants interviews. He did not return a call placed by The AP.

Brother Kevin Worth, a Roman Catholic monk who works with AIDS patients at Mother Teresa’s Spiritual Resource Center in Oakland, called Trudeau’s AIDS series an ″effective way of uncovering the public’s ignorance″ about AIDS, which destroys the body’s immune system.

″Lacy Davenport’s unwillingness to name the issue represents a common response on the part of the American public, much of which prefers that this disease simply did not exist, or would just go away,″ he added. ″Trudeau is showing us it will not.″

According to Lee Salem, a spokesman for Universal Press Syndicate in Kansas City, Mo., which distributes the comic strip, only one newspaper has refused to run the series. The Canadian paper, which he did not identify, considered the series in ″bad taste.″

In San Francisco, where 9,000 people are expected to be living with the disease by the end of the year, the comic strip has been greeted with guffaws at numerous AIDS organizations.

Lance Henderson, finance director of The Names Project, which produces a giant memorial quilt using panels submitted by survivors of people who have died of AIDS, is posting each segment of the daily strip on his door.

But some involved in the fight against AIDS are surprised the often controversial cartoonist, known for his sharp political wit, has taken so long to address AIDS issues.

″I wish he had done this four years ago,″ said Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. ″Most of what I’ve seen so far is a little after the fact. These issues have been raised before.″

Carisa Cunningham of the Gay Mens Heath Crisis in New York feels it is appropriate that Davenport represents a sometimes ill-informed public and government officials who can be frustratingly prudish.

″He’s addressing the issue of denial in Lacy, who in the past has been a sympathetic character,″ Cunningham said in a telephone interview.

″We aren’t meant to hate or despise her because of her ignorance. It’s telling us that even well-meaning people are having a hard time dealing with AIDS.″

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