Over twenty years ago, Mary Fisher addressed the Republican National Convention about AIDS—not simply as an advocate against a growing epidemic, but as a wife, mother, staunch Republican, and AIDS sufferer.
Her speech did a great deal to raise the level of awareness of AIDS and helped to remove some of its stigma as a “gay disease.”
Fisher visits NAU today to meet with another famous guest, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor speaking tonight on the topic of compassion and civil discourse. Fisher spoke with KNAU’s Constance DeVereaux about her recently published book, about her visit with Justice O’Connor, and how public reaction to AIDS has changed since her 1992 Convention address.
Fisher: I think the difference is that the stigma is still there. People think it’s gone. People think that it’s no longer an issue or a problem. The rates of infections with AIDS haven’t gone down. Half of the people who are infected have never even been tested. A third of those tested are not in treatment and they continue to suffer. Because they have the disease and they’re not in treatment they’re passing the disease on to others.
DeVereaux: While Fisher found support in the gay community, she is more interested in issues concerning women with AIDS.
Fisher: I’m enormously close to the gay community and they are my support but women, specifically, have issues that men don’t have. Many women, they were threatened to have their children taken away from them.
DeVereaux: Given the many changes in the party, does Fisher still consider herself a Republican?
Fisher: You know I get that question a lot. I honestly have to say I don’t really know what I am. I was raised in a family—a Republican family—with the goals and all the values that that meant in those days. I’ve always loved that the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln; the party that advocated for women’s suffrage. I don’t think that my views have changed very much. And, I don’t exactly know where the party went.
DeVereaux: Today, Fisher finds little kindheartedness in some sectors of the Republican party.
Fisher: Much of Republican talk radio doesn’t feel very compassionate to me so I don’t know where I am in the spectrum any more.
DeVereaux: In 1996, Fisher published her memoir; My Name is Mary. In it she writes about her fight against AIDS and about living with the disease. Her most recent book, Messenger, talks about compassion and the power of delivering a message of hope in place of the laments of a victim.
Fisher: The title of the book comes from a speech that I gave in 1992 and part of it was speaking out in a way that was opposed to stigma and opposed judgementalism. I truly love being an advocate, especially for women. And, advocates need to bring a message.
DeVereaux: Earlier today Fisher met Justice O’Connor for the first time for tea and conversation at a public forum. She’ll provide the introduction for the Justice’s lecture this evening
Fisher: I’m totally delighted to be meeting her and I’ll happily talk about whatever is interesting to her these days.