Best-selling Australian author Bryce Courtenay has apologised for his use of the term ‘innocent’ to describe people with medically-acquired HIV/AIDS.
After the publication of his book April Fool’s Day in 1993, Courtenay was criticised for describing his haemophiliac son, Damon, as an innocent victim of AIDS.
In an interview broadcast on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program this morning, Courtenay said:
The word ‘innocent’ was unfortunate, it really was. It was never used in the book and I think I used it once. People had a — certainly, homosexual people — had a right to be angry. But the net result of April Fool’s Day was the most important book I think I’ve ever written and had it not been for Damon saying, “Dad, you have to tell the world that it’s not a punishment from God; it’s a virus,” I may never have written the book. […]
But yes, for anybody I offended with the word ‘innocent’ I humbly apologise because we’ve come a long way since.
It’s good that Courtenay has finally acknowledged his mistake, albeit 17 years after the outcry it caused. While no compassionate person could fail to sympathise with Courtenay’s grief at losing his 24-year-old son, separating people with AIDS into ‘innocent’ and ‘guilty’ victims is plainly offensive, as it suggests some people with the virus deserved to get it, or are culpable for the ‘innocents’ infection. Language like this led to increased stigma among gay men, who were blamed for the spread of HIV at the very time they were taking the lead in combating and containing it.
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations publishes a media guide that explains why the term ‘innocent victim’ is offensive:
‘Innocent victims’ is usually used to describe children with HIV, or people with medically-acquired HIV infection. It implies that people infected in other ways are guilty of some wrong-doing and deserved to be infected with HIV. This feeds stigma and discrimination and should be avoided.
Courtenay, who is 79, has announced that he has terminal cancer and that his current book will be his last.
(Hat tip: Daniel Reeders)