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    Disturbing Parallels: No Excuse for Hate

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting

    I don’t have to tell you; our world has changed drastically. I commend our state and local leaders who took decisive action to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19. While our way of life is disrupted for now, we in state government are working every day to help those who need assistance.

    Many have referenced parallels of this pandemic to last century’s “Spanish flu.” However, the “Spanish flu” most likely did not originate in Spain. While it was spreading globally, the media only reported the cases in Spain back then because that country remained neutral during World War I, unfairly giving rise to its name.

    Fast forward to today, and you see the president refer to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus” or the “Wuhan virus.” This kind of language has incited attacks against members of our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, especially Chinese-Americans. Perpetrators of hate are misplacing blame for the coronavirus on this population. They don’t understand our pandemic is a public health issue, not a racial one.

    To help track this behavior and get a sense of how prevalent it is, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA), and the Department of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University have set up a website, “Stop AAPI Hate,” where victims can input their experiences. More than 1,600 instances have been reported in its first three weeks with encounters ranging from name calling to physical assaults. This trend was so disturbing, I had officials from CAA and SF State on a virtual town hall for my constituents this month to discuss this issue.

    Such targeting conjures up reminders of the AIDS crisis. On July 3, 1981, The New York Times wrote about a “rare cancer” diagnosed in 41 gay men in New York and California. Symptoms of possible HIV infection were observed in the late 1970s in other populations, such as intravenous drug users, but the disease was later referred to as GRID, or “gay-related immune deficiency.” Terms like GRID and “gay cancer” were used before the Centers for Disease Control coined the term AIDS in the fall of 1982.

    It’s a saddening resemblance to today—a federal turning a blind eye to an epidemic, leaving localities essentially on their own to help their infected populations. The empty streets of today’s Castro remind those who survived the AIDS crisis of how the neighborhood looked in the 1980s when stigma and suspicion abound.

    We, in San Francisco, are fortunate to have a public health system that was battle-tested by the AIDS crisis. The first Kaposi’s Sarcoma clinic opened at UCSF in September of 1981, and the world’s first dedicated outpatient AIDS clinic opened at San Francisco General Hospital in 1983. Many figures who led our response in the 1980s and ’90s are leading our response now, including Dr. Grant Colfax, head of the San Francisco Department of Public Health and Dr. Paul Volberding, director of the UCSF AIDS Research Institute. Another figure who came to San Francisco during the AIDS crisis is Dr. George Rutherford, a leading researcher at UCSF on the prevention of infectious diseases, whom I also featured on a virtual town hall recently.

    With professionals like these willing to give the necessary, tough advice to our local leaders, I am confident that we will pull through this, together. Don’t be afraid to stand up against hate if you see it in your community. My office is here as a resource for those needing information and assistance from state government. Visit my website to learn more and get in touch:

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, and Daly City.

    Published on May 7, 2020